History of the Academic Procession

The pageantry and dress of the academic procession introduces many of the more formal and significant events at Hope College. Inherited from the medieval universities of the 11th and 12th centuries when woolen gowns and hoods were worn by scholars for warmth in unheated quarters, the wearing of academic vestments and the procession were not adopted throughout the United States until the late 19th century.

Academic life in the Middle Ages began first in the Church, then in the guilds. The teaching guild was the guild of the Master of Arts, where the Bachelor was the apprentice of the Master and the dress was the outward sign of privilege and responsibility, designed to distinguish the wearer from the merchants and other townsmen.

Principal features of academic dress are the gown, cap, and hood. Both Cambridge and Oxford Universities, since the 15th century, have made academic dress a matter of university control, even to its minor details, and have repeatedly published revised regulations. American universities agreed on a definite system in 1894. In 1932, the American Council on Education presented a revised code which, for the most part, governs the style of academic dress today.

The cap worn almost universally in academic processions is the Oxford cap, better known as the mortarboard. From poetry we learn that the cap of scholarship was square to symbolize a book. The mortarboard is always black. A different style, called the Cambridge cap, resembles a large beret.

The use of a dark robe in academic processions is thought to have arisen from the clerical practice of wearing a cape or mantle in religious processions during the 12th and 13th centuries, when universities arose from cathedral schools. Traditionally, gowns are also black. In recent years, however, a number of universities have adopted other hues which signify the school's traditional colors, such as crimson for Harvard, blue for Yale, orange "hash marks" for Princeton, maize with azure blue chevron for The University of Michigan, maroon for the University of Chicago, and cardinal and black for Stanford. The Master's gown has long, pointed, closed sleeves. For the Doctor's degree, the traditional gown has velvet facing down the front and three bars of velvet across the sleeves in the color representing the discipline of the degree.

The academic hoods, worn around the neck and down the back of the gown, are lined with the official colors of the college or university conferring the degree. The binding or edging of the hood usually represents the subject of the degree as follows:

  • Art, Letters, Humanities: White
  • Business and Commerce: Olive
  • Economics: Copper
  • Education: Light Blue
  • Engineering: Orange
  • Fine Arts: Brown
  • Law: Purple
  • Library Science: Lemon
  • Medicine: Green
  • Music: Pink
  • Nursing: Apricot
  • Philosophy: Dark Blue
  • Physical Education: Sage Green
  • Science: Golden Yellow
  • Social Science: Cream
  • Social Work: Citron
  • Theology: Scarlet