Although it may look uniform, traditional graduation regalia has a lot of little intricacies that reveal specific details about your degree.

Amidst a sea of black robes at Commencement, you may look around at your classmates and think the cap and gown looks pretty uniform. In actuality, this traditional regalia actually has a lot of little intricacies that reveal specific details about your degree. Here’s a dressing down on everything you need to know about the classic Graduation getup.

All in the Sleeves

All Wharton grads wear black gowns, but your sleeves vary according to the level of degree you’re receiving:

Bachelor’s Degree

undergraduate graduation gown
Pointed, meant to be worn closed.

Master’s Degree

MBA Graduation Gown
Oblong, can be worn open or closed.

Doctoral Degree

Doctoral Graduation Gown
Bell-shaped with three velvet bands, can be worn open or closed.

Lots of Info in a Little Hood

Historically, hoods were worn over the head to keep warm, but they remained as an important decorative piece of the academic costume.

The lining of the hood represents your school colors. So all Penn graduates wear hoods lined with crimson and decorated with a blue chevron. The velvet band on the edge of the hood is where you’ll see some variation.

Graduation Hood

Its length depends on your degree: a bachelor’s is 2 inches; a master’s is 3 inches, and the doctoral is 5 inches. And the color indicates your field of study. At Wharton Graduation, you’ll see plenty of drab — the dull, light brown color that signifies a business degree.

However, since 15 percent of this year’s Wharton grads are dual-degree holders, you’ll likely catch a glimpse of some brighter colors like green (medical), purple (law), and light blue (education).

These specifics aren’t picked at random or unique to Penn, they’ve all been spelled out in the American Academic Costume Code estab­lished in 1895 by a commission of delegates from the Ivy League and New York universities to standardize academic regalia in the U.S. In Europe, there is no central body to regulate university colors, so the styles of regalia vary from school to school.

Capping It All Off

The cap completes your outfit. Most Wharton grads choose a traditional black mortarboard cap, but a soft, square-topped cap is also available. Over the years, it’s become popular to make this plain black canvas your own by adding words and decorations.

Graduation cap with writing

Black tassels are uniform for most students, except for doctoral grads who may opt for a gold tassel and a velvet cap. You’ll start with the tassel on your right, then once you’ve received your degree, you’ll turn it to the left — representing your official change in status from a student to an alumnus.

—Thomas Myers and Colleen Donnelly

Sources: Explaining the History of Graduation Regalia and History of Academic Regalia.

Posted: April 2, 2018

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