Academic dress of the University of Cambridge

Academic dress of the University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has a long tradition of academic dress, which it traditionally refers to as academical dress (though "academic dress" is used here for consistency with other articles on Wikipedia). Almost every degree which is awarded by the University has its own distinct gown in addition to having its own hood. Undergraduates wear college gowns which have subtle differences enabling the wearer's college to be determined. Academic dress is worn quite often in Cambridge on formal, and sometimes informal, occasions, and there are a number of rules and customs governing when and how it is worn. Black gowns (undress) are worn at less formal events, while on special days (such as the days of General Admission to Degrees) full academical dress is worn, consisting of gown, hood and headdress with Doctors in festal dress. The University's officials also have ancient forms of academic dress, peculiar to the University.

When academic dress is worn

Most undergraduates buy or borrow a gown in their first week at Cambridge for the purpose of matriculation, which is the formal ceremony of enrolment in the University. It is more common to buy a gown, especially at the more traditional colleges, as the number of occasions on which it is worn quickly repays the investment. Gowns are often recycled between 'generations', as new graduate students in turn need to upgrade their gowns at the start of the year.

In most colleges, gowns are worn to Formal Hall (formal dinner, held every night in some colleges, once or twice a term in a few others) and to Chapel. Various College events also demand academic dress; for example, in the Trinity College regulations for members "in statu pupillari", it specifies that certain senior members of College (such as the Dean) prefer students to wear a gown when addressing them in their official capacity (often when having been "deaned" for breaking the College Rules). The extent to which these rules apply vary greatly from college to college, some dispensing with them academic attire even for formal hall.

On special occasions, fuller academic dress is used, including hoods. Gowns are always worn with a hood to graduation ceremonies at the Senate House, and the University sets out strict rules regarding which gown and hood a graduating student should wear, and with what. Hoods may also be worn when attending chapel with Choir Dress or a surplice.

Components of Cambridge academic dress

When wearing full academic dress, a person wears the gown, hood and headdress of the highest degree he or she has already received from the University of Cambridge. Anyone who does not hold a Cambridge degree (such as an undergraduate, or a graduate of another university) normally wears a gown according to his or her status in Cambridge, i.e, undergraduate, BA status or MA status (see below), though without the strings which are attached to the gowns of Cambridge graduates. Graduates of other universities may wear the academic dress of those universities on 'scarlet days', unless they are university officials or participating in a degree ceremony, but this has only been permitted since 1998. [ [ "Reporter" Results of ballot, Grace 1 of 29 July 1998] ]

A graduand (someone about to be presented for a degree) wears the full Cambridge academic dress of the highest status degree that they already hold. Graduands who do not already hold a Cambridge degree wear the gown appropriate to their status in the University, along with hood of the degree to which they are about to be admitted. Undergraduates, who do not yet hold a degree, wear their undergraduate gown, with the hood of the degree that they are about to receive. [ [ Degree Ceremonies: Academical dress] ] Thus, for example, an undergraduate graduating to a BA degree wears an undergraduate gown and a BA hood. A holder of a BA from Cambridge graduating to a PhD wears both a BA hood and gown, whereas a graduate of another university graduating to a PhD wears a BA or MA status gown and PhD hood.

The full list of degrees and their order of seniority is given in the Ordinances of the University: [] as a rule of thumb, higher doctorates outrank the PhD, which outranks masters' degrees, which outrank bachelors' degrees.


The gowns in use at Cambridge, like those generally used throughout the UK but not the US, are open-fronted. The main types seen are the undergraduate gown, Bachelor of Arts gown and Master of Arts gown, though the sleeves of graduates' gowns are adorned with various patterns that indicate the exact degree or degrees that they possess, and allow this to be determined even when hoods are not being worn. In addition, for Scarlet days, Doctors (either of Philosophy, or one of the more senior doctorates) wear special dress gowns, distinguished by the use of scarlet.


All undergraduate gowns resemble knee-length versions of the BA gown, and the basic gown is black, reaching down to just below the knees with an open pointed sleeve and the forearm seam left open. Most colleges' gowns include minor variations on this pattern, such as sleeve decorations. The most distinct differences are the blue colour of the undergraduate gowns of Trinity and Caius and the blue facings of Selwyn. Illustrations and descriptions of the various collegiate gowns are available from the University's Heraldic and Genealogical Society website [] or the University's Cap & Gown Society website [] .

