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The Meaning Behind Graduation Robes and Their Colors

A large graduation ceremony can be a sight to behold, seeing thousands of students wearing the same color robes adorned with stoles, cords, and graduation caps. But, if you’ve participated in a graduation ceremony, been to one, or seen one in movies or television, you may have wondered about the meaning behind graduation robe colors.

The History Behind Graduation Robes

The 11th century saw the creation of universities, with one of the first universities being founded in Bologna, Italy, in 1088, and this is still in operation to this day. Universities during this time were founded mainly by religious clergymen. Graduation gowns and hoods were worn to signify religious status. These gowns and hoods were not special attire for graduation ceremonies but rather were worn daily to differentiate students and professors from the town residents that were not associated with the university.

These European traditions were brought to the United States, where students and professors adorned similar garb. However, following the Civil War, the US began to renounce many of the traditions brought over by their colonizers and decided to do away with robes and hoods, saving the special apparel for graduation ceremonies.

What Do the Colors on Graduation Robes Mean?

Graduation robes have not changed much since their creation. Just different colors of graduation robes have been added, with various schools personalizing their ceremonies with special colored robes. As with most American traditions, personalized graduation robe colors originated in Europe. American universities began adopting these changes in the 1950s.

While robes have not changed much in their design, graduation hats and caps have had total redesigns. It is now common to see the mortarboard hat, thought to have been developed in the 15th century, widely adopted for most graduates.

Typically in a ceremony, the graduates wear the same robe colors for graduation, differentiating themselves with customized graduation caps, cords, stoles, and hoods given for various achievements. The same color robes are used to show the unity of the student body and the university. But how do they choose the color of the robes?

Most universities, such as Harvard University, have a deep history associated with their school colors, choosing them for their graduation caps and gowns. Other universities have different colored robes for each school or area of study within the university. Other universities, rather than changing the colors of the entire robe, chose to differentiate the schools and areas of study through different colored hoods worn with the robes.

Be Fully Prepared For Your Graduation

We hope this helped your understanding of the meaning behind graduation robe colors. If you are preparing to participate in a graduation ceremony and want to ensure that your family and friends can spot you in the crowd, consider wearing some custom graduation stoles, cords, or a personalized graduation hat. Most schools will provide you with a graduation cap to wear, synonymous with the rest of your graduating class. A common project many students take up is customizing their caps with images and words specific to them.

Visit Tassel Depot for all your graduation item needs, and check out our blog for helpful graduation tips!

Related Readings:

Different Ways to Display Your Tassel After Graduation 

5 High School Graduation Gift Ideas