Traditional Graduation Attire

Image by Gillian Callison from Pixabay.

What a glorious time of year!  Spring and summer are filled with new beginnings, like high school and college graduation.  And flowers are blooming, trees are providing shade, and many of us are spending as much time outdoors as possible.  It is a time of hope.

I am a throwback kind of girl.  I like the old traditions and the “why” behind things.  It doesn’t mean we have to follow them, but it does prevent us from doing something strange just because we didn’t understand.

The last time I attended a high school graduation, I noticed that the traditional attire for the graduates had been forgotten.  Of course, that doesn’t even consider the attire of those in attendance, but, sadly, I am not the fashion police.

First let’s start with the components of academic regalia.  All candidates for graduation will have a robe/gown of the school’s chosen color or design, under which street clothes will be worn.  They will also have a cap, tam, or mortarboard, as well as a tassel.  The student may have cords for some type of distinction as well as a stole for a club or distinction.  In some cases, usually for a master’s degree or doctoral degree, the student will have a hood (baccalaureate candidates rarely wear hoods).  Hoods, which are the large, oval fabric pieces that hang down the back on the outside of the robe, are commonly worn incorrectly.  Master’s degree robes generally have kimono type sleeves and doctoral robes are usually a nicer fabric with velvet patches on the sleeves.

This graduate is wearing his mortarboard perfectly. And he also has on the correct shirt and tie. Image by e_yourwayup from Pixabay.

For the guys, there is no collar attached to the robe.  For the girls, there is a white button-in (or sometimes the manufacturer expects it to be pinned in) collar.  Why?  Because guys traditionally wore a white shirt which peeked over the gown.  For girls to have the same look, a collar was added.  Academic robes should be between knee length and halfway down the calf.  Often robes are black, white or a school color.

This is a hideous photo of yours truly, but I could not find a photo that showed the white collar that women wear for graduation. I had to resort to my high school photo.

Now for the clothing under the robe…males usually wear a white button down, collared shirt, tie, dark slacks, dark dress shoes and socks.  Females historically have worn a white dress with white shoes (which would be appropriate for graduation this time of year).  The dress should not fall below the academic robe, just as a dress should not be longer than a winter coat.  The shoes should be manageable for walking up the stairs/ramp and across the stage.  Too tall, spiked heels or clogs could prove noisy and/or difficult to maneuver.

Mortarboards (the flat hat that matches the gown) should be worn with the board flat on top of the head.  Wearing a mortarboard setting back on the head is reminiscent of a flying nun!  And if the graduate walks too fast, the wind drag could pull the mortarboard right off his or her head.  This method of wear also prevents the tassel from dangling in front as it is meant to do.

Tassels are worn on the graduates’ front, right side until after receiving the diploma, at which time they are moved to the left (unless the graduate chooses to go with the flying nun thing, in which case the tassel will hang straight down their back).  Usually, the master of ceremonies will direct the graduates to move their tassels once all students have crossed the stage.

There are standards for collegiate academic regalia, such as always wear the regalia of the highest degree earned, and hat/cap/mortarboards should be worn while the robe is worn, etc.  Colors for the doctoral hood’s velvet trim, which indicates the academic discipline of the wearer, are also dictated.  The satin lining of the hood is usually the school colors of the institution from which the doctorate was earned.

Yes, people look dorky in academic regalia, but people look even dorkier when it is not worn appropriately.  Like anything in the world, if you are going to attempt something (think dancing), you might as well go for it!  Any half-hearted attempts will make you look ridiculous.

Congratulations to all the 2021 graduates!

Bonus information:  Tradition has it that class rings are to be worn on the right hand, ring finger.  Before graduation, the ring should be readable by the wearer when looking down their outstretched arm.  After graduation, the ring should be readable by others when the graduate’s hand is outstretched. High schools and universities may have developed their own traditions, but this is the general custom.

Image by lisabussell from Pixabay.


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