is short graduation gown history and review of academic dress and academic
regalia, excerpted from:
of Academical Dress in Europe
Until the End of the Eighteenth Century
By Hargreaves-Mawdsley, W. N.
Oxford University Press 1963
Reprinted Greenwood Press, Inc.
Westport, Connecticut 1978
The origin of Academical
The evolution of academical
costume is complicated by the secular and ecclesiastical contacts which
characterized the universities at the time of their earliest development.
In the early days of the studia generalia, which owed their beginnings
to the chapter schools, the masters and scholars, being at least in
minor Orders, wore, as befitting secular clerks, some sober form of
dress, loosely termed a vestimentum clausum, something closed. Even
in those countries such as Italy in which scholars were not necessarily
regarded as clerks,  they were forced in the interests of discipline
to use a uniform of some kind, which in fact would be much the same
as that of the secular clerks. 
The dress which the secular clergy worse was in general character no
different from that worn by the laity of all classes of the community.
Everyone from highest to lowest wore, as did the clergy, a hood to protect
the head in bad weather. If priests wore their pluvial, a loose cape
with a hood and with a hole for the head to pass through and a slit
in front for the passage of the arms,  it was no different from the
outer garment worn by any citizen. There was only one exclusively
clerical non-liturgical garment, the cappa clausa,  and
even this was really no more than a development of the pluvial. In 1222
at the Council of Oxford Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Caterbury, ordered
clerks to wear the cappa clausa, and he thus introduced into England
the clerical outdoor dress already in use on the Continent. The result
of this was that at Bologna, Paris, and Oxford and at subsequent universities
the cappa clausa came to be regarded as the academical dress, at least
for formal occasions, for Doctors of Theology and Masters of Arts, who
as priests – nearly all Masters were in Orders – worse this
garment before any particular form of academical dress had come to be
established. Further, when in due course Langton’s rule about
the use of the cappa clausa was more and more neglected by the clergy
in general, the garment came to be regarded as an exclusively academical
As regards clerical head-dress also, its origin is to be found in lay
fashion. Thus, the pileus, which became the typical clerical head-gear
and, by the same process as that of the cappa clausa, the head-dress
of the universities, was simply adopted by the Church at the Synod of
Bergamo (1311), on which occasion clergy were ordered to wear it ‘after
the manner of laymen’.
At first the lay minorities at the universities, found for the most
part in the Faculties of Civil Law and Medicine, must be supposed to
have worn some dignified form of dress according to the lay fashion
of the time. It is noticeable that the earliest statutes of universities
concerning dress are rather sumptuary than anything else. In time, however,
the authorities succeeded in obliging members of these faculties to
wear a form of cappa, the cappa manicata, at least on formal occasions.
After the first stage during which the statutes concerning costume were
somewhat vague, we find the authorities of all universities beginning
to adopt a new and deliberate policy, that of accepting lay fashions
in a modified and particularized form into the canon of academical requirement,
thereby creating a true ‘academical dress’. A special shape
and cut was what by the fourteenth century had become the essential
feature of academical dress, but the significance of colour in such
dress was not recognized until later.
From the late fifteenth century onwards the whole movements of everyday
fashion was towards a shorter, less cumbersome dress in keeping with
an active age, and the wide modifications of academical and legal costume
were a mirror of that age. More than ever before the universities were
open to outside influences. The Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum (1516)
well illustrate the change in the intellectual climate in the universities
of the day.
Then came the Reformation, resulting in upheavals which lasted for hundreds
of years, during which period the discipline of collegiate life broke
down everywhere except in England, France, Portugal, and Spain, and
in a few universities in south Germany and Austria where the Old Church
was more secure. In all other countries legislation about dress occurred
less and less, and even when orders were published they were less than
half-heartedly observed; until by the eighteenth century, when France
was beginning to fall a victim to the anti-clericalism of the Philosophes,
only in England, Spain, and Portugal was a recognized academical dress
worn by members of universities on all occasions. An insular conservatism
was the cause of its preservation in England as well as a determination
to keep the strongholds of the Establishment of Oxford and Cambridge
intake, while in the other two countries a powerful church discipline,
which had scarcely been questioned, preserved it.
