Occasions 365

Graduation Cap and Gown

Classic graduation tassels and more

The history of the iconic graduation cap and gown goes back centuries, first to Europe, then to the Middle East. In those days, educational institutions weren't just academic; they were also religious. Thus, most of the students had specific religious affiliations, and wore robes to signify their piety. The graduation cap, a companion piece to the graduation gown, is a bit more of a mystery. Also called a mortarboard or trencher, the graduation cap is thought to derive from the square biretta worn in the past by priests and clergymen, though no definitive conclusions about its origins have ever been reached.

What is known is that the cap and gown tradition was brought to America during the colonial times; in fact, back then, many schools required students to wear caps and gowns at all times. While this aspect of academic regalia has changed over the years, the graduation cap and gown still reflects the important sense of formality that pervades the graduation ceremony.

The Graduation Tassel

Ropes and tassels have long been part of academic tradition, and the color and type of the rope or tassel often indicated the graduate's degree level and the academic achievements of the individuals. However, the tradition of moving the tassel is a fairly recent one. It is originally placed on the right side of the mortarboard, where it sits throughout the ceremony, before being moved to the left once the graduate's degree has been conferred.

Finding a Cap and Gown

In most cases, schools will supply the graduation caps and gowns for their students, either by using its own supply of these garments or by working with a well-known supplier. Tradition is important to academic institutions, especially during graduations, and they tend to aim for consistency among their graduating classes. Thus, you won't have options for your grad cap and gown the way you would for graduation dresses, for example.

In some cases, graduates have to rent their caps and gowns for a nominal fee; this is more common on college campuses than in high school. You will have to reserve your cap and gown in advance, so be sure to sign up early to avoid scrambling to find the appropriate outfit as the ceremony draws nearer and nearer.

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