BA and MA

The two most common graduate gowns in Cambridge are the BA gown and the MA gown. Unlike in most other universities, except the University of Oxford, no bachelor's degree save the BA is awarded and all undergraduates at Cambridge traditionally graduated with a BA degree after 3 years, although, these days, many graduates also obtain a master's degree, such as an MEng or MSci, after a further year of study, and graduate to both degrees at once.

As in Oxford, BAs are automatically entitled to proceed to the degree of Master of Arts after a period of time (see also Master of Arts (Oxbridge and Dublin)). In Cambridge, this period is 6 years from the end of the first term after matriculation provided this is at least two years from the award of the BA [] — BAs are thus eligible for the MA at the first graduation ceremony in the 7th calendar year after matriculation.

The BA gown is a long black stuff (cloth) gown with long bell-shaped sleeves to the wrists with the forearm seam left open from near the shoulder to around 4-3" from the wrist. The gown is gathered at the back in a yoke, and falls down to just below the knees. The BA hood is of black cloth, bound and half-lined in white (artificial) rabbit fur.

The MA gown is similar to the BA gown, except that it has "boot" sleeves, which are long, rectangular and closed at the ends, with a crescent cut out of each sleeve-end which curves at the top (unlike the Oxford MA gown), and a horizontal arm-slit just above the elbow. It falls down to calf length (slightly longer than the BA gown) and may be made of silk. The MA hood is of black cloth bound and lined in white silk.

Other Masters' gowns vary from subject to subject at Cambridge; for example, the Master of Engineering (MEng) and M.Sci. gowns are the standard MA gown but with an embroidered wheel on each sleeve, and a corresponding hood is worn. The MPhil gown is the same as the MSci gown, but instead of an embroidered wheel, it has two buttons connected by a horizontal embroidered line at the shoulder.

Persons without a Cambridge degree (including those with a degree from another university) wear a "BA status" or "MA status" gown, which is identical to a BA or MA gown but with the "strings" (black ribbons attached inside the shoulder) removed. The BA status gown is for those aged under twenty-four while the MA gown is for those aged twenty-four or over. (The rationale is that Cambridge students would usually join the university at 18, obtain their BA after 3 years, at 21, and their MA after a further 3 years, at 24.)


Doctors in Cambridge have two forms of academic dress: "undress" and "full dress" (or "scarlet"). Scarlet is worn on formal college and university occasions, and so-called Scarlet Days (mostly Church of England festivals such as Easter and Christmas).

The "undress gown" or "black gown" is similar to the MA gown (for PhD, LittD, ScD and in practice DD) or is a 'lay-type' gown similar to that worn by Queen's Counsel (LLD, MD, MusD). Different doctorates are distinguished from each other and from the plain MA gown by different arrangements of lace on the sleeves, facings or flap collar. Undress gowns may be made of silk or stuff. The gown may be worn with a doctor's hood. The PhD hood, the one most commonly seen, is made of black corded silk lined with scarlet cloth; the hoods of higher doctors are made of red cloth and lined with silk in the faculty colour (scarlet for letters, pink shot light blue for science, light-cherry for laws, mid-cherry for silk, dove grey for divinity). The MusD hood is of cream damask lined with dark cherry satin.

The "full dress" or "scarlet gown" differs for each doctorate, but uses the same material and colours as the hood. For PhDs, there are two versions of the scarlet gown. The traditional version is the same as the MA gown (in theory, though not in practice, the silk version), with the addition of a broad red cloth stripe down each side at the front. The alternative version (authorised in 2006 [] [] but commonly used without authorisation before then) uses detachable facings on an undress PhD gown, which is distinguished from the MA gown by doctors' lace on the sleeves that is not found on the traditional festal PhD gown. For the higher doctorates, such as LLD or ScD, the scarlet gown is a more impressive affair, being brightly coloured and voluminous, with open sleeves that hang long at the back, at the sleeve front, the lining is turned outwards and is fixed in position by a twisted cord and button. The linings of the sleeves and the facings are in silk of the faculty colour.


Hoods are worn on the back as an indicator of academic status. These are of the notable "Cambridge Full" shape. The hood consists of a cape, cowl, liripipe, and tippet. The neckband of a hood is of the outer colour, with no edging of the lining material. The corners of tippets are square. The design of hoods as set by University Ordinances Chapter II is below. []


A form of a black hat known as a square cap (also mortarboard) is worn or carried. Properly, it is worn outdoors and carried indoors, except by people acting in an official capacity who customarily continue to wear it indoors. Although in practice few people wear (or even carry) a cap nowadays, they are nominally still required for graduates at the University; caps ceased to be compulsory for undergraduates in 1943 due to a shortage during the Second World War, and, after bringing them back for degree ceremonies in the Senate House only, were finally made entirely optional for undergraduates in 1953, though they are still not permitted to wear any other head covering with a gown.

