Why Do Graduates Wear Caps and Gowns and Judges Wear Robes?


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 also
clerics or aspiring clerics, and excess in apparel was not encouraged. As such, in the beginning it is thought that
there was little difference between what the academics were wearing and the laity, excepting
that the academics and clergy tended to wear very plainly colored garb. Beyond that, the clothing was simply practical. When the universities were originally formed,
they had no official buildings of their own to hold lectures in, so classes typically
gathered in nearby churches. Their simple robes and outer covering served
the purpose of keeping them warm in the drafty medieval church buildings, and the hoods kept
the weather off when they ventured out of doors. The earliest standardization of academic garb
occurred as a byproduct of a 1222 edict by Stephen Langton at the Council of Oxford,
where it was declared that all clerks should wear a form of the cappa clausa, a long cape
typically worn over a robe. In short order, this became thought of as
a mark of an academic as the newly minted universities adopted it for the aforementioned
reasons, while at the same time the clergy in general (outside of academic contexts)
over time wore it less and less. By 1321, this ultimately lead to the University
of Coimbra mandating that plain gowns be worn by Licentiates, Bachelors, and Doctors. By Tudor times, more or less this same basic
standard had been set for academic dress at Oxford and Cambridge. Gradually more comfortable versions were adopted
keeping a version of the robe, but without the thick outer layer. As for coloring, things remained very plain,
generally black. Certain colors weren’t designated to represent
specific areas of study until a few centuries later in the late 1800s, with the standards
varying from country to country and in many cases university to university. So that’s the gowns, what about the goofy
looking caps, or mortarboards? The mortarboard is called such due to it resembling
the flat board used by bricklayers to hold mortar (called a ‘hawk’). The cap is simply a square, flat board fastened
to a skullcap with a jaunty tassel fastened to its center. Some historians suggest the mortarboard is
the descendant of the biretta, which was headgear often sported by Roman Catholic clerics, scholars
and professors. This, in turn, probably derives from common
pileus (brimless hat) worn by the laity. The wearing of this hat was first ordered
in 1311 by the Church at the Synod of Bergamo, spreading from there as standard headgear
by clerics. By the 15th century, the mortarboard cap was
incorporated into the standard garb for many scholars, among others. It was initially not generally undecorated
as today (other than the tassel), but early versions could feature elaborate embroidery
and adornments. Further, in the early days at some universities,
the mortarboard was reserved for those who had earned the title of “master” or “doctor.” As explained by French historian Jacques Le
Goff: “Once he had passed the examination, the
candidate became licensed, however he could only possess the title of “doctor” and
teach as a Master following the public examination … In this way, he assumed for the first
time the role of the Master in a university setting. After this, the archdeacon ceremoniously conferred
upon him the authorization to teach, along with the symbolic regalia appropriate to his
function: a professorial chair, an open book, a golden ring, and the mortar board or cap.” Today the bar is not set quite as high, and
all grads are typically entitled to mortarboards in regions where they are worn. The tradition of the graduating class throwing
their caps in the air at the end of the ceremony has a relatively recent genesis. The first known instance of this was in 1912
at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There are slightly conflicting accounts as
to the reason they did this, but the general story is that it is because the Academy decided
to give them their officers’ hats at the graduation itself. Thus, the graduates chucked their midshipmen’s
caps in the air upon graduation, and ceremoniously placed their officers’ hats on. Unfortunately, how accurate that story is
and how that ended up catching on with other universities has been lost to history. It may simply be it happened independently
in many places as after the ceremony is over, no need for the stupid hats anymore, and it’s
kind of fun to throw things in excitement. Whatever the case, from medieval abbeys where
the style of dress was more or less just a version of what most people wore in parts
of Europe at the time, to modern high school gyms where the garb is decidedly out of place
outside of certain ceremonies, caps and gowns have continued to denote academic accomplishment,
with no sign of the tradition letting up any time soon. Bonus Fact:
As for why judges typically wear robes, this more or less seems to be for similar reasons
as gowns for academics. For example, this became the standard uniform
for judges in England during the reign of Edward II, who ruled from 1327 until 1377. At this point, as mentioned, they had already
been the standard garb for academics for over a century, as well as worn in other settings. For instance, this type of garb would also
have been appropriate for wear for a visit to the royal court, so a judge wearing his
robes outside of the courtroom would not have been out of place. The standard robe color for judges in England
at this time was not black, however, but rather came in three colors: violet for the summer,
green for the winter, and scarlet for special occasions. Judges often received the material for these
robes as part of a grant from the King. However, new guidelines dictating which robes
could be worn at certain times appeared in 1635, including suggesting judges wear black
robes with a fur trim during the winter and violet or scarlet robes that feature pink
taffeta for the summer. By the middle of the 18th century, English
judges typically wore a scarlet robe with a black scarf and a scarlet hood when presiding
over criminal cases, but for civil cases, they often wore black silk robes. Judges in the U.S. ultimately borrowed this
tradition from the British. This topic actually produced debate between
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams after the revolution. Jefferson argued that American judges should
distance themselves from the traditions set down by the English and wear only a suit in
court. Adams, a lawyer, disagreed and wanted judges
to continue wearing the robes and wigs of English judges. A compromise ensued, with it being decided
that the new American judges should wear the robe and not the wig. That said, in the United States the wearing
of robes by judges is now only tradition. Even in the Supreme Court of the United States
there is no requirement that its justices wear a robe in court. Despite this, the vast majority of judges
do so anyway, with some exceptions.

