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Academic Heraldry

The caps, gowns and hoods (academic attire) worn at college and university functions date back to the Middle Ages. Monks and students of those days wore them to keep warm in the damp and drafty 12th century castles and halls of learning.

The gown for the bachelor's degree has a semi-stiff yoke, long pleated front and intricate shirring across the shoulders and back. It is primarily distinguished by its long pointed sleeves.

The holder of a a master's degree wears a gown with the same yoke effect of the bachelor's. The gown, however, is worn open, and the very long sleeve is squared and closed at the end, the forearm coming through a slit near the elbow.

The gown for the doctor's degree is also worn open; it has broad velvet panels down the front and three velvet bars on the large, bell-like sleeves. This velvet trimming may be either black or the color distinctive of the field of learning to which the degree pertains.

Generally, all caps may be of serge or broadcloth. In addition, doctor's caps may be of velvet and adorned by a gold tassel.

The hood gives color and distinction to the academic costume. The hood - a black shell-like affair of varying size for the three degrees and material to match the gown - is silk-lined stressing the colors of the institution conferring the degree. The hood is then bordered with velvet of the color signifying the respective fields of learning.

The colors indicative of the various fields of learning are as follows:

Arts and LettersWhite
Fine ArtsBrown
Library ScienceLemon
EducationLight Blue
ScienceGolden Yellow
Business AdministrationLight Brown

It is important to note that the field of learning having prior mention in the conferment of a degree, and not the department governing the major work, determines the color that is proper for the velvet of the hood. The doctor of philosophy degree requires the blue velvet irrespective of the major field. If more than one degree is held, the gown and hood of the highest degree are worn.

Some of the institutional colors to be seen at an academic ceremony are as follows:

  • Catholic University, lemon yellow with white chevron
  • Columbia University, light blue with white chevron
  • Fordham University, maroon
  • Harvard University, crimson
  • Manhattan College, white with emerald green chevron
  • New York University, violet
  • St. John's University, bright red with white chevron