For thousands across the country, graduation day is well and truly upon us. I’m sure there’s a multitude of feelings flying around at this very moment; nerves, excitement… relief? We know those feelings all too well. But one thing I always experience at this time of year is confusion. When I see those oversized, colourful gowns and odd flat square hats, it begs the question why?
For years I’ve wondered, who on earth decided that floor length coats and tasselled hats were a good idea? Where did they come from? When did this crazy tradition start? And most importantly why? I figured it was time to do some research.
What’s with the gowns and caps?!
So there are a few theories about the how and the why of gowns. Universities began forming in the 12th century believe it or not, so the long gowns almost make sense, as everyday attire in those days pretty much looked like graduation gowns. Floor length oversized coats probably weren’t out of the norm for students and faculty of the 1100’s.
However, the graduation attire as we know it today was first seen in medieval times, with Oxford and Cambridge pioneering the look. It is thought that in the early 1300’s, this prestigious university banned all ‘excessive’ clothing at ceremonies and forced all students and staff to wear uniform gowns. A little harsh if you ask me. On one of the biggest moments of my life, I think I’d like to choose how I look. At least now you can see the colourful dresses and suits poking through the black gowns.
These are both interesting theories but my personal favourite is the following: they wore them because they were cold! It’s crazy to think that an almost 1000-year-old tradition began because some students were a bit chilly. Thinking about it, it makes complete sense. Ceremonies would’ve been held in large unheated stone buildings, so it’s not a surprise that they were cold. This theory just seems very ironic right now, considering the relentless heat wave. I feel sorry for all you students (and faculty) standing for endless photos in the blazing sunshine.
Here’s some of our lovely staff graduating in their gowns. Even our office dog, Alfie, offered up his graduation photo!
Why all the colours?
I guess now we have an insight into why we continue to wear those iconic gowns. But the next question which baffles me is, what do all the colours mean? As you have probably seen, the graduation attire comes with an array of colours. The hood, tassel and even sleeves can be coloured. So what do all these colours mean? They can symbolise the level of your qualification, for example PHD students will have different robes to BA hons students. It can also represent the subject area of your degree, each department being assigned their own colour combination. Alternatively some universities just stick to the colour of their logo and have slight variations for certain areas.
That’s about all I have learnt from my research. I hope I have shed light on any unanswered questions.
Just graduated? Well congratulations! Why not remember the moment by getting you and your class mates commemorative hoodies?
Or maybe you know someone whose finished their degree for good? Get them a personalised gift to remember one of the biggest moments of their life.