Differences in Attire at a Graduation Ceremony


Graduations are a time of passage and recognition for scholastic achievements. Different graduation attire represents these scholastic achievements. Gowns are styled differently for degree levels, and hoods represent subjects studied as well as degrees obtained. The upper echelon of graduating students wears tams.

Graduation Caps and Gowns

  • Graduation gowns come in different styles, including bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree gowns. While the bachelor's degree gowns are standard with pointed sleeves, master's degree recipients have oblong sleeves with a square cut. The master's degree gown can be worn open or closed, depending on school requirements. Doctoral robes are usually black, but some schools use their colors for the gown or the trim. Doctoral gowns are similar to bachelor's degree gowns, except they have bell sleeves with three velvet bands and velvet lining the front of the gown. The doctoral gowns will have either black trim or trim of the field of study.


  • Academic hoods are placed on the graduate's head during the graduation ceremony. The shell of the hood is required to match the color of the robe. The lining of the hood is usually the color of the field of study. The velvet trim, also the color of the field of study, varies in length depending on the degree obtained.

Cowls, Tams and Caps

  • A cowl is a velveteen sash draped over each shoulder and loosely around the back of the neck. They are typically designated for associate degree ceremonies, and they are not representative of field of study colors. Tams are often used in doctoral academic graduation attire, as well as some master's degree attire, and are four-, six- or eight-sided caps. They are similar to mortarboard caps except they are not flat on top. Four-sided tams are used for master's degrees, and six- or eight-sided tams are designated for doctoral degree students. Like mortarboard caps, they come with a tassel that is usually gold or representative of school colors.

Field of Study Colors

  • The field of study colors are used in many areas of academic graduation attire, including hood lining, graduation gown lining and some tassels. Varying yellow colors represent agriculture (maize), library science and information management (lemon), social science and natural science (golden yellow) and social work (citron). White is representative of arts, humanities and literature. Varying shades of red represent journalism (crimson), economics (copper), forestry, environmental studies and sustainability (russet), theology and divinity (scarlet). Silver gray represents oratory studies, speech and broadcasting, while gray represents veterinary science. Shades of blue represent education (light blue), philosophy (dark blue) and public administration, public policy and foreign service (peacock blue). Green represents medicine, olive green represents pharmacy study and sage green represents the study of physical education, manual therapy and physical therapy. Pink shades represent music (pink), nursing (apricot) and public healthy (salmon). Purple is definitive of a law degree, and lilac definitive of dentistry. Orange represents engineering, the color drab represents commerce, accounting and business, and brown represents fine arts and architecture.


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