100 thoughts on “Why Do Graduates Wear Caps and Gowns and Judges Wear Robes?

  1. Thank you Lumerit for making this possible! Check out Lumerit here: http://lumerit.com/brainfood

  2. Not sure the British throw their mortar boards in the air upon graduation, at least we, and I, did not; something I am eternally thankful for.

  3. I like the fact American judges do wear the robes. (The wigs were silly, imho, and without a doubt very itchy & hot in the summer prior to A/C.) I like the fact that the robe is a visual symbol of the authority of the judicial bench. I also like the fact that wearing it gives the judges some anonymity when they go home for the day.

  4. It doesn't happen these days though, (at least not often if at all)…I know noone who wore those outfits upon graduating university….. it's a myth nowadays…..stemming from across the pond in all those scenes in films…where they seem to graduate every year throughout the entirety of their education, totally ridiculous….but that's the good ole US of A for ya!

  5. BTW, the midshipmen in dark jackets at the Annapolis graduation are among the small number of midshipmen who are receiving Marine Corps commissions. Only a fairly small number of Marine slots are available to midshipmen, and most of these slots are for coveted assignments. That means you have to have a high class standing to get one of the better Marine commissions. That's why there are dark jackets in the front row.

  6. Hmm…I seem to remember to have read somewhere that the square shape of the cap is to signify that the mind has been "formed" through study. Similar symbolism can be found within freemasonry – the sphere vs the cube.

  7. 1:33 Coimbra 😛 Hardly recognized the name. 😛 Would make it more easy to understand if you said the country also.

  8. The tossing of caps theory makes sense. To throw off of lesser learning to don a more responsible position in life would be something they would do ceremoniously in the good ol' days. I was interested in the different coloring of robe-underlings to designate which field of study in which they were involved. Sounds to me a lot like: red for security/engineering, blue for medical/science, and gold for command

  9. What's the point of the ridiculously long hood that you can't actually wear? There's no way this thing was the medieval version of the hoodie.

  10. But, you did not tell me why the cap I wore graduating from law school was floppy and infinitely more goofy than the simple mortar board cap.

  11. What the professors (even high school teachers) wear for graduation is just as weird if not more so. Same with official Greek orgs (frats) certain meetings. Both look from the middle age, some wizard looking shit.

  12. For me personally, I didn't want to be at my high school graduation ceremony, but was forced to, so the tossing of the cap and gown and diploma was my final f**k you to the school and the ceremony. I left all the stuff where it landed and left a big black tire mark on the pavement as I drove away. I spent the rest of the night with friends getting stoned.

  13. Stop. Simon, don't care how you spell your name, just stop. You consistently grab my attention with the title of your videos. I was not curious about many things you made videos about. Yet, the mere mention of these abstract topics, pique my curiosity. Thank you.

  14. In Europe the mortarboard is still only for PhDs (at least at proper universities). Therefor wearing it as a college bachelor feels pretentious to a European.

