Several people might not even give much thought to the academic attire necessary for their graduation ceremony. For some, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience; for ambitious students, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime attire worn to differentiate rites of passage. Graduation, like marriage, is a significant cultural tradition with three ritualistic steps. For starters, entering the ceremony signifies a separation from society. The second step is to instill the value of transformation, and the final step is to rejoin society with a new status. High school graduation cap and gown sets have a long history that dates back centuries.
The question arises: why do we wear a cap and gown when we reach these milestones? Academic regalia arose when universities began to form in the 12th and 13th centuries. Students and teachers wore clerical attire most of the time.
Numerous professors were members of the church, monks, or clerics, and their students were normally pursuing a similar path. Scholars, according to historians, wore long garments and hoods to stay warm in these cold buildings.
The hood’s essence can be traced back to Celtic groups and Druid priests who wore capes with hoods to represent greater intellect and supremacy.
Although medieval universities inspired the academic dress, Oxford and Cambridge were the first identified schools to officiate graduation outfits. By 1321, they had prohibited “excessive apparel” in universities, forcing everyone to wear long gowns throughout ceremonies to foster unity.
Shapes that stand out
Graduation hats have evolved over the centuries and come in various styles. The most common style is the mortarboard cap, worn with typical graduation gowns. These caps are thought to have evolved from birettas worn by Catholic clerics, academics, and professors in the fifteenth century. The biretta’s origins can be traced back to 1311 in churches.
You might be wondering what’s up with the cardboard square shape. The answer is highly debatable. Most historians agree it simply represents the shape of a book to grant it a scholarly appearance, or it is supposed to symbolize the shape of the quad on the Oxford campus.
The term “mortarboard” refers to the flat board used amongst bricklayers to lay mortar. As a result, some individuals assume that the square shape of the cap symbolizes the mortarboard of a master craftsman. Regardless of the lack of certainty about its origins, the style has stayed widely accepted and common in most schools and universities.
This earliest European academic style persisted over the centuries, even into colonial America. Academic regalia was reserved solely for graduation after the Civil War. As a result, the cap and gown represent recognition and accomplishment, as do the graduation tassels and stoles. Although hoods are no longer used to keep warm, they are still used as a decorative element to depict one’s field of study.
Into the Twentieth Century
High school graduation cap and gown sets were generally gray until the 1950s. Students grew increasingly interested in using various colors to represent their school during this decade, as European countries have done since the 1800s. Most graduation pictures were still in black and white because color photos were costly and rare until the 1960s.