The origins and significance of academic regalia

The academic dress worn today for ceremonial occasions originated in the universities of the Middle Ages when classrooms were unheated and the academic gown and hood kept scholars warm. It became a distinctive symbol of academic pursuit.

Prior to the American Civil War, most American college and university students wore the gown daily during the entire term of study. The gown only became standardized in 1894 when the American Intercollegiate Commission determined that all robes should be black. The master’s robe is distinguishable by long closed sleeves; the doctor’s gown by a facing of black velvet from the hem to the neck and back with three velvet bands around each sleeve.

The traditional hood displays significant colors. The lining represents the colors of the university granting the wearer’s highest degree. The color of the facing of the hood signifies the individual’s academic discipline or school of study.

Although there has been much innovation in gown and cap design in recent years, the standard colors representing the various academic disciplines have remained the same. They are:

  • White: arts and letters, including journalism
  • Scarlet: theology
  • Purple: law
  • Green: medicine
  • Dark blue: philosophy
  • Yellow: science
  • Brown: architecture and the fine arts
  • Lilac: dentistry
  • Apricot: nursing
  • Pink: music
  • Orange: engineering
  • Olive: pharmacy
  • Lemon yellow: library science
  • Light blue: education
  • Peacock blue: political science
  • Citron yellow: social work
  • Teal: physical therapy
  • Copper: economics
  • Light brown: business