What are my graduation colours?

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Academic hood in blue with white edge, worn with graduation gown and mortar board (graduation cap) Christian Callaghan Photography

An academic hood is a garment that is worn around your neck and drapes over your shoulders and down your back. It usually features a coloured lining and sometimes has a coloured edge.

You most likely wear an academic hood at your graduation.

An academic hood is also often worn by academics at university ceremonies, by professionals at conferences or industry gatherings and by teachers at school assemblies.

The academic hood will be of a colour and design that is specific to your university and type of award. Essentially, it signifies where you studied and what you have achieved. 

There are many variations to the design and colour of academic hoods

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Therefore there are many, many variations to the design and colour of academic hoods.

For example, if you graduate from The University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts, you will wear a black Oxford style academic hood that is fully lined in the colour Stewart blue and edged with white.

On the other hand, if you graduate from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Arts, you will wear a Macquarie gold coloured academic hood that is made in the Cambridge style and is fully lined with Macquarie gold satin and edged with white satin.

If you achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree from Monash University, you will wear a Monash Turquoise coloured Cambridge style hood that is part lined and edged in the Monash arts faculty colour old rose.

You can see other variations to academic hoods here on our website

Where do academic hoods come from? What is the history of academic hoods?

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Hoods as everyday clothing, this image Medieval period (5th – 15th centuries) - Alamy

Academic hoods have a very long history.

What we know today as academic hoods were originally worn as an item of everyday clothing.

Hoods were primarily functional in nature, keeping the head, neck and shoulders warm.

Sometimes a hood would be worn over the head for protection and warmth, and when not required the hood would be taken off the head and left to simply drape down the shoulders and back.

Hoods were worn by all types of people in many different locations around the world.

During the winter months, hoods were often lined with fur, and during the warmer months hoods were most likely lined in silk. What you would make and line your hood with would obviously depend upon your wealth and status.

It is interesting to note that English origins of the term ‘hood’ refer to a soft covering of the head, whereas Dutch and German meanings of the word refer to headwear or a hat.

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Little Red Riding Hood in her cape with hood / Alamy 

Sometimes the hood may have been attached to a cloak or robe. Think ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ or picture the handmaid’s red cloak and hood worn in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.

A present day analogy would be the contemporary hoodie – a hoodie is a jumper with the extension of a hood.

It’s not uncommon to see graduates lifting up their graduation hoods to be worn like the present day hoodie. In fact, if you can do this, it generally means you are wearing the academic hood correctly. You can take a good selfie too.

So how did everyday hoods become academic hoods?

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Medieval monk dressed in robe with hood / Alamy 

Many western histories will refer to a medieval monk wearing his cloak with cowl around the head and shoulders. This example is one way of explaining the origins of the graduation hood because Monks were essentially the first scholars or academics of the western world. The hood performed the function of keeping the monk warm when studying in cold ecclesiastical buildings.

The foundation of European universities occurred during the 12th and 13th centuries when places of education extended outside monasteries. At first such groups of teachers and students were called ‘studia’ or ‘schools’ and thereafter ‘universitas’. With papal recognition, early universities such as Bologna and Paris became types of autonomous corporations that could make their own rules and regulations.

Some of the first such rules established by universities was that of academic dress. Like a lot of regalia, the different types of hoods, gowns and headwear prescribed by individual universities were a means of providing visual reference and identity of faculty and level of study. It also provided commonality and solidarity to the university as a community.

What is an Oxford style hood and what is a Cambridge style hood?

Australian styles of academic dress and graduation gowns have mostly been informed by British precedents. Terms such as ‘Oxford style’ or ‘Cambridge shape’ refer to the varying styles and patterns worn at British universities. Both styles come from their namesake universities.

An Oxford style hood is sometimes referred to as ‘simple’ shape and the Cambridge style hood referred to as the ‘full’ shape.

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Not all academic hoods are the same!

Some designs of Australian academic dress do not really fall under the categories of either the Oxford or Cambridge style. Take, for example, the unique hoods worn by UTS graduates (University of Technology Sydney), or the beautiful academic hoods and stoles worn by graduates of Curtin University in Western Australia. These have been specially designed and the patterns are particular to the respective universities.

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Design of academic hoods worn by academics who have graduated from UTS. Note the unique design at front fixing. UTS hoods made by others.

The different parts of an academic hood

If you’re wearing an academic hood, it can help to know the basic parts of an academic hood pattern.

 See how to wear your academic hood here on our website

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The cowl

The cowl and the hood are really one and the same. The cowl is the open draped part of the academic hood. The cowl is basically what makes the hood a covering of sorts. This is the part that is lined with colour or faux fur.

The liripipe

The liripipe is the closed, hanging tail-like part of the academic hood. It is really an extension of the hood, as some variations of academic hood design do not have a liripipe. Originally, the liripipe was useful for pulling the hood off the head and also for wrapping around the neck, like a scarf, to keep the hood in place and neck warm.

The cape

The cape is like a back drop to the cowl and liripipe. It is likely derived from the design of a typical cape and hood, however some attribute it to the tippet (a scarf like item of clothing worn over the shoulders). 

You can see diagrams of the many variations to academic hood design using the Groves classification system of academic dress. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groves_classification_system

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Various hoods and head wear circa 1300 / Alamy

So you can see how academic hoods have simply originated from an item of everyday clothing with practical purpose, to being a decorated item of regalia providing visual identity and commonality. Such are the origins of many types of regalia.

The on-going relevance and appreciation of academic dress and the academic hood continues. This tradition is one that maintains significance, meaning and maybe a little occasional fun for many people.

**As with all histories, it is important to remember that this account is a western-based history, and there are other histories that explain the origins of academia and scholarship, academic dress, graduation gowns and university traditions. Take for example American, Middle Eastern and Scandinavian histories.

Select bibliography

Dutton, K. R; Academic Dress: A Brief Guide to its Origins and Development; Convocation of the University of Newcastle, 1983. 

Goff, P; University of London Academic Dress; University of London Press, 1999.

Venables, J; Academic Dress of the University of Oxford; University of Oxford, 2009.