Why Do We Wear Cap and Gown for Graduation


Why Do We Wear Cap and Gown for Graduation?

Graduation ceremonies are a time-honored tradition that have been celebrated for centuries. One of the most iconic aspects of these ceremonies is the attire worn by graduates – the cap and gown. But have you ever wondered why we wear these specific garments during graduation? In this article, we will explore the origins and significance of the cap and gown, delving into its historical roots and the reasons behind its continued use in modern graduation ceremonies.

Historical Origins

The tradition of wearing academic dress can be traced back to medieval Europe. During the Middle Ages, universities began to emerge, and scholars sought to distinguish themselves from the rest of society. They adopted a specific type of clothing that was associated with the clergy, as many early universities were religious institutions. This attire eventually evolved into the academic dress we recognize today.

The Cap

The cap, also known as the mortarboard, is an essential component of the graduation ensemble. Its square shape and tassel are instantly recognizable. The origins of the cap can be traced back to the 14th century, where it was commonly worn by scholars and ecclesiastics. The four corners of the cap represented the four cardinal virtues: justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude.

Over time, the cap became associated with educational achievements and eventually found its place in graduation ceremonies. Today, the tassel on the cap holds symbolic meaning. It is traditionally worn on the right side of the cap until the moment of graduation, where it is moved to the left side to signify the completion of the degree.

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The Gown

The gown is another integral part of the graduation attire. Its design varies depending on the level of academic achievement. Bachelors’ gowns typically feature wide sleeves, while masters’ gowns have longer sleeves and hoods. Doctoral gowns are the most elaborate, often adorned with velvet panels and additional trimmings.

The origins of the gown can be traced back to the medieval period when scholars and clergy members alike wore long robes as a form of everyday clothing. Over time, these robes became associated with the academic community. The length and design of the gown signified the wearer’s status and level of education.

Symbolism and Significance

The cap and gown hold several symbolic meanings in modern graduation ceremonies. They represent the culmination of years of hard work and dedication, signifying the transition from student to graduate. These garments also create a sense of unity and equality among all graduates, regardless of their individual achievements.

Additionally, the cap and gown serve as a visual reminder of the importance of education. By donning these garments, graduates pay homage to the long-standing traditions of academia and the pursuit of knowledge. They become part of a larger community of scholars who have come before them and those who will follow.


1. Do all graduates wear caps and gowns?

Yes, the majority of graduation ceremonies worldwide require graduates to wear caps and gowns. However, there may be variations in the style and color of the attire depending on the country or educational institution.

2. Why are the tassels different colors?

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The color of the tassel often represents the graduate’s field of study or major. Different disciplines may be assigned specific colors, allowing graduates to showcase their academic achievements.

3. Can I keep my cap and gown after graduation?

Yes, in most cases, graduates are allowed to keep their caps and gowns as mementos of their academic achievements. However, some institutions may require the return of rented or loaned attire.

4. What if I don’t want to wear a cap and gown?

While wearing a cap and gown is a traditional requirement for most graduation ceremonies, there may be exceptions or alternative options available. It is best to consult with your educational institution to explore any possibilities.

In conclusion, the cap and gown are deeply rooted in historical traditions and hold great significance in graduation ceremonies. They serve as symbols of achievement, unity, and the pursuit of knowledge. By wearing these garments, graduates honor the legacy of academia while celebrating their own milestones. So, as you prepare to don your cap and gown, remember the rich history and meaning behind this time-honored tradition.