Examples of the Influence
of Lay Fashion on Academical Dress
The hood was originally merely
a useful head-covering. Long before it had been given up in ordinary
dress, that is by about 1450, it had become a recognized feature
of the dress of academical persons. It is typical of the growth of specialized
costume that a fashion abandoned in everyday life is appropriated by
institutions, themselves strongholds of conservatism. The hood thus
warn was small and close to the neck, and was joined to its ‘shoulder
piece’ which covered the shoulders and the upper part of the arms,
the two together in reality forming one article. For the most part in
continental and English legal dress it remained unchanged, but in academical
dress both in this country and elsewhere it was greatly modified during
the sixteenth century. In England the academical ‘shoulder piece’
was abandoned during this period and the hood was worn alone, greatly
elongated by 1592 as can be seen in an oil painting of that year by
an anonymous artist of the founding of the Vicars’ Close at Wells.
The liripipe on the English hood, which first appears in the reign of
Henry III, was an appendage of it, and originally served a useful
purpose, being used both to pull the hood on and off the head and to
hold the hood in position by binding it round it and fastening it under
On the Continent both hood and ‘shoulder piece’ were generally
abandoned during the sixteenth century except in rectorial dress, but
an equivalent of the English hood had by this time appeared. This was
the scarf worn on the shoulder, variously called chausse, chaperon,
and Sendelbinde, and was in fact a liripipe. It originated in an everyday
fashion for headdress which was in vogue between 1420 and 1470, and
which consisted of three parts, the roundlet, a ring of thick rolled
material which fitted the head, the gorget, a piece of stuff sewn on
to the inside of the roundlet and which hung down from it, and a liripipe
(later to become the chaperon when the other parts of the dress were
given up) like a long scraft to which roundlet and gorget were attached.
Originally worn on the head the roundlet and gorget after the middle
of the fifteenth century were usually cast on either of the shoulders
and hung down behind from the liripipe.
When in the later fifteenth century this fashion began to disappear
from ordinary dress, it was retained by men of official standing and
particularly by professional and learned men. Thus in France legal
and court officials and academical persons wore the chaperon, the gorget
sometimes being cut up so that several ends appeared hanging down, in
which case it was known as the cornette. The chaperon was
also used in Germany where it was known as the Sendelbinde. In England,
since the use of the hood was well established as part of academical
costume long before the fifteenth century, the shoulder-scarf was not
employed as a symbol of degree at the universities. It was, however,
used by great officials of the Crown. Survivals of it are to be
found in the little gathered piece of cloth on the lower left-hand corner
‘bridge’ yoke of the barrister’s gown, attached to
which is a streamer coming over the left shoulder and hanging down in
front, and in the little tippet of Oxford and Cambridge proctors.
The latter seems to have been worn by them in their capacity as officials.
The use of the pileus in the early Middle Ages has already been mentioned.
Other varieties of head-dress for academical use were the result of
fifteenth-century lay fashions. Thus the academical bonnet, much more
full and looser than the original pileus, was derived from an ordinary
fashion which first appeared in France in 1449. Another variety,
rigid and somewhatr square with a tump, known in later times as a biretta,
appears as early as the middle of the fifteenth century worn by a figure
on a choir stall in Ulm Cathedral. The introduction about 1520 of
a square cap at the University of Paris, which seems to have originated
in Italy, was a development of the true pileus, but the results
of this development were very different. It was known as the pileus
quadratus or bonnet carré, and our own square cap is a particular
form of it.
By 1500 the general tendency in academical dress was to become more
simple and comfortable, with the result that the heavy outer, closed
dress being left off, the sleeved or sleeveless tabard, or some form
of sleeved tunica, or other such dress, now the outer garment, assumed
a new significance.
At the same time as this was happening, lay fashion was rapidly changing.
There were two main features of this change; one was the opening of
dress in front from about 1470 onwards, the other the elaboration and
increase in size of the sleeves. After 1490, not only was the over-garment
open in front, but it was thrown widely open, so that the lining of
fur, which was afterwards placed in front in the form of two facings,
could be seen.
Various forms of sleeve appeared in lay fashions during the fifteenth
century. There was the bag-sleeve, a tube of material through which
the arm passed, sometimes called the glove-sleeve. This tube increased
in length during the sixteenth century.
An example of the bag-sleeve showing embroidery in two places on the
lower part of the thigh-length sleeve is to be seen in the brass of
one not connected with a university, Lawerence Colston (1550), at Colston,
Staffs. A bag-sleeved gown is worn in his portrait by Cardinal Granvella
(1517-86), minister of the Emperor Charles V. Such is the origin
of the England Master of Arts gown’s sleeve.
On the Continent the bell-sleeved gown, with a flap collar joined to
the facings, from the sixteenth century onwards won in nearly all countries
by doctors, was derived from late fifteenth century Italian lay fashion.
