Academic Regalia

Faculty in academic regalia

The installation ceremony features academic regalia and other symbols traditional to higher education.

In Canada, academic regalia is worn by university officials, faculty, students and honoured guests during commencement, installations of presiding officers and special convocations such as the inauguration of a newly endowed professorial chair.  Academic regalia typically consists of a headgear, robe and hood.  Until the 1930s, Canadian universities customarily prescribed academic robes for its professors and students at classes and lectures.  

Canadian and American universities follow the traditions for academic dress inherited from institutions of higher learning in the U.K. although some American innovations to this tradition (the Intercollegiate Code of Academic Costume ratified by most American universities in the 1890s) have also been adopted in Canada. The tradition of academic dress originated in the garments worn at medieval British universities, particularly Oxford which was founded in the 12th century.  Chancellors at Oxford were representatives of the bishop, and because of the close connection between university and the church, students and faculty wore clerical dress.

Individuals in academic procession traditionally wear costumes appropriate to their highest degree.  Variations to this procedure are authorized only for individuals who serve as the official representative of an institution  and for members of governing councils or boards of trustees, who may wear doctoral gowns but whose hoods must be appropriate to the degrees they actually hold. 


The mortarboard cap came into use during the 16th century.  Authorities differ on its origin.  Some say the cap is square like a scholar’s books; some say it is patterned after the shape of the Oxford campus.  A black tassel signifies holders of bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  The tassel may be gold for doctoral degrees and the governing offices of educational institutions.

Velvet tams or bonnets are ordinarily worn by faculty members with doctoral degrees. There are several stylistic variations. The Tudor bonnet is also referred to as a doctor’s bonnet or round cap. This a soft-crowned, round-brimmed cap, typically black velvet, with a tassel hanging from a cord encircling the hatband.

The Canterbury cap is a flat-topped soft cloth hat with a round headband that is deeper in the back than in the front.

The Oxford bonnet has a black ribbon between the crown and the brim. 

The John Knox cap is a soft, square cap made of black velvet that was worn by the Doctors of certain Scottish universities.  Several Canadian universities include the John Knox cap in the regalia of their Ph.D. graduates, including the University of Calgary and Queen’s University.

Gowns and Hoods

There are several types of gowns.  Bachelor’s gowns are black, have pleated front panels and long, pointed sleeves.  A traditional black mortarboard is typically worn. The Bachelors hood has velvet trimming indicating the degree, and coloured, patterned linings unique to the university conferring the degree.

Master’s degree holders wear black gowns with pleated front panels and a long, closed sleeve that falls below the knees and has an arc near the bottom end.  The Master’s hood, as in the American tradition, has velvet trimming indicating the degree. The black mortarboard is traditionally worn. 

Doctoral gowns are usually black with full, round, sleeves with velvet front facings and sleeve chevrons. The front of the gown is also full and round.  The colour of the velvet trim may be black or the same colour of the velvet that edges the hood.  Some institutions have authorized doctoral gowns in their school colours.

The Doctoral hood has velvet trimming indicating the department of the degree achieved and a lining representing the university that conferred the degree. 

The hood is worn at the back, suspended near the shoulders. The bachelor’s degree hood is three feet long with a two-inch velvet border; the master’s degree hood is 3 ½ feet long with a five-inch border; the doctoral hood is four feet long with a five-inch border.  

Hood Border Colours Indicating Fields of Study

The colour of the border indicates the field of learning in which the degree is earned:

  • Arts, Humanities – White
  • Commerce – Drab
  • Economics – Copper
  • Journalism – Crimson
  • Fine Arts – Brown
  • Law – Purple
  • Medicine – Hunter Green 
  • Nursing – Apricot
  • Philosophy – (PhD) Royal Blue
  • Physical Education – Sage Green
  • Science – Gold
  • Pharmacy – Olive Green
  • Public Administration – Peacock Blue
  • Public Health – Salmon Pink
  • Social Work – Citron