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The robes, hats and hoods worn by faculty members and graduates as they march into the commencement hall, and even the different colors you see on them, have historical origins and significance. During the Middle Ages, scholars at the earliest English and European universities wore wool or fur garments to stay warm in the drafty, stone buildings that were poorly heated. Most of the scholars were also monks or priests, and as such had the hair shaved from the crowns of their heads in the distinctive clerical tonsure. Most wore cloaks that included a hood that could be pulled up to keep their heads warm. The academic gowns and hoods were adapted from both secular and clerical garments of the time, and the hood was chosen by the early scholars to indicate by color, trim or binding the degree held by the wearer.
The style of academic dress most frequently worn in the United States dates back to colonial times, although it was not formally adopted until near the end of the 19th Century, when it was chosen as appropriate attire by the Intercollegiate Commission during a meeting in New York. It has remained the general standard in America since, although some variations occur at individual institutions. In the United States, black is the traditional color for academic gowns, although some institutions allow holders of doctoral degrees to wear robes in the university's colors.
The sleeves of the robes vary, depending on the degree held by the wearer. The bachelor's robe has long, pointed sleeves. The master's robe has sleeves that are oblong and closed at the ends, with slits through which the arms may be extended. The doctoral robe has a full sleeve with a velvet facing on the front and at the neck, and three velvet bars on each sleeve. The velvet may be black or of a color that symbolizes the degree held by the wearer.
The head covering most commonly used in the United States is the square, tasseled "mortarboard." Some American universities, however, use berets, and in other countries a variety of styles of head coverings is worn with academic regalia. The tassel is usually black and is worn over the left front quarter of the mortarboard. Holders of doctoral degrees may wear gold tassels.
The hood is the most distinctive feature of American academic dress, which through color and design may indicate the wear's degree and the institution at which that degree was earned. Hoods are lined with the colors of the institution that awards the degree, and may be faced with the color designating the degree awarded. Hoods vary in length. The bachelor's hood is about three feet long, the master's slightly longer and the doctoral version is longer still and is decorated with broad color panels.
Candidates for advanced or professional degrees wear hoods symbolic of the degree. The color of the trim of the hood and the sleeve chevrons and panels of the academic gown are distinctive of the degree as follows:
The colors of Oklahoma State University are embodied in the lining of the hood (orange and black chevron). The colors of the hoods of faculty and guests are those of the institution conferring the degree.