The same gown, worn academically, appears in the monument of the great
Italian humanist Ficino (d. 1499), in the church of Sta Maria del Fiore,
From a fashion of the later fifteenth century is also derived the winged-sleeved
gown, which appeared as a feature of academical dress in England and
elsewhere during the sixteenth century. It was an elaboration of a popular
lay fashion of 1483. It covered the upper part of the arm, and was
used greatly in Germany and the Low Countries, and by graduates of the
lay faculties at Oxford and Cambridge. The panel-sleeved (or false-sleeved)
gown was a degenerate form of the winged-sleeved gown. This type, familiar
to us from the Oxford commoner’s gown, was used also by continental
students from the later sixteenth century, as can be seen from a print
of a student of one of the theological colleges of Rome, which were
founded as a result of the Counter-Reformation. No more clear example
of the lay character of this form of gown could be given than the brass
of a gentleman of 1607 at Dersingham, Norfolk. The winged-sleeve
seems to have reached England later than elsewhere, for it does not
appear to have become fashionable until the reign of Elizabeth.
Lastyly there is the cloak-gown, allied to the gown with ‘streamers’,
but originating in a Spanish fashion of the sixteenth century. It did
not reach England directly, but the flap-collar on the English academical
lay gown and undergraduyate gown may have been influenced by it via
Italian fashions. It was the last proper academical dress used by German
The Influence of Forms
of Association on Academical Dress
Three forms of association
grew up in universities. The first of these was the Faculty, less strong
in the English universities than elsewhere, the second the College,
strong at first at all universities, but later only really so in France,
England, Spain, and the Austrian Netherlands, and the third the Nation,
strong at first in France and Italy, and in due course in Germany.
The first of these kinds of association was a result of the gathering
together of those who taught the same subject and who found that only
by a united effort could their common aims be made known to their university
at large. It was also secured them against the unqualified, who might
try to set up for themselves at the university. The second was a corporate
body, which enjoyed the benefits of an endowment; and the third was
an association based on nationality to defend the rights of an alien
in foreign land.
The faculties, which developed at Paris in the course of the thirteenth
century, played a more or less conspicuous part in the affairs of subsequent
universities, particularly that of Arts, membership of which at Oxford
and Cambridge was well as abroad was necessary to full membership. The
other faculties were those of Theology, Canon Law, Civil Law, and Medicine.
Although the first Paris college, the Collège de Dix-Huit, was
founded as early as 1180, it was not until the foundation of the Collège
Sorbonne in 1257 that a college became an organization independent of
an ecclesiastical corporation other than the university. Of this latter
types were all the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge and those of Paris
which were founded after this time. In Spain and Italy the college
system, though in being, played a much less important part in the life
Nations appeared at Bologna at the beginning of the thirteenth century
as subdivisions of the Collegia, but at Paris they emerged
at the same period as masters’ associations within the large Faculty
It is natural in view of the practice of the great guild movement, the
movement towards association n every trade and profession, which affected
town-life in Europe at this time, to expect that members of faculties,
colleges, and nations, as the case might be, should wear some particular
dress of uniform shape and colour betokening the group to which they
Some examples of faculty colours will show that no exact code of colours
was observed at all universities, but there were certain tendencies.
Thus black at Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge, and white at Salamanca,
Coimbra, and Perpignan were the colours of the Faculty of Theology.
Green, yellow, or sanguine were at various universities the colours
of the Faculty of Medicine, while blue of various shades very often
denoted the Faculty of Philosophy, and in such differently placed universities
as those at Perpignan, Coimbra, and Ingolstadt. The most constant of
the colours was scarlet for Canon Law, but even this by no means always
held good. Indeed, as can ve seen from inventories  such as those
of Oxford regents, all kinds of colour were used by academical persons
as late as the middle of the fifteenth century. Yet it was in the
course of this century that faculty colours appeared, a significant
symbolism of association.
In some countries, in England and Spain especially, founders of colleges
ordered certain kinds of dress to be worn by members of their foundations.
As far as the nations were concerned a special dress was discouraged
by the authorities, who with good reason feared that sartorial distinctions
might encourage the rivalries and antagonisms which these divisions
tended to promote. It was, however, worn by the various nations at the
University of Prague until the sixteenth century at the appropriate
 A. Renan, Le Costume
en France, p. 30.
 H. Rashdall, iii. 386, n. I.
 See the reconstruction of students’ dress in D.R. Hartley,
Mediaval Costume and Life, p. 15, pls. A and B, and p. 17.
