Academic robe and capGraduation robes or “academic regalia” go back to the Middle Ages. The first European universities were started about the time the great cathedrals were being built, and they were also church-related. In those days, most men wore some form of hose (tights) with a gown — short for informal wear and long for formal wear — over them. The clergy, and the students in the new universities, wore black gowns because black did not show ink stains, and these were their ordinary garments during their days of taking notes and copying out texts with a quill pen and a horn of liquid ink.

A detachable hood was part of the standard medieval dress as well; it hung over the shoulders and could be pulled up over the head to keep the sun or rain off, or pulled off with a little rear extension called the liripipe and allowed to hang down the back. Originally the hoods too were black.

By the Renaissance, hats were in and hoods were out. Most hats were soft, flat bags like a tam. The larger ones needed a cardboard stiffener to keep them from falling down over the wearer’s eyes. In the eighteenth century in Oxford, poor undergraduates asked the tailors to leave off as much fabric as they could, so the cardboard stiffeners were all that remained. People thought they resembled the boards masons carried on their heads when working so the term “mortarboard” came into use.

Also in the eighteenth century, hoods became more colorful and were often made in colors that indicated the particular college or degree. Ornamental tassels were added to the mortarboards and generally worn (after graduation) hanging off the left side to keep a clear view of the writing hand. The whole regalia — cap, hood and gown — was worn to all lectures and at all formal college functions right up until the nineteenth century, and in many English colleges the gown is still worn by students attending classes. At Mary Baldwin, seniors put on their caps and gowns for the first time on Founders Day of their senior year, and add the hoods, which are lined with Mary Baldwin’s white and yellow colors, at commencement. The white facings represent the liberal arts. Specialized degrees all have their own different colors, but the liberal arts, like white light, is composed of all the colors.

—Lundy Pentz, Associate Faculty Marshal

Bachelor’s Degree Candidates | Master’s Degree Candidates


ROBES:Baccalaureate and master’s level gowns are usually black and are untrimmed, with the sleeves of the master’s gown generally longer. Velvet panels down the front of the gown distinguish doctoral gowns, which may be black or a school color of the university granting the degree. Three horizontal velvet bars, usually of the color representing the wearer’s degree, also mark the doctorate.

CAPS:Only doctoral caps may be made of velvet.

HOODS:The length of the hood indicates the degree, with the bachelor’s being three feet long, the master’s three and one half, and the doctoral four feet. The color of the lining indicates the university at which the degree was earned and is usually the school color.

The border of the hood indicates the academic discipline in which the degree was earned, as follows:

Architecture and Fine Arts Brown
Arts and Letters White
Business Light Brown
Economics Copper
Education Light Blue
Engineering Orange
Dentistry Lilac
Law Purple
Library Science Lemon
Medicine Green
Music Pink
Nursing Apricot
Oratory Silver Gray
Pharmacy Olive
Philosophy Dark Blue
Physical Education Sage Green
Public Administration Peacock Blue
Public Health Salmon
Science Golden Yellow
Social Work Citron Yellow
Theology Scarlet


Ajani participants Kente cloth stole — green and white Ajani (literally “she who wins all struggles") is a rite of passage and celebration for African-American students.
Alpha Sigma Lambda Burgundy and gold cord National honor society for returning adult students
Beta Beta Beta Red and green cord Biological sciences honor society
Honor Scholars Gold graduation tassel Mary Baldwin Honor Scholars Society
Iota Sigma Pi White, green, & yellow cord Women in Chemistry national honor society
Lambda Pi Eta Red and white cord National honor society for undergraduates in communication
Omicron Delta Epsilon Blue and yellow cord International economics honor society
Omicron Delta Kappa White, sky blue, & black cord National honorary leadership society
Phi Alpha Theta Red and light blue cord National honor society in history
Phi Beta Kappa Gold key, pin, pendant, or earrings The nation’s oldest academic honor society
Psi Chi Gold cord, blue & gold tassels Psychology national honor society
Senior Class Officers Small scarlet and gold ribbons on lapel Top elected positions for the graduating class
Senior Impact Gold apple charm on tassel Students who made a gift to Mary Baldwin
Student Class Marshalls Gold epaulet on left shoulder Top two students by GPA in each traditional class (including PEG and VWIL)
Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership Pair of green and yellow cords with silver disk VWIL cadets

Gowns worn by candidates for the Master of Arts in Teaching and the Master of Letters in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in Performance degrees are longer than the ones worn by the bachelor’s degree candidates, as are the bat wing–shaped sleeves. The hood is different, too: It is longer than the one that is worn by those who have earned the bachelor’s degree. The lining is yellow and white, Mary Baldwin University’s official school colors. The trim is white for both programs, because both are based in the liberal arts (see “ Faculty Regalia ”)