  15. The Judges wear robes so they look nice while being hurled from the upper apartment windows of the Bastille. Free Flying Lessons. Er um Lesson. Free Flying Lesson.
    Mortar boards are great for oil painting. Pigments can be mixed and then you can walk off with it on your head after painting.

  16. Simon, would you do an episode on milk glass, please? Not all people know what it is, nor the history behind it.

  17. Different types of robes are worn in different countries. Trenchers should only be worn by masters graduands, and bonnets should be worn by doctoral graduands. Bachelors and honours degree graduands don’t require headwear as they have a symbolic hood on traditional academic gowns. They’re all derived from the church.

  18. The answer is the Black Cube, the Cult of Saturn. I will accept no other answer, therefore I am not going to watch the video. They are Saturn Brotherhood, end of discussion.

  19. Simon, how much of this stuff did you already know, before making the videos? I thought the mortarboard cap was supposed to represent a book with a page marker.

  20. In Finland high school graduates wear a white velvet cap with a black ribbon; the black is black cap. On the ribbon there is a golden brocade of a lyre inside a wreath. When a student enters in university, they attach a long silk rope to it*, with a silk tussle. This cap can be only worn between first of May till September. It wasn't uncommon to see a student wearing the cap going on about his normal life and you may still see some wearing them in midsummer night festivals.

    *There are variations of the university graduate cap, for example, the design of the cap is different and the rope is attached to one side rather than into the centre and the rope may include knots (not sure, but I believe they may be a symbol of what you study.) These variations depend on the university.

  21. So, at the 3:39 mark, the text displayed on the screen has "a profesSORial chair," yet I distinctly heard Simon say "a profesSIONal chair." Anyone else notice this?

  22. On the subject of mortar boards has anyone actually been seriously injured at graduation by a mortar board thrown into the air?

  23. I'm always find hilarious US academic gowns which are done up all the way up the front. They always look to me like overalls and the wearer is about to start on some rather filthy job – perhaps digging out the sewers.

  24. I had to pay 60$ for that ugly and shapeless piece of rag! I threw it out the next week after my graduation. biggest waste of money…

  25. I still remember Phylicia Rashad making up the excuse that the mortar board caps were so that graduates could eat cheese and crackers off of eachothers heads during graduation. sigh Those were more innocent times.

  26. I put on the “hood” that I was given when I graduated from dental school and it looked WEIRD!!

  27. Interesting subject, as usual, but you didn't mention something I find hilarious about the British judges' wigs. It's always struck me that unlike what we usually think of as a wig, imitating a full head of hair, the judicial wigs worn by judges and barristers generally look like rugs shaped to be worn like caps or hats. And what almost brings me to laughter was the fact that before a judge pronounces a death sentence, he had to place a black handkerchief on top of his wig! (Do they still do this?)

  28. I've attended two University graduation ceremonies, Ironically I've noted that the cap and gowns are hired for the occasion, and are handed back on the way out. Pretentious tradition.

  29. Graduation ceremonies are completely worthless. You pay hundreds of dollars for junk that you could use to go to paying your college debt or buying pizza and beer.

  30. Could you sell out a little more please? This ad completely interrupts the flow of up until this that point a reasonably informative video.

  31. Teachers at my school wore gowns when i was there, that was 1971. It was a plain black gown .but on special occasions they wore their university gowns which are coloured and some times trimed with fur(not pc today)

  32. Wow, I didn't know there was that much history to it. I'm not surprised though.
    I have had to only wear that garment twice in my life: once for high school and once for college.

  33. A lot of our Uni students today would probably kill themselves to discover they are partaking in and wearing the clothes of old white Christian men- they should be thanking them.

  34. Mortar boards aren't generally worn in Scotland. My Graduation garb (Glasgow) would've been a plain black robe with a sky-blue (Science) lined, fur-trimmed hood (the hood is NEVER raised). Unsurprisingly, I chose to graduate in abstentia.

  35. So glad they ditched wearing the old, vile-looking wigs 😱😱😁. They really are hideous🤢! 🌈

  36. So you are saying there is no connection to the Masons and Saturnalia sect? I believed the "Masters" level and Mortar board etc all came from Masonic beliefs … no?