With their festal gowns, Doctors of Divinity wear a black velvet cap, and Doctors in other Faculties wear a wide-brimmed rouns velvet bonnet with gold string and tassels, known as a Tudor bonnet, instead of a mortarboard, though they may choose to wear a square cap with a festal gown if they are taking part in a ceremony in the Senate House.


"Sub-fusc" means "of a dark/dusky colour", and refers to the clothes worn with full academic dress in Cambridge. Generally, this involves a dark suit and white shirt, collar, bands and bow tie for men (who must also wear black socks), and a dark suit and white blouse for women. The rules for dress on graduation for women also specify that women's attire must have long sleeves and, if a skirt is worn, it must be knee-length or longer and worn with tights.

In place of "sub-fusc", members of Her Majesty's Forces have in the past been allowed to wear their service uniform, persons in holy orders their clerical dress, and national dress has been worn, together with the appropriate gown and hood. Currently as of 2007, national dress is no longer accepted as an alternative to "sub-fusc". The proctors have discretion to waive the part of the regulations concerning dark clothes and white tie on 'reasonable grounds'.

The Cambridge form of "sub-fusc" is usually not as strict as that at Oxford, and gowns are often worn with less formal attire (particularly by undergraduates who are required to wear gowns to hall). However, the rules are enforced strictly at formal graduation ceremonies, and persons who are incorrectly dressed may be prevented from graduating in person and their Praelector or Presenter may be fined.

Academic dress for officials of the University

The Chancellor

The Chancellor of the University wears on ceremonial occasions a black silk gown with a long train, decorated with gold lace, similar to the gown of the Lord Chancellor.

Persons presenting for, or conferring, degrees

The Vice-Chancellor or his/her deputy, when conferring degrees, and anyone who is not a praelector of a college presenting a graduand (in practice, this is limited to the certain Doctors of Divinity, Law and Physic or their deputies presenting for higher doctorates) wears a scarlet "cappa clausa", or "closed cope" of scarlet cloth with an ermine hood and trimmings, as shown in the image. Cambridge is the only university in the world to retain the "cappa clausa" as part of its academic dress.


The Proctors in Cambridge are formally responsible for the discipline of junior members of the university. In addition, they have various ceremonial and administrative duties, with which they are, in practice, mainly occupied.

In both Oxford and Cambridge, the Proctors could formerly be seen patrolling the streets after dark with the university Constables, or "bulldogs", who wore top hats in Cambridge and bowler hats in Oxford. These traditions have now ceased, although the Proctors are still responsible for posting various disciplinary notices (e.g. highlighting the restriction on undergraduates' possession of motor cars) around the Colleges. Their Constables continue to wear top hats and cloaks on ceremonial occasions.

The Proctors wear the academic dress of a Master of Arts, but with a distinctive ruff at the neck. They wear the MA hood to congregations, but at other times wear the hood "squared," meaning that it is so folded that it presents the appearance of a large square cape. The method of arranging this dress has been handed down, as has a pattern "ruff", from Proctor to Proctor; but nowadays the repositories of such traditions are more often the Proctors' men, who, in these matters, perform the offices which judges expect of their clerks. [ [ CAMBRIDGE Described by NOEL BARWELL Pictured by E. W. HASLEHUST] ]

Other officials

The University constable, or "bulldog", has full dress comprising a long blue cloak studded with brass buttons. With this he carries a halberd.

Other officials such as the Esquire Bedell or Orator wear the academic dress appropriate to their degree.


External links

* [ University of Cambridge Ordinances, Chapter II, contain regulations on academical dress] (PDF)
* [ Cambridge University Cap & Gown Society] , formed to promote awareness and wearing of Academical Dress at Cambridge.
* [ The Burgon Society, founded to promote the study of Academical Dress]
* [ Cambridge University Heraldic & Genealogical Society gown guide]
* [ Gonville & Caius College: Dress at graduation]
* [ Gonville & Caius College: Academic dress]
* [ New Hall College: Academical dress]
* [ Discussion of the wearing of academical dress on scarlet days]
* [ Discussion of academical dress for the Vet.M.D. degree]
* [ Ryder and Amies] academic tailors, with images of academic dress on their website
* [ A. E. Clothier] University and General Outfitter (specialising in menswear and university clothing; jewellery with college crests; full dress hire service)
* [ University of Cambridge: Information on the Cambridge MA]

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