Academic regalia is specialized clothing that is worn by academics. Most commonly, it's worn at graduations and formal events, although at some colleges, the tradition of being attired in academic gowns and caps at all times lives on. A variety of different styles are worn around the world, although, generally speaking, the basics are fairly consistent.
The tradition of wearing academic regalia evolved from two different sources of inspiration. The first was the flowering of culture in the Middle East, where students traditionally wore formal robes at universities, and this habit was adopted by many European traditions of higher learning. In addition, originally European universities were only open to those in religious orders, so students were typically already wearing formal robes or cloaks to reflect their religious commitments.
The style of regalia worn varies, depending on both where someone is and where he or she ranks on the academic scale. As a general rule, it includes a formal gown or robe, which may be designed to be left open or closed, depending on the country, along with some form of headwear, such as a flat, hard mortarboard or a soft tam; the headwear may be decorated with a tassel. Degree holders are also entitled to wear hoods of varying lengths, and they may also wear scarves, cords, or stoles to reflect various academic honors.
The clothing worn by holders of bachelor's degrees tends to be the most simple, while doctoral robes are more heavily ornamented. While traditional academic regalia is black, some people wear robes in school colors, especially if they hold doctoral degrees, and the hoods are color coded, reflecting the school and major of the wearer. In some colleges, this clothing comes in the form of formal “dress” regalia and “undress” black regalia worn for everyday occasions.
Because these outfits can be extremely expensive and they are infrequently worn, many people prefer to rent their robes but buy their hoods. Hoods are purchased because of their unique color-coding needs, allowing their wearers to rent gowns for future formal occasions while ensuring that they have the appropriate hood. The length of the hood is dictated by the degree held, with bachelor's being the shortest, while doctoral hoods are the longest.