Breaking Down the Cap and Gown

Breaking Down the Cap and Gown

Breaking Down the Cap and Gown

Modern-day academic regalia, better known as the “cap and gown,” can be traced to the early European universities, which were founded as seminaries and monasteries and where the scholars were required to wear monastic habits. Universities often were housed in cold, damp castles, so wearing a hood provided a layer of warmth and protection. Besides that, religious tradition demanded it.

Academic regalia varies according to the degree conferred and the level of scholarship attained. The bachelor’s gown is a simple robe that covers the entire body. The master’s gown has longer, closed sleeves. The doctoral robe usually is the most elaborate; it is made of velvet, with three stripes on the arms and includes a hood.

For faculty and doctoral robes, the robe itself is usually specific to the university, while the hood trim indicates the academic discipline. In addition, the faculty member wears the robe indicative of his or her highest degree. If the highest degree is an honorary degree, the faculty member has a choice of wearing the robe of the school that conferred the honorary degree, or the one that conferred the highest earned degree. Bachelor’s and master’s candidates wear a square mortarboard. Doctoral students and faculty usually wear a tam.

There is very little standardization regarding American academic regalia today. In the late 1800s, the American Intercollegiate Commission met to decide on a uniform dress code. In 1895, the commission adopted a code that included a method for indicating individual universities in otherwise standardized uniforms: Hoods were to be lined in silk with the school’s colors forming a heraldic chevron. In 1932, a new commission was authorized by the American Council on Education to set forth new rules, and, in 1959, another committee further revised the rules. By the mid-to-late 20th century, universities had begun to go their own route again.

Georgia Tech’s current regalia was adopted in 2009. Let's break it down.

text - Georgia Tech Faculty Regalia

G.P. “Bud” Peterson


Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering • Texas A&M University • School Colors: Maroon and white

President Peterson in academic regalia

Details: 1) The president's traditional tam is finished off with a gold tassel. 2) The garment bag for his regalia has a personalized label that was sewn by Cindy Naivar, a medical assistant at the Stamps Health Center. 3) The president wears the Institute Medallion, which bears Georgia Tech’s “Progress and Service” motto.The medallion’s chain has the initials of each of Tech’s 11 presidents. During the ceremony, students often compliment the president on his “bling.”

Rafael L. Bras

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

Sc.D., Water Resources and Hydrology • MIT • School Colors: Red and gray

Provost Bras in academic regalia

Details: 1) He wears regalia of the University of Perugia (Perugia, Italy), where he received an honorary doctorate. This includes a white ruffled collar, and a four-sided tam with no tassel. 2) He wears gold braids and a gold scarf over his left shoulder.

Bonnie Ferri

Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Faculty Development

Ph.D., Electrical Engineering • Georgia Institute of Technology • School Colors: White and gold

Vice Provost Ferri in academic regalia

Details: 1) The gown’s lapels are emblazoned with the Georgia Tech seal.

Catherine Murray-Rust

Dean of Libraries

Graduate Diploma, Library and Information Studies • University of London • School colors: White, blue, and red

Catherine Murrayi in academic regalia

Details: 1) She wears a U.S. master’s robe with a yellow and blue hood (representing library science). 2) The hat belonged to her mother-in-law, Frances Henrietta Kenrick, one of the first women to be admitted in full standing to Oxford University after World War II. 3) Because Oxford didn’t begin awarding women degrees and allowing them to attend graduation until 1948, her mother-in-law completed her degree and only received a certificate in the mail. “Since Frances was not allowed to go to her own graduation, I take her with me every time.”

Colin Potts

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education

Ph.D., Cognitive Psychology • University of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England
School Colors: Scarlet and forest green

Colin Potts in academic regalia

Details: 1) He chooses to wear a tam instead of a velvet mortarboard. Unlike regalia for U.S. universities, there are no bars on the sleeves of British regalia. 2) British gowns have an open front, instead of the closed front found on American regalia.

Zvi Galil

Dean of the College of Computing

Ph.D., Computer Science • Cornell University • School Colors: Carnelian red

Zvi Galil in academic regalia

Details: 1) His robe features the seal of Cornell University. He does not wear a tam or hood because he lost them many years ago. Commencement is his “only opportunity to wear red at Georgia Tech.” 

Jacqueline Jones Royster

Dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts

D. A., Linguistics and Rhetorical Studies • University of Michigan • School Colors: Maize and blue

Jacqueline Jones Royster in academic regalia

Details: 1) She wears a traditional tam and hood. 2) Her robe includes three velvet stripes on the arms.

Steve French

Dean of the College of Design

Ph.D., City and Regional Planning • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill • School Colors: Carolina blue and white

Steve French in academic regalia

Details: 1) His robe includes three traditional velvet stripes on the arms. 2) The gown’s lapels are emblazoned with the UNC motto, Lux Libertas (light and liberty). 

Maryam Alavi

Dean of the Scheller College of Business

Ph.D., Information Systems • The Ohio State University • School colors: Scarlet and gray

Maryam Alavi in academic regalia

Details: 1) Her hood is scarlet and gray. 2) She wears a six-sided tam with a gold tassel.

Paul Goldbart

Dean of the College of Sciences

Ph.D., Physics • Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London • School Colors: Claret

Paul Goldbart in academic regalia

Details: 1) The open-front gown has buttons and cords on the sleeves. 2) He wears a Tudor-style bonnet.

Steven W. McLaughlin

Dean of the College of Engineering

Ph.D., Electrical Engineering • University of Michigan • School Colors: Blue and maize

Gary May in academic regalia

Details: 1) He wears a six-sided tam with tassel. 2) His hood is blue and maize.

text - Georgia Tech Graduate Regalia

Congratulations to the students below — Rachel Isaac, Vett Vandiver, and Aaron Greenwood — who graduated in 2015.


Academic regalia for Bachelor's Degree

Details: 1) Undergraduates wear black mortarboards with white and gold tassels, and 2) black robes that bear the Georgia Tech seal on the lapels.


Academic regalia for Master's Graduates

Details: 1) Master’s hood colors correspond to their academic degree program. 2) Master’s graduates wear the same mortarboards and a similar robe, but the sleeves have an extension at the back of the wrist opening, as is customary for master’s gowns.


Academic regalia for Doctoral degree

Details: Ph.D. graduate robes are Georgia Tech gold with navy blue accents. 1) The sleeve bars and 3) lapels, which also bear the Institute’s seal, are velvet, as is the navy part of the hood. The hood is gold, navy, and white. 2) Ph.D. graduates wear a six-sided tam, which is navy velvet with a gold tassel.


Writer/Producer: Victor Rogers
Photographers: Fitrah Hamid, Rob Felt, Christopher Moore
Creative Director: Melanie Goux