It is that time of year when graduating seniors start to wonder what they’re going to wear to those upcoming job interviews, or for those ahead of the game, what they’re going to wear to work. But at least our dear graduates won’t have to worry about finding that perfect outfit for commencement. Tomorrow our VT students will be a sea of black robes, with only the color of a dangling tassel to set them apart.

The origin of the goofy garments

The cap and gown custom started during the 12th century when early universities were still forming in Europe. At that time, no sufficient heating system was provided and students were forced to improvise to keep warm. The scholars, who were usually aspiring clerics or already clerics, started the practice of wearing a long robe with a hood for heat. Later that century, gowns were made the official dress of academics to prevent people from piling on layers and looking “frumpy” on their big day. It is quite ironic how nowadays, most of us are burning up in these robes!

Now for the hat. Commonly called a “mortarboard” due to its funny shape and similarity to what masons used to hold mortar, the graduation cap was based on the birettas worn by scholarly clergies to signify their superiority and intelligence. These hats became popular in the 14th and 15th centuries and were worn only by artists, humanists, students, and all those learned. They usually came in the color red signifying blood and life, hence, power more than life and death. We know them now as the hats worn primarily by religious cardinals.

Cap and Gown etiquette

Okay, so maybe our grads do have to worry a little…

Men: It is recommended that men wear dark trousers or khakis, dark socks, shoes, and a neatly-pressed, light-colored dress shirt with dark tie underneath an academic gown. Jeans and shorts, sandals and tennis shoes should be avoided. The cap is worn flat on the head. Men should remove their caps during the school song and the National Anthem.

Women: Graduates should wear dark slacks, dress, or skirt, and a light-colored dress blouse with dark shoes. High heels are not recommended for reasons of safety and comfort, flats or pumps are suggested. Sandals and tennis shoes should not be worn. Women are allowed to keep their caps on during the National Anthem.

Left to right? Right to left?

You’ve made it through college and are ready to graduate into the real world, but there is one more question you need answered. Where does the tassel go? Tassels are usually worn on the right side and shifted to the left when graduates receive their diplomas. Now whether or not you want to toss your cap into the air at the end is entirely up to you.

Finding jobs in the 21st Century

With all of the technological breakthroughs we’ve made in this Information Age, it is safe to say that there is still no magic bullet for finding a job. Hard work, good communication skills, and yes, etiquette are still just as important today they were decades ago. Of course using the web to do research on a company, find an internship, or see when the next career fair is being held doesn’t hurt either. Good luck out there, graduates!


Written by Emily Kale