Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Brief History Of Academic Dress

I was stalking my friend's facebook page this morning when I saw his graduation pictures. And, as always, a question popped up and I started googling on the history of academic dress, who designed it, and why is it designed that way.
University of Malaya Academic Dress. No the elephant is not part of it. Image: Tan Chin Seng.
According to students' best friend, Wikipedia, an academic dress is

A traditional form of clothing for academic settings, primarily tertiary (and sometimes secondary) education, worn mainly by those that have been admitted to a university degree (or similar) or hold a status that entitles them to assume them (e.g., undergraduate students at certain old universities).

Alright I know that's crappy information.

Academic dress (AD from hereafter) found in universities in the British Commonwealth (like Malaysia) and the United States is derived from that of the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford.

An AD has three major components: the robe, the hood, and the mortarboard, and it's distinctive to each institution.
University Putra Malaysia Academic Dress. 
The design of the AD is actually inspired by the fashion of medieval Europe.
Gown was a common fashion among both sexes during that time. So was the hood. It was originally intended to hide or cover the wearer's face i.e. it was used during execution of criminals; this practice was known as hooding. Otherwise, it would be used on a person who has been arrested or kidnapped, none of which was positive.
In terms of AD, the color of the hood represents the particular faculty from which the degree was earned 

As for the mortarboard, or cap, it is generally believed to have developed from the biretta, a similar-looking hat worn by Roman Catholic clergy. It is derived from Latin birrus, meaning "red." The biretta was used in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to identify humanists, students, artists, and learned and blooming youth in general. It was originally reserved for holders of master degrees (the highest qualification in medieval academia) but was later adopted by bachelors and undergraduates.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was termed corner-cap.

In 1950, inventor Edward O'Reilly and Catholic priest, Joseph Durham filed their patent for the mortarboard found in the United States today. The duo incorporated a metal filling into the mortarboard thus making it more sturdy, and as a result the mortarboard can be thrown over and over again by generations of erudite scholars without suffering a dent in shape.
Finally, on top of the mortarboard, lies the tassel. The word comes from the Latin tassau, which refers to a clasp. The tassel is usually black, but may be colored differently in some institution to represent the field in which the wearer obtained his or her education. It actually serves no function other than covering your face when you bow. Pretty disturbing.

Some institutions have strict code on the side which the tassel should hang. It's either :
(a) Consistent among all students throughout the ceremony;
(b) It differs based on level of study with undergraduate students wearing the tassel on the right, and graduate student wearing them on the left;
(c) The student wears the tassel on one side until reception of the scroll, then it is switched to the other.

So, there you have it, a brief history of AD.
Oh wait a minute. AD differs by country.

In some countries, for instance the Philippines, some universities had their AD derived from the Spanish AD, which looks fabulous (the cap is like a winter cap). The University of the Philippines, on the other hand, incorporate the use of the Sablay, inspired from the Malong of Muslim Mindanao. During the commencement ceremony, the Sablay is worn at the right shoulder, which is then moved to the left shoulder after the President of the University confers their degree. The Sablay is worn over traditional Filipino attire - Barong Tagalog for men and Filipiniana dress for women.

University of Philippines Academic Dress. Image:
Spainish Academic Dress. Image:
Portuguese Academic Dress. Image:
By the way, the Portuguese AD reminds me of Alfonso de Albuquerque. Would love to try it someday.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this information. I have to let you know I concur on several of the points you make here and others may require some further review, but I can see your viewpoint. Academic Hoods



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