Behind the tradition of gowns and regalia

Published: Monday 4th April 2016

ACU students live in a digital era using the latest high-tech methods of learning to complete their degrees and move onward and upwards in the 21st Century.

But when they graduate they turn back the clock almost a millennia and dress up in gowns and caps that hark back to a time of clerics from the Middle Ages.

Wearing academic robes is a tradition that dates back to at least the 12th century, around the time when the first universities were being founded in Europe.

During this time, most scholars were aspiring clerics, and plain garb was encouraged. The robes and hood were also practical because the first students gathered in drafty medieval churches and the hoods kept the weather off when they ventured out of doors.

Over the next 700 years the tradition stuck, and spread to universities all over the world.  Even up until the 1960s, Oxford students were required to wear them on campus at all times. Even today, they are apparently required to wear them during exams.

Academic Registrar Kathryrn Blyth said Australian universities, like American and others, adopted the Oxford and Cambridge tradition of wearing academic regalia, although we only wear them at graduation and other official ceremonies.

“The old tradition of wearing academic dress adds something special to a very important day for graduating students,” she said.

Ms Blyth said over the years, Australian universities had added a few local touches to the traditional clothing to reflect our national character.

“At ACU this was done by adding a boomerang design and to incorporate native Australian flowers into the ceremonial robes worn by the Chancellor and other office bearers, “ she said.

ACU has an Academic Dress and Regalia Policy that outlines how and when academic dress is worn at ACU.

For example, students graduating with a Bachelor degree wear a black bachelor-style gown with a black hood lined with the Faculty colour and a black mortar board.

Masters students have a master style gown and a black hood that is lined and edged with the faculty colour.

Doctoral students wear a Blue Cambridge master style gown faced with scarlet as well as a blue Cambridge style hood lined with scarlet and a black velvet bonnet with a scarlet cord.

For more information check out our policy.