What is Academic Regalia?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Academic regalia is specialized clothing that is worn by academics. Most commonly, it's worn at graduations and formal events, although at some colleges, the tradition of being attired in academic gowns and caps at all times lives on. A variety of different styles are worn around the world, although, generally speaking, the basics are fairly consistent.

A student in basic academic regalia.
A student in basic academic regalia.

The tradition of wearing academic regalia evolved from two different sources of inspiration. The first was the flowering of culture in the Middle East, where students traditionally wore formal robes at universities, and this habit was adopted by many European traditions of higher learning. In addition, originally European universities were only open to those in religious orders, so students were typically already wearing formal robes or cloaks to reflect their religious commitments.

A diploma and mortarboard.
A diploma and mortarboard.

The style of regalia worn varies, depending on both where someone is and where he or she ranks on the academic scale. As a general rule, it includes a formal gown or robe, which may be designed to be left open or closed, depending on the country, along with some form of headwear, such as a flat, hard mortarboard or a soft tam; the headwear may be decorated with a tassel. Degree holders are also entitled to wear hoods of varying lengths, and they may also wear scarves, cords, or stoles to reflect various academic honors.

The clothing worn by holders of bachelor's degrees tends to be the most simple, while doctoral robes are more heavily ornamented. While traditional academic regalia is black, some people wear robes in school colors, especially if they hold doctoral degrees, and the hoods are color coded, reflecting the school and major of the wearer. In some colleges, this clothing comes in the form of formal “dress” regalia and “undress” black regalia worn for everyday occasions.

Because these outfits can be extremely expensive and they are infrequently worn, many people prefer to rent their robes but buy their hoods. Hoods are purchased because of their unique color-coding needs, allowing their wearers to rent gowns for future formal occasions while ensuring that they have the appropriate hood. The length of the hood is dictated by the degree held, with bachelor's being the shortest, while doctoral hoods are the longest.

A wide variety of materials are used to make academic regalia, from cotton to velvet, and people typically have an array of choices when buying or renting it. People who purchase their garments tend to prefer higher quality fabrics, ensuring that they will last through years of use.

Academic regalia is commonly worn at graduation ceremonies.
Academic regalia is commonly worn at graduation ceremonies.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


One of the cool things that I know about the regalia of academics is that it is the inspiration for wizards robes.

Wizards have kind of evolved from alchemists, who were no different from any other kind of academic back in the day (and their experiments contributed a lot to science, after all) and they wore basically the same sort of thing you see at graduation ceremonies as their uniform. So, they were always drawn with flowing robes, and that stuck, even after academics began to wear other clothes in their everyday life.

So, technically, if you wanted to draw modern wizards, they should be wearing lab coats and jeans, rather than robes, but everyone associates them with robes, so it has stuck.


@pastanaga - The only thing I would disagree with is that I think people should buy the hats. Not only because they look cool and they make a really good dress up later on (for your kids, honest!) you might be at one of those ceremonies where everyone throws their hat in the air at the end.

If you really want to keep it, you might like to put your name in it before you do that or something.

Although, really, it's not that difficult to make graduation gowns. It's probably cheaper than renting them as well.


I have graduated or participated in graduation ceremonies several times and I think the academic regalia is a real pain. First of all, it's extremely expensive so if your university offers academic regalia for purchase, you should definitely look online for somewhere that will rent it.

It will be much, much cheaper and, unless you're planning on graduating several times, or working as an academic, there's no point in buying it because you'll never wear it again.

Secondly, make sure you look up exactly what kind you need, and how to wear it. Because almost every time I hear the same conversations between people arguing over what should be folded and what should be pinned and which is the front of the hat.

It's a lot less stressful if you go prepared.

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