Who Invented Graduation Caps


Who Invented Graduation Caps?

Graduation ceremonies are a time-honored tradition celebrated worldwide to mark the completion of an academic journey. One iconic symbol synonymous with graduations is the graduation cap, also known as the mortarboard. But have you ever wondered who invented this distinctive headwear? In this article, we delve into the origins of graduation caps and explore the fascinating history behind this iconic symbol.

The graduation cap, as we know it today, consists of a flat, square-shaped board with a tassel attached to the center. It is traditionally worn during graduation ceremonies by students and faculty members alike. The origins of this distinctive headwear can be traced back to medieval Europe.

During the medieval period, universities began to emerge across Europe to provide higher education. These universities were heavily influenced by the customs and practices of the church. It was common for scholars and clergymen to wear distinctive robes and headwear, which eventually found their way into the academic world.

One theory suggests that the graduation cap evolved from the biretta, a square-shaped hat worn by Catholic clergy. The biretta had three or four ridges running across the top, representing the Trinity. Over time, these ridges were gradually reduced to a single flat board, which became the mortarboard we recognize today.

The term “mortarboard” is believed to have originated from the resemblance of the graduation cap’s shape to a mason’s tool called a mortarboard. This tool is used in masonry to hold mortar, and its flat, square shape is similar to that of a graduation cap.

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While the exact inventor of the graduation cap remains unknown, its use became more widespread in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The cap and gown ensemble, including the mortarboard, became standardized as a symbol of academic achievement and intellectual excellence.


1. Why do graduation caps have tassels?
The tassel on a graduation cap serves as a decorative element and carries symbolic significance. The placement of the tassel varies depending on the academic institution and country. In most cases, the tassel is worn on the right side of the cap during the ceremony. After the conferring of degrees, graduates shift their tassels to the left side to signify the transition from candidate to graduate.

2. What is the significance of the color of the tassel?
The color of the tassel can vary, and its significance differs across educational institutions. In some cases, the tassel color represents the graduate’s field of study or academic discipline. It can also denote membership in specific academic or honor societies. However, in many instances, the tassel color is simply chosen based on the school’s or program’s official colors.

3. Are graduation caps worn worldwide?
Yes, graduation caps are worn in various countries around the world, although their specific designs and customs may differ. The concept of wearing a cap during graduation ceremonies has spread globally, symbolizing the common goal of academic achievement and completion of a course of study.

4. Can I keep my graduation cap and tassel?
Yes, graduates are typically allowed to keep their graduation caps and tassels as mementos of their academic accomplishments. These keepsakes serve as reminders of the hard work and dedication put into achieving their educational goals.

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In conclusion, while the exact inventor of the graduation cap remains unknown, its origins can be traced back to medieval Europe. The distinctive square shape of the graduation cap, or mortarboard, is believed to have evolved from the biretta worn by Catholic clergy. Today, the graduation cap is an iconic symbol of academic achievement and serves as a tangible reminder of the countless hours spent pursuing knowledge and reaching educational milestones.