Why Do Graduates Wear Caps and Gowns?

Why Do Graduates Wear Caps and Gowns

In many commonwealth countries, students wear caps and gowns as they are graduating from their institution. Looking fairly goofy with their flat caps, and wondering just what they are trying to hide under those long dark robes, this seemingly outdated tradition is still practiced in many countries.

The tradition of graduating with a cap and gown comes from more or less the same place, and has taken on many variations. Nowadays, the style changes based on the institution, discipline, country, and many other factors. We explore the real reason for wearing those funny looking caps and gowns, and find out the importance of it.

History of the Gown

It all started in Europe! The gown, which is technically called an academic dress, was first worn out of necessity. Starting around the 12th century, universities had to take strict records of all their graduates.

The students, who were mostly studying to become clerics, started wearing long hooded robes in order to stay warm. It was also meant to be simple and modest, as clerics and scholars were meant to live aesthetic lifestyles. It was later in the 12th century that these gowns became the official dress for scholars.

History of the Hat

So what about those funny looking hats? The square cap, called a mortarboard, originated from a hat worn by academics and religious figures. The hat was meant to show that these figures had a superior rank and intelligence.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, these hats were worn more frequently by artists and intellectuals. Although today the hat is often the same modest colour as the gown (a dark blue or black), during the 14th century the caps were often red, in order to represent the power of life, blood.

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Around the World

Today, many European and commonwealth countries continue to wear the cap and gown during graduation and other important ceremonies. Each university is free to design their own academic gowns and caps, so there are now huge varieties that have different meanings.

This is why, in 2010, Nicholas Grove created a classification system in his document, Hood and Gown Patterns, to distinguish the different styles and their significance. In 2000, the Burgon Society was founded with the purpose of studying academic dress.


Whether you like the look of the gown and cap, or if you are simply forced to wear it when walking towards your diploma, there is something importantly and stately about knowing that you are wearing what so many important thinkers wore before you!