Academic dress of Harvard University

Academic dress of Harvard University

As the oldest university in the United States, Harvard University has a long tradition of academic dress. Harvard gown facings bear crow's-feet emblems, a symbol unique to Harvard, made from flat braid in colours distinctive of the wearer's qualification or degree. Crow's-feet are double for earned degrees, and triple for honorary degrees.

History of Harvard academic dress

According to the Laws of Harvard College of 1807:

Every Candidate for either Degree shall attend the public procession, on Commencement Day, to and from the College. And every Candidate for a first degree shall be clothed in a black gown, or in a coat of blue grey, a dark blue, or a black color; and no one shall wear any silk nightgown, on said day, nor any gold or silver lace, cord, or edging upon his hat, waistcoat, or any other part of his clothing, in the College, or town of Cambridge. And any Candidate for his Degree, who shall neglect such attendance, without sufficient reason, to be allowed by the President, or shall be habited contrary to this regulation, shall not be admitted to his Degree that year.

Most universities in the United States follow a uniform code, first published in 1895. Harvard University chose not to participate in the Intercollegiate Commission on the matter in 1893, though Harvard did finally conform to the academic costume code. []

In 1822, the crow's-feet emblem was adopted for undergraduates' dress.

In 1897 the Harvard Corporation suggested that all Harvard hoods be lined in crimson, however, due to the then presiding President Eliot's dislike of academic dress, this was in fact not adopted until 1902.

In 1955 the Harvard Doctoral gown was voted and approved by the Corporation.

When academic dress is worn

Academic dress at Harvard is most often worn at a Commencement. It is also worn on Class Day.

Tradition also held that Harvard College Seniors as well as members of the graduate schools of Harvard wear gowns after May 1. After the 1940s, this is no longer commonly observed.

In 1906, however, College Seniors, and graduate students of "other Cambridge departments of the University [were] especially urged to wear caps and gowns, as it is only in this way that many of these men will become known to other members of the class whose daily work has heretofore prevented acquaintanceship" as had been the custom for many years. For Harvard University graduands, academic dress is required for admittance to the Commencement ceremony.

General rules

According to the rules adopted by the Harvard Corporation in 1902:

Gowns: A. B., S. B. and B. A. S.,--Black worsted stuff, with pointed sleeves; A. M. and S. M.,--Black silk, or worsted stuff, with long closed sleeves; Ph. D., S. D., M. D. V., M. D., LL. B., S. T. B., D. D. and LL. D.--Black silk, or worsted stuff with round open sleeves, faced down the front with black velvet, and with three black velvet bars across each sleeve.

The School in which the degree was given is designated on all gowns by a conventional design known as a, double crow's-foot, to be placed on each side, in front, near the collar, and in color distinctive of the School, thus: Arts, white; science, gold-yellow; philosophy, dark blue; agriculture, golden brown; veterinary medicine, gray; dental medicine, lilac; medicine, green; law, purple; theology, scarlet; honorary LL. D. and D. D., a triple crow's-foot on each side.

Hoods: For all ordinary degrees--Black, the material being that of the gown, lined with crimson silk; three feet long for bachelors, three and one-half for masters, four for doctors and for the degrees of LL. B. and S. T. B. For honorary degrees--Black cloth lined with crimson silk. Caps: For all degrees--The usual academic cap of black cloth with a black tassel; or, for professors, assistant professors and other members of the University Council, the square soft cap of velvet.

Members of the University Council, not doctors, or holding no degree from this University, are authorized to wear the doctor's gown with double crow's-foot of the color of the department to which they belong.


* The gown of the President of Harvard University is a form of Puritan clerical dress rather than an academic robe. It is worn open over a matching waistcoat.
* First degree candidates or bachelors of arts or sciences wear a gown of black cloth, with facings of the same material cut in the bachelor's shape as described by the American Council on Education intercollegiate [ "Academic Costume Code"] .
* The master's gown is of the Intercollegiate Code master's pattern.
* The doctoral gown is crimson silk with facings continuing around the yoke, in black velvet. The sleeves are trimmed with three black velvet bars with pointed ends. This stands in contrast to the Juris Doctor gown, which robe is all black, with velvet facing and bars, with purple crow's feet befitting the subject.


All graduates' hoods are black lined with crimson silk, and are cut in the Edinburgh simple shape. Rank is indicated by the hood length: bachelor's hoods are 36", master's 42", and doctors 48". The hood was actually the same hood of the Oxford MA before the hood shape changed in Oxford to either the Oxford simple-shape [s1] or the Burgon simple-shape [s2] .

Masters of Harvard Houses wear tippets embroidered with the House shield.

Under the Gown

Tradition holds that full dress with white tie, be worn under the gown, although in recent years, this is rarely observed among students. In the past, when Harvard gowns were cut to open at the top, this mean that black tailcoats and white ties were worn under the gown. This tradition is similar to the Oxford University concept of subfusc. It is also similar, but not the same, as formal white tie dress.

In 1892, the first year gowns were worn to Class Day, the Class Day Committee established that:

No senior will wear ribbons, badges or medals of any description on the gown.

The cap will not be removed for the purpose of greeting acquaintances, but will be removed indoors.

Black coats and waistcoats with white ties, and dark trousers will be worn under the gown. There must be no violation of this rule.

The cap and gown will be retained in the evening, unless removed to facilitate dancing.

An acceptable variant was full formal dress, white tie, but without the coat, the gown being worn in its place.

Today, formal morning dress including top hats, and often gloves and canes, is worn by officials at Commencement who are not wearing gowns.

Officials at Commencement

Today, the Sheriff of Middlesex County, Former Class Marshals, and other officials present at Commencement wear formal morning dress, including top hats, canes, one of the few occasions in the United States where morning dress is worn.

Harvard aides and marshals, at commencement, wear black top hats, white four-in-hand ties and cutaway coats for men, and white dresses and crimson sashes for women. This is a uniform based on formal morning dress.

At various times in history, dress at Commencement has been the subject of controversy, such as the occasion, printed on June 10, 1970 in "The Harvard Crimson", when the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reportedly appeared in ancient dress some 35 years prior:

Gov. James Michael Curley appeared in silk stockings, knee britches, a powdered wig, and a three-cornered hat with flowing plume.

When University marshals objected to his costume, the story goes, Curley whipped out a copy of the Statutes of the Massachusetts Bay Colony which prescribed proper dress for the occasion and claimed that he was the only person at the ceremony properly dressed.

ee also

*Academic dress

External links

* [ Harvard Commencement Guide to Academic Garb]
* [ Harvard Magazine: Reading the Regalia, A guide to deciphering the academic dress code]
* [ Harvard Magazine: These Festive Rites]
* [ The Correct Forms for Each Degree Stated by the Corporation.]
* [ Harvard Crimson: Caps and Gowns (October 20, 1876)]
* [ Harvard Crimson: Wearing of Caps and Gowns Begins Today (Tuesday, May 01, 1906)]
* [ Harvard Crimson: Notice to Seniors (June 23, 1892)]
* [ Harvard Crimson: The Faculty have decided to appear in gowns. (June 23, 1876)]
* [ Harvard Crimson: Sheriff Cops Out on Commencement (June 10, 1970)]

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