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Academic Costume Code

December 30, 1899



Gowns recommended for use in the colleges and universities of this country have the following characteristics. The gown for the bachelor's degree has pointed sleeves. It is designed to be worn closed. The gown for the master's degree has an oblong sleeve, open at the wrist, like the others. The sleeve base hangs down in the traditional manner. The rear part of its oblong shape is square cut, and the front part has an arc cut away. The gown is so designed and supplied with fasteners that it may be worn open or closed. The gown for the doctor's degree has bell-shaped sleeves. It is so designed and supplied with fasteners that it may be worn open or closed.

As a means of adaptation to climate, the material of the gowns may vary from very light to very heavy provided that the material, color, and pattern follow the prescribed rules.

Black is recommended. For permissible exceptions, see below.

Gowns for the bachelor's or master's degrees are untrimmed. For the doctor's degree, the gown is faced down the front with black velvet; three bars of velvet are used across the sleeves. These facings and crossbars may be of velvet of the color distinctive of the disciplines to which the degree pertains, thus agreeing in color with the binding or edging of the hood appropriate to the particular doctor's degree in every instance.

For all academic purposes, including trimmings of doctors' gowns, edging of hoods, and tassels of caps, the colors associated with the different disciplines are as follows:



Arts, Letters, Humanities


Commerce, Accountancy, Business







Light Blue



Fine Arts, including Architecture








Library Science








Oratory (Speech)

Silver Gray


Olive Green


Dark Blue

Physical Education

Sage Green

Public Administration, including Foreign Service

Peacock Blue

Public Health

Salmon Pink


Golden Yellow

Social Work




Veterinary Science


In some instances American makers of academic costumes have divided the velvet trimming of the doctor's gown in such a fashion as to suggest in the same garment two or more doctor's degrees. Good precedent directs that a single degree from a single institution should be indicated by a single garment.


As usually followed by American colleges and universities, but following the specifications listed below.

In all cases the material must be the same as that of the gown.
Black in all cases.
The length of the hood worn for the bachelor's degree must be three feet, for the master's degree three and one-half feet, and for the doctor's degree, four feet. The hood worn for the doctor's degree only shall have panels at the sides.
The hoods are to be lined with the official color or colors of the college or university conferring the degree; more than one color is shown by division of the field color in a variety of ways, chevron or chevrons, equal division, etc. The various academic costume companies maintain complete files on the approved colors for various institutions.
The binding or edging of the hood is to be velvet or velveteen, two inches, three inches, and five inches wide for the bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees, respectively; the color should be indicative of the subject to which the degree pertains (see above). For example, the trimming for the degree of Master of Science in Agriculture should be maize, representing agriculture, rather than golden yellow, representing science. No academic hood should ever have its border divided to represent more than a single degree.

In the case of the Doctor of Philosophy degree, the dark blue color is used to represent the mastery of the discipline of learning and scholarship in any field that is attested to by the awarding of this degree and is not intended to represent the field of philosophy.


Cotton poplin, broadcloth, rayon, or silk, to match gown are to be used; for the doctor's degree only, velvet.
Mortarboards are generally recommended.

A long tassel is to be fastened to the middle point of the top of the cap only and to lie as it will thereon. The tassel should be black or the color appropriate to the subject, with the exception of the doctor's cap that may have a tassel of gold.

Other Apparel

Shoes and other articles of visible apparel worn by graduates should be of dark colors that harmonize with the academic costume. Nothing else should be worn on the academic gown.

Permissible Exceptions

Only members of the governing body of a college or university, whatever their degrees, are entitled to wear doctor's gowns with black velvet, but their hoods may be only those of degrees actually held by the wearers or those especially prescribed for them by the institution.
The chief marshal may wear a specially designed costume approved by the institution.
It is customary in many large institutions for the hood to be dispensed with by those receiving bachelor's degrees.
Persons who hold degrees from foreign universities may wear the entire appropriate academic costume, including cap, gown, and hood.
Members of religious orders may suitably wear their customary habits. The same principle applies to persons wearing military uniforms or clad in special attire required by a civil office.
It is recommended that collegiate institutions that award degrees, diplomas, or certificates below the baccalaureate level use caps and gowns of a light color, e.g., light gray.

Additional Guidance on Costume

In the light of large numbers of requests for advice about academic dress, the Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies offers the following observations and recommendations for the guidance of colleges and universities in making decisions about regalia for ceremonial occasions.

It should be noted that it is impossible (and probably undesirable) to lay down enforceable rules with respect to academic costume. The governing force is tradition and the continuity of academic symbols from the Middle Ages.

The tradition should be departed from as little as possible, not only to preserve the symbolism of pattern and color, but for practicality as well (when radical changes are adopted manufacturing problems and scarcity of inventory may ensue).

The fundamental guidelines of the academic costume code may be adapted to local conditions. Such adaptations are entirely acceptable as long as they are reasonable and faithful to the spirit of the traditions which give rise to the code. They are not acceptable when they further subdivide the recognized disciplines and designate new colors for such subdivisions.

The spectrum of colors which manufacturers can utilize and which can be clearly identified as distinct from other colors is, for all practical purposes, exhausted. Problems may arise with emerging broad interdisciplinary areas; it is recommended that these be resolved by using the color of the discipline most nearly indicative of the new area. New disciplinary designations for colors traditionally assigned would not be readily recognizable or useful. 
In response to a number of questions about gowns and hoods appropriate to the associate degree, the committee's recommendation is that the gown be of the same type as worn by recipients of the bachelor's degree, that the color of the gown be light gray, and that the hood be of the same shape as the one worn by Bachelor of Arts except that it have no velvet border, that the institutional colors be on the lining, and that the outside be black.
Six-year specialist degrees (EdS, etc) and other degrees that are intermediate between the master's and the doctor's degree may have hoods specially designed intermediate in length between the master's and doctor's hood, with a four-inch velvet border (also intermediate between the widths of the borders of master's and doctor's hoods), and with color distributed in the usual fashion and according to the usual rules.

Cap tassels should be uniformly black.
As a particular courtesy to guests who are expected to wear academic costume, institutions should provide robes and mortarboards of an appropriate type, even if hoods cannot be supplied.

by Eugene Sullivan, American Council on Education Reprinted with permission from American Universities and Colleges, 15th Edition©1997 Walter de Gruyter, Inc.

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