The Collegian
Saturday, September 24, 2022

Graduation fashion: What all your professors' gowns, hats and scarves mean

<p>Provost Jacquelyn Fetrow and former President Edward Ayers take a selfie at 2015 commencement. Photo courtesy of University of Richmond website.</p>

Provost Jacquelyn Fetrow and former President Edward Ayers take a selfie at 2015 commencement. Photo courtesy of University of Richmond website.

On May 7, University of Richmond seniors, dressed in shiny black gowns and caps, will flood campus as they prepare for the event that their past four years at this school have led to: commencement.

Students, however, are not the only attendees with a mandatory dress code. Richmond professors wear gowns as well, the colors and intricacies of their robes indicating different degrees, schools and more.

“The significance of all the scarves, braids and tassels has remained a mystery to me all these years,” journalism professor Michael Spear said.

Spear has taught at Richmond since 1985 and earned his master’s degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“The robe I have and the hat – the mortar board I guess they call it – I found it in my office when I came here and I have been using it for 33 years,” Spear said. “It’s a little large for me but it works!”

Gowns for the bachelor's or master's degrees are untrimmed, according to the Academic Costume Code provided by the American Council on Education. 

"For the doctor's degree, the gown is faced down the front with black velvet. Three bars of velvet are used across the sleeves,” the code says.

Professor Paul Clikeman, who has a Ph.D. in accounting from the University of Wisconsin, purchased his gown for about $300 the summer before he started his first year.

“I was told at the time that it was mandatory for faculty to attend commencement,” Clikeman said. According to Richmond’s faculty handbook, the faculty are “expected to attend commencement,” but not required.

In addition to the gown, many professors also wear an individualized stole and a cap. A stole is a piece of fabric that drapes around a person's shoulders.

“The main color of the stole depends on the subject area, so all business professors will have a beige color,” Clikeman said as he pulled out his stole. “The interior colors, those are the school colors of where you got your diploma. I got mine at the University of Wisconsin, and their school colors are red.”

Diane Kellog works and teaches in the chemistry department and holds a Ph.D from the University of Arizona.

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“I just love how you can see the huge range of where professors came from and the range of their accomplishments,” Kellogg said, “Whether it’s a Ph.D., a Master’s and so on.”

Kellogg does not attend the commencement ceremony often, and therefore does not own a robe because they can be expensive.

“I wish I had a gown," Kellog said. "It would be nice because I think my colors would be red and blue like the University of Richmond."

Contact reporter Kay Trulaske at

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