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Graduation Gowns & Academic Attire in the UK

The graduation gowns and academic styles of the UK trace their history back hundreds of years. They have been extremely influential in universities throughout the West, and have directly inspired American academic dress. Many of the components of modern academic dress, such as the square cap and the academic hood, were inspired by the “lay dress” that was worn in the United Kingdom during medieval times.

The UK has also influenced Ireland and Commonwealth countries like New Zealand and Australia, as well as Canada to a lesser extent. Most of these countries still mostly follow UK academic dress regulations and styles, although some universities in Canada have moved away from British-style gowns in favor of American-style gowns that close at the front.

It’s important to understand the distinction between different types of academic dress used by different universities and individuals in various areas of study. In recent days, academic dress components like hoods, caps and gowns have been categorized into different shapes and patterns using the Groves classification system. This is based on the Hood and Gown Patterns document, first devised by Nicholas Groves.

There are various styles and patterns of academic dress used throughout different universities and higher education facilities in the UK. Because each university may design its own academic dress based on the available hood and gown patterns, colours and materials, there are innumerable variations within the UK.

Studies of academic dress in the UK were helped in 2000 by the founding of the Burgon Society, which promotes the study of academic dress, and published updated books detailing the study of academic dress in Britain and Ireland in 2012 and 2014.

Today’s modern graduation gowns in the UK are derived from the robe that were worn under the cappa clausa, a medieval garment consisting of a long black cape. In early medieval times, all students at universities were considered to be at least in “minor orders” of Christian study, and were always required to wear the cappa or other forms of clerical dress, and were restricted to wearing clothes of black or another dark color, hence the traditional black colour of graduation gowns.