 R.A.S. Macalister, Ecclesiastical Vestments, pp. 254-5.
 F. Cabrol and H. Leclercq, Dictionnaire d’archéologie
chrétienne et de liturgie, iii, cols. 370 and 376.
 W.B. Marriott, Vestiarium Christianum, p. 167; C.D. Du Cange, Glossarium,
s.v. Pallium pluviale.
 D. Wilkins, Conceilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae, i. 589, ‘Council
of Oxford’, § xxviii.
 H. Norris, Church Vestments, p. 161.
 C.W. and P. Cunnington, Handbook of mediaval Costume, p. 111.
 H. Parnell, The College of Vicars Choral, Wells, pp 6-8, and ill.,
 C.H. Ashdown, p. 56, fig 72.
 C.H. Ashdown, p. 143, fig 175.
 W.M. Webb, The Heritage of Dress, pp. 114, figs. 122-3, and 115,
fig. 125; C.W. and P. Cunnington, pp. 113 and 115.
For example, the citizen of Bruges who appears in an illumination
in the manuscript (1475 – 1500) of Vasco de Lucena’s edition
of Quintus Curtius executed at Bruges in the von Essen Collection, Skokloster,
Sweden (illustrated in Gyllena Böcker, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm,
 D.R. Harley, p. 91.
 E. Pasquier, Les Recherches de la Frabce, pp. 382D-383B; J. Malliot
and P. Martin, Recherches sure les costumes, iii. 88.
 It appears on certain English brasses, but is worn by laymen, or
clergy in ecclesiastical and not academical costume. For examples see
H. Haines, A Manual of Monumental Brasses, pp. lxxviii and cciii.
 See the portrait of Lord Burghley (d. 1598) in the National Portrait
Gallery, London, No. 362.
 W.M. Webb, op. cit., pp. 163, fig. 141, and 164.
 D, Diderot and J. le R. D’Alembert, Encyclopédie,
ii. 324 a-b, s.v. Bonnet.
 W. Lübke, Ecclesiastical Art in Germany during the Middle
Ages, p. 218, Fig. 157.
 C.D. Du Cange, s.v. Birretum
 H. Haines, pp. cciv and ccxxxix, e.g. brass of John Colman (1506)
at Little Waldingfield, Suffolk.
 C.H. Ashdown, p.231, fig. 318.
 W. von Seidlitz, Allgemeines historisches Porträtwerk, portrait
of Granvella in pt. 3-4.
 For an example of this gown worn by a rich Italian gentleman of
1494 see I. Brokke, Western European Costume, I, coloured plate opp.
 M.Z. Boxhornius, Monumenta illustrium virorum, et Elogia, p. 45.
 C. Martin, Civil Costume, no. 28.
 P. Bonanni, Ordinum religiosorum in ecclesia militanti catalogus,
iii, no. xxxvi, ‘Student of the College of Fuccioli’, and
see also nos. xxxiv, xxxv, and xlii.
 J.S. Cotman, Sepulchral Brasses, ii, p.88. John Aubrey proves the
lay character of this gown when he writes: ‘When about 1632 I
learnt to read of John Brome the Clark of Kingston St. Michael, his
old father (above eighty)…daily worse a gown like an undergraduate’s
at Oxford, with sleeves pinned behind, etc.’ (A. Powell, John
Aubrey, p. 31).
 See, for example, the portrait at Emmanuel College, Cambridge,
of Sir Walter Mildmay (d. 1589) in court dress.
It was even used by clergy, both Roman Catholic and Protestant,
as an out-of-door dress.
 Thirty-seven Paris colleges are named in a list of those existing
in the fifteenth century (Oxford, Bodl. Libr. MS Twyne 2, fo. 101).
One Oxford college, University College, is known to have been in existence
in 1249, but it does not appear as a true corporation until after the
 Not to be confused with colleges. They were more like halls (hostels)
for foreign law students.
 For a full account of the nations see P. Kibre, The Nations in
the Mediaeval Universities.
 For example, H.E. Salter, Registrum Cancellarii (O.H.S.), i. 44
 That it was still cut rather than colour which was significant
even in 1434 as betokening the wearer’s degree can be understood
from a papal letter of that year in which a regular priest, an Augustinian,
was allowed to wear the habit of costume wont to be worn by secular
Masters of Arts and Doctors of Divinity of Oxford provided that it was
of the colour of the habit of the priest’s Order (Calendar of
Papal Registers, ed. J. A. Twemlow, Papal Letters, viii. 504).