The custom of wearing academic caps, gowns, and hoods can be traced to the twelfth century.  At that time both men and women wore long, full, flowing robes. This mode of dress gradually changed so that by the end of the seventeenth century only legal and official personages wore gowns. However, certain guilds and universities established the tradition of wearing prescribed apparel. In the universities, the details of the dress distinguished different degrees of learning and the faculty. In the United States, as a result of our English heritage, caps and gowns have been used from colonial times, especially at our older universities such as Columbia (King’s College), New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, Yale, and others. Around 1885 there was a widespread student movement to wear caps and gowns at commencement. The faculties approved this dignified graduation dress and soon adopted the custom of wearing gowns at academic ceremonies.

In 1895, the Intercollegiate Commission presented American institutions of higher learning the Intercollegiate Code. This code regulated the design of gowns and hoods as well as the colors and materials to be used. The code was subsequently adopted by more than 95 percent of U.S. colleges and universities. It has given America an impressive but simple method of signifying scholastic honors.

The code provides for three types of gowns. The gown for the bachelor’s degree is made of green material and has long pointed sleeves. The gown for the master’s degree is made with an oblong sleeve open at the wrist.  The rear part of this oblong shape is square cut and the front part has an arc cut away. The gown for the doctor’s degree has bell-shaped sleeves. It is faced with velvet and has three bars of velvet on each sleeve. The color of the velvet trim may be black or the same color as the velvet which edges the gown.

The green oxford or mortarboard-style cap is worn for all degrees, but only the doctor’s cap may be made of velvet and have a gold tassel.

The hood is the most important and distinctive feature of the American code. An understanding of the system makes it possible to distinguish readily bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s hoods and to recognize the university which gave the degree. The doctor’s hood is four feet in length and made with a wide panel. The master’s and bachelor’s hoods are three and one-half and three feet in length, respectively. They are made of black cloth and are lined with silk in the official academic colors of the institution which conferred the degree. The hoods worn by graduates of The University of Alabama at Birmingham are lined in green silk with a gold chevron. The trim of all hoods is velvet, two inches, three inches, and five inches wide for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees, respectively. The color of the velvet trim indicates the department or faculty to which the degree pertains. Each department has been assigned a different color by the Intercollegiate Code. The following is a list of colors assigned to several of the disciplines within The University of Alabama at Birmingham.


Discipline Color           Discipline Color
Arts White   Nursing Apricot
Business Drab   Optometry Seafoam Green
Dentistry Lilac   Philosophy Dark Blue
Education Light Blue   Public Health Salmon Pink
Engineering Orange   Science Gold-Yellow
Fine Arts Brown   Social Science Citron
Medicine Green      


A few years ago some Ivy League colleges approved the wearing of gowns which were not black but the official school colors. This trend has expanded so that currently many colleges and universities have adopted special colored gowns. The members of The Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama system wear a green gown with gold trim at The University of Alabama Birmingham academic ceremonies. Colored gowns worn by many faculty identify the doctoral degrees of many American and foreign universities.