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In light of COVID-19, yours or someone-you-know’s graduation may have been canceled, which is a major bummer! All of that hard work and you don’t even get to have the circumstance to pompously walk across that stage. In all sincerity, though, our hearts go out to all of you grads, whether you are a high school senior, a 20-something college student or a non-traditional student who is finally getting that big degree.
Even though you may not be forking over the cash to either buy or rent that cap and gown, you may be interested to learn some graduation cap trivia. Good news: we’ve delivered! Read on to learn more.
Historically, the graduation ensemble consists of a robe, a hood (if a master or doctorate student), and some kind of headwear. This academic attire first showed up toward the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the Renaissance. Thought to be an exceptionally pragmatic solution to both Europe’s cool temperatures and the need to differentiate between the common peasant and the academic, the robes and hat set a clear line between the “smart” people and, well, everyone else. The design closely resembles the robes of the Catholic clerics because the church was so heavily influential during that time.
The mortarboard is worn by high school graduates as well as students and professors of Bachelor, Master, and Doctorate programs. It gets its name from its resemblance to the tool that stonemasons use to apply mortar in between layers of brick. Does it symbolize a graduate’s potential to go out and build the world into a better place? Possibly, but no explanation is completely set in stone.
You might not know this, but there are also a few different kinds of mortarboards. One, the folding skull, has the crown and sides fabricated in a way that they can fold down for easy storage. Another type, the rigid skull, is a more fitted style and therefore more aesthetically pleasing (but also more challenging to store). To make the mortarboard more of a one-size-fits-all kind of cap, many companies offer them with an elastic back or laces to help tighten it to the wearer’s head.
In recent years, decorating the top of the mortarboard has become very in vogue. From completely bedazzling it with rhinestones to scrapbooking the top with pictures to writing inspirational quotes about success, the mortarboard has become a way to express yourself on an otherwise boring-looking piece of clothing.
The tassel used to be a standard black, but institutions of higher learning have since used it to display their school colors and differing degree colors. Some ceremonies even let honors students wear gold tassels to set them apart from other students. You might not believe it, but the iconic “moving of the tassel” is actually a new(ish) tradition in the United States.
The Master’s Hood
For Master and Doctorate students, the robe’s standard color is black, although it does vary by college and department.
Master’s students have special sleeves that extend down past the fingers with a distinguished hood that is buttoned to the robe in the front and drapes down the back. Combined with the unique sleeves, the hood it is thought to resemble the robes of the medieval monks who were often considered learned and wise. Most hoods are black and have a trim color that correlates to the field of study. Here in the US, some of the more common hood colors are:
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Doctorate robes don’t usually have the elongated sleeves, but you’ll often see them with poofy sleeves that have velvet stripes and a velvet stripe down the front of the robe. The hood is usually trimmed in velvet, and the inside of the robe is often silk in the school’s colors.
The Doctorate Mortarboard, Tam, and Hat
The only difference between the lower degree mortarboards and the doctorate mortarboard is that the doctorate cap is made of velvet.
The tam, or Tudor bonnet, is a kind of floppy hat that either has four, six, or eight sides. It is usually black velvet (or blue velvet if getting a Ph.D.) and has a tassel that is generally worn on the left side.
The Doctoral hat looks like an old-fashioned silk top hat and is used in Finland and Sweden. The Doctoral hats in Finland could be colored sky blue (music), crimson (law), dark green (medicine and dentistry), dark blue (fine arts), purple (theology), or gray (military science), though the doctoral hats in Sweden are always black.
The cap toss is something you’ve seen time and time again in every movie that has a graduation scene, but when did it start? Interestingly, it began in the military in the early 1900s. When the cadets graduated into becoming officers, they tossed away the cap that they had been required to wear as a cadet to proudly don their new headwear as an officer. While that tradition is still practiced in the military, it has also traveled over to secondary and post-secondary education, where the undergraduate and graduate students can enthusiastically throw their caps into the air after the graduation ceremony (if their school allows it, that is because of #safety).
Whether or not you get to walk across that stage this year, you now know a little bit more of the history behind the hat.