  37. I allways assumed a college an a university were just different sizes of w school collage being a avrage size school an a university being nearly city size

  38. Timely, I was just thinking about graduation mortorboards.
    Two new questions;
    1. Why do UK and former colonies drive on the left, while most other countries drive on the right.
    2. Why did passenger trains nearly disappear in the US, when they had so many before WWII, while Europe and Asia generally have many passenger trains?

  39. To simon whistler

    I greatly enjoy your videos they are informative and entertaining for me personally and i want to thank you for the work you do, your voice and personality brings great joy to your fans and i truly hope you find the strength to continue making videos…im sure your line of work can be daunting at times…thank you again

    Your fan jason

  40. Monks established most of the major universities in Europe. The academic garb was heavily influenced by their habit. Go further in time for research, Simon.

  41. upon receiving my degrees I've not only refused to wear that nonsense and even deigned it extremely egotistical to attend my graduation ceremony. Academia, pfft, it's all academic

  42. Good day Mr Whistler,

    I beg to differ, or add to your theory

    The first university in Europe was established by Muslims in the year 841, in the city of Salerno (ITALY). It was an extension of the universities in the east.
    Then the universities in Toledo, Seville and Granada were opened.
    So when the students from Europe (non-Muslims) learned and graduated from these universities, and returned to their lands, they used to dress in Arab/Muslim robes (thawb or QaMEES) they imitated the dress of the Muslims, and that would become an indication that this particular young man graduated from the university (of the Muslims).
    This imitation of wearing this arab/Muslim garb (which is baggy and wide in its design ) has stayed with them (non Muslims in the West) to this day.

    JACK GOODY, in his book titled "islam in EUROPE" says –
    "the Arabic clothing (thawb) has remained as the purest and clearest sign of scholastic integrity up to this day of ours, especially during scholastic events such as the debating of university thesis, and graduations."

    I AM SUBSCRIBED AND YOUR TOPICS AND INFORMATIONAL VIDEOS KEEP ME SMILING OR THINKING.

    PLEASE KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK

    Peace

  43. he fucked up hes last line, it supposed to be "And as always Thanks for watching" not "I cu next time"

  44. Monarchs in ancient China wore a hat similar to a mortar board with jewels hanging on the front and back

  45. I just had my diploma mailed to me. I had no interest in putting on a gown and going on stage to do that weird cross arms handshake while accepting the "diploma" (which is actually just a piece of rolled up paper, you get your real diploma after the ceremony).

  46. It's practice of universities inspired from Islamic Universities like Granada in Andulus (Spain) which was founded by Muslim rules….where religious,maths, science & technology studies were taught together and most of the professor were Islamic scholars who wore Thobe….this continue till today.

  47. Could you do a video about how an electric catfish or eel posses the ability of electrocuting and why other creatures do not? And is it possible to recreate in a lab? Just curious not done any research on my own.

  48. You could Google this
    Also I hate you, i don't mean to be a dick but you and your content reminds me of spraying dogshit off my shoes

  49. The first part is unfortunately completely wrong.
    It originated from the fact that the first universities in the world were built by Muslims (look it up), and Muslims generally wore robes. At the time, Europe's education was far behind that in the Islamic world, so European doctors and scientists who studied in the Islamic world wore the Islamic robes to make them stand out among others.
    As time went by, the robes became a signal of good education, and you know the rest of the story.
    You're right on the head cap part though.

    I'm really curious why you chose to Ignore this, it's the most credible story on the origin of graduation robes and it's well known so there's no chance that after doing your research on the matter, you've missed it!
    I just hope this isn't just another incident of westerners trying to cut Muslims out of the human history!

  50. The pictures used for the Cappa Clausa are actually depicting Copes. a Cope is an open garment used by the Church during non mass liturgical settings. The cappa clausa is a garment that fully encloses areound the body with a SINGLE opening slit in the front for the arms to pass through. There was ALSO a cappa nigra, which was similar to the clausa except there were TWO are slits, one for each side. In addition were the cappa manicata, the cappa nigra, and the tabards both sleeveless and with sleeves these were worn in the medieval times as designation of degrees, and sometimes level (such as the tabards being for bachelor degrees specifically, but sometimes maintained out of convenience when higher degrees were obtained.

  51. At high school graduation, we didn't throw our stupid hat in the air. We just moved our stupid tassel from one side to the other.

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