An Oxford hood is a special hood worn over the shoulders of a university graduate. Although such hoods were originally practical in nature and designed to protect the head, today the hood is purely ornamental, with the graduate using a mortarboard, tam, bonnet, or another form of headcovering. The Oxford hood is also sometimes known as a “simple hood,” in a reference to the fact that it lacks a cape or the ornamental draping known as a tippet.
Hoods have been part of academic regalia for centuries. Originally, academic regalia was derived from the robes worn by members of religious orders, as most students historically were members of religious orders until universities were opened to the lay public. The hood was added as a practical measure, and many historical hoods were lined in fur for extra insulation and warmth. There are a variety of different styles of hood in use today; at one time, people could tell which school a student went to on the basis of his or her hood style, although this is no longer the case.
Because the hood is ornamental, some license can be taken with its size and shape. The Oxford hood is typically long, draping well down the back and ending with an ornamental tail called a liripipe. By tradition, the body of the hood, known as the cowl, is black, lined with a band which reflects the student's discipline. The interior of the cowl may be lined in the school colors, and the cowl may also be edged with decorative piping. A small strap goes across the throat to hold the hood on the body.
Wearing an Oxford hood is challenging, and many graduates cheat and use pins to fix the hood in place. Without pins, the hood could slide off center, lump up around the shoulders, or pull against the throat, tightening the strap which is supposed to keep the hood in place. It helps to have someone view a hood from the back, straightening as necessary, to ensure that it looks neat and tidy.
The length of an Oxford hood varies, depending on the degree the student holds. Such hoods are typically seen only on Masters and Doctoral students, although undergraduates are technically allowed to wear hoods in many universities. In addition to an Oxford hood, it is also possible to see Cambridge or full hoods, which include the tippet or a cape.