The academic costume has always consisted of three parts: the gown, the hood and the cap. It has traditionally been worn at commencement exercises as a record of the academic achievement of the participants. Its use originated in the Middle Ages, when all undergraduates were required to wear clerical robes similar in style to those of the regular clergy. This type of dress was appropriate since all students were expected to enter the ranks of the clergy. The colors on the robe, the hood and the tassel represent the status and discipline of the wearer. The color of the velvet bands on each hood and robe represents the scholar’s field of learning while the colors of the school awarding the degree are shown in the lining of the hood. Some schools, such as Harvard, use a distinctive color for the entire gown. In this country a color system was adopted in 1893 to identify the academic discipline in which the degree was earned. Some of the most frequently seen hood colors, and the field of learning represented by each, are: white, arts and letters; drab, business administration; copper, economics; light blue, education; orange, engineering; lemon, library science; pink, music; apricot, nursing; dark blue, philosophy; sage green, physical education; golden yellow, science; citron, social work; and scarlet, theology.
Cords distinguish those students who have earned Departmental Honors, University Honors, and/or who have graduated from the University’s Honors College. Graduates may wear as many cords as they qualify for. The colors, and the academic achievement they represent, are as follows: white, cum laude; silver, magna cum laude; gold, summa cum laude; purple, University Honors College; and red, Departmental Honors.
The tassels for bachelor’s and master’s degrees are usually black, while the tassels of the doctorate cap are usually gold. Traditionally, tassels are worn on the right side of the degree candidate’s cap; after the degree is granted, the tassel is worn on the left side of the cap.