It is graduation season. Homework and projects finally end and are replaced with ceremonies that require awkward robes and goofy caps. High schools and universities all over the world are requiring graduates to sacrifice their sense of style to walk the stage and shake their school president’s hand. Congratulations graduates, you join a tradition that has persisted for hundreds of years. But did you know that the tradition comes from religious origins?
To find the origin of the cap and gown, you must look back to when universities first began to form. In the 13th and 14th centuries, universities could be found in most European countries. The students of these universities, however, were not like the average college-goer of today. Back then, the universities catered primarily to men hoping to join the clergy.
The theology students of these universities were working toward or had already obtained a position in the church, so the religious robes of the clergy were already a common sight on the school campuses. The bulky robes also provided the students warmth in the days before indoor heating. By the early 14th century the robe and cap were enforced as a university uniform in places like Cambridge and Oxford, as the simple attire kept the mind focused on learning, and not on flamboyant fashion.
There you have it. After years of partying, and some learning on the side, students dress up like "men of the cloth" to get the all-powerful paper: the diploma. Enjoy these pictures of clergymen wearing early versions of the enduring cap and gown.
Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon c. 1543
John Calvin c.1550s
University of Paris c. 16th century
14th century depiction of University