The academic caps, gowns, and hoods that make the procession so colorful are part of an 800-year tradition. Academic clothing was first worn in such medieval universities as Cambridge, Oxford, Paris, and Bologna. The gowns and hoods served a practical purpose in the days of unheated classrooms.
The European custom was carried to America with the establishment of our own colleges and universities. In 1895, an academic code of dress was adopted, and the standards of a black robe, hood, and cap were accepted by most of the colleges and universities in the United States.
Different types of black gowns may be distinguished in the academic procession. The bachelor's gowns have long pointed sleeves; the master's gowns have oblong sleeves with an arc cut away in the front. The doctor's gowns are faced with velvet and have bell-shaped sleeves with three bars of velvet.
The Oxford cap, the so-called mortarboard, is black and has a long tassel fastened to the middle of the top that is worn like a pendant over the right front of the cap. Upon graduation, the tassel is moved from the right to the left. The hood, draped from the shoulder, denotes by its length and colors the field of study and the institution that conferred the degree.