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Monday, July 18, 2005
Why are the caps flat and square?
What does the color of gowns signify?

The first organized institutions of higher learning appeared in Paris and Bologna in the early 12th century. In this era, virtually everyone, male and female, old and young, wore long flowing robes that didn't look too different from our graduation gowns of today. Rich people might have worn silk robes with ornamentation while the poor wore plain, corse wool robes, but the style varied little.

Robes were in vogue until around 1600, when gowns were generally worn only by older and professional men. By the end of the 17th century, only legal and other officials wore gowns. But by the time robes for men had become passe', they had long been prescribed for use as academic garb, especially by English universities and the tradition of wearing gowns at graduation had stuck.

In Roman law, a slave was freed when he was allowed to wear a cap. This symbol of emancipation might have been the inspiration for Oxford adopting the practice of placing a cap on the recipient of a Master's of Art when he graduated. The cap symbolized independence for the former bachelor.

Why was the hat square?
Square hats called Birettas were already in vogue in the time, they weren't totally flat like the mortarboard that Oxford established as the standard.

In her book The Story of Caps and Gowns, published by uniform giant E.R. Moore Company, Helen Walters offers three theories:

** 1). The shape was derived from the master workman's mortar board.
** 2). The cap was meant to resemble the quadrangular shape of the English university campus.
** 3). The shape symbolized the "squareness" of both the scholar and his books. In those days, we presume, squareness was a positive trait.

Early academic caps sported tufts where we now have tassels. Tassels appeared in the 19th century, and appear to be merely cosmetic additions.

Americans were quick to adopt English university customs in graduation garb all the way back to colonial times. Several Ivy League universities and prestigious small colleges used gowns and mortaboards from the start.

Only around 1885 did the practice extend to most colleges. In 1894, a commission was authorized to choose a standard for graduation uniforms. In conclusions have determined our uniforms for the last hundred years.

** BACHELORS -- wear black gowns with worsted material and long pointed sleeves.

** MASTERS -- wear black silk or black woven gowns with long closed sleeves that have an arc of a circle near the bottom and a slit for the arm opening.

** DOCTORS -- wear black silk gowns with full, round, open sleeves that are faced with velvet and have three bars of velvet on each sleeve.

All three graduates wear a mortarboard, but only doctors' caps may be velvet, and only doctors and presidents of universities were gold tassels.

English universities vary clothing and color schemes from school to school. The United States is one of the only countries to have a standard code.

(submitted to David Feldman by different contributors and published in his book: WHEN DID WILD POODLES ROAM THE EARTH?)
posted by infraternam meam @ 12:41 PM  
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Name: infraternam meam
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