Academic Regalia

Faculty | Graduating Seniors | Master’s Degree Candidates

Graduation robes or “academic regalia” go back to the Middle Ages. The first European universities were started about the time the great cathedrals were being built, and they were also church-related. In those days, most men wore some form of hose (tights) with a gown — short for informal wear and long for formal wear — over them. The clergy, and the students in the new universities, wore black gowns because black did not show ink stains, and these were their ordinary garments during their days of taking notes and copying out texts with a quill pen and a horn of liquid ink.

A detachable hood was part of the standard medieval dress as well; it hung over the shoulders and could be pulled up over the head to keep the sun or rain off, or pulled off with a little rear extension called the liripipe and allowed to hang down the back. Originally the hoods too were black.

By the Renaissance, hats were in and hoods were out. Most hats were soft, flat bags like a tam. The larger ones needed a cardboard stiffener to keep them from falling down over the wearer’s eyes. In the eighteenth century in Oxford, poor undergraduates asked the tailors to leave off as much fabric as they could, so the cardboard stiffeners were all that remained. People thought they resembled the boards masons carried on their heads when working so the term “mortarboard” came into use.

Also in the eighteenth century, hoods became more colorful and were often made in colors that indicated the particular college or degree. Ornamental tassels were added to the mortarboards and generally worn (after graduation) hanging off the left side to keep a clear view of the writing hand. The whole regalia — cap, hood and gown — was worn to all lectures and at all formal college functions right up until the nineteenth century, and in many English colleges the gown is still worn by students attending classes. At Mary Baldwin, seniors put on their caps and gowns for the first time on Founders Day of their senior year, and add the hoods, which are lined with Mary Baldwin’s white and yellow colors, at commencement. The white facings represent the liberal arts. Specialized degrees all have their own different colors, but the liberal arts, like white light, is composed of all the colors.

—Lundy Pentz, former associate faculty marshal


ROBES: Baccalaureate and master’s level gowns are usually black and are untrimmed, with the sleeves of the master’s gown generally longer. Velvet panels down the front of the gown distinguish doctoral gowns, which may be black or a school color of the university granting the degree. Three horizontal velvet bars, usually of the color representing the wearer’s degree, also mark the doctorate.

CAPS: Only doctoral caps may be made of velvet.

HOODS: The length of the hood indicates the degree, with the bachelor’s being three feet long, the master’s three and one half, and the doctoral four feet. The color of the lining indicates the university at which the degree was earned and is usually the school color.

The border of the hood indicates the academic discipline in which the degree was earned, as follows:

Architecture and Fine Arts – Brown Arts and Letters– White
Business – Light Brown Economics – Copper
Education – Light Blue Engineering – Orange
Dentistry – Lilac Law – Purple
Library Science – Lemon Medicine – Green
Music – Pink Nursing – Apricot
Oratory – Silver Gray Pharmacy – Olive
Philosophy – Dark Blue Physical Education – Sage Green
Public Administration – Peacock Blue Public Health – Salmon
Science – Golden Yellow Social Work – Citron Yellow
Theology – Scarlet







Alpha Kappa Delta
Phi of Virginia Chapter
Teal cord; worn by students who qualify; purchased by the Sociology/Social Work department International Sociology Honor Society.
Alpha Lambda Delta Honor cords are triple strands of gold, white, and red; purchased by the Office of First Year Experience and given to seniors at Honors Convocation National Honor Society for First Year Students
Alpha Phi Sigma Royal blue and gold double intertwined cord National Criminal Justice Honor Society
Alpha Sigma Lambda Purple and gold cord; purchased and worn by students who qualify at their choice National honor society for returning adult students
Beta Beta Beta
Alpha Pi Chapter
Red and green cord; purchased and worn by students who qualify at their choice Biological Sciences Honor Society
Global Honors Scholars Society A gold graduation tassel (hung from the mortar board); purchased by the college society and distributed to all students who qualify
Iota Sigma Pi White, green, and yellow cords; purchased and worn by students who qualify at their choice Women in Chemistry National Honor Society
Kappa Delta Pi Purple and green cords International Honor Society for education
Lambda Pi Eta Red and white cord; purchased and distributed by the department National honor society of the National Communication Assoc.
Omicron Delta Epsilon Blue and yellow cord; purchased and distributed by the department to those seniors who qualify International Economics honor society
Omicron Delta Kappa White, blue, and black cords; purchased and worn by students who qualify at their choice National honorary leadership society
Phi Alpha A double-knotted blue and gold cord; purchased and worn by students who qualify at their choice Phi Alpha is the National Honor Society for Social Work students
Phi Alpha Theta Red and light blue cord; purchased and worn by students who qualify at their choice National honor society in History
Phi Beta Kappa PBK gold pin; purchased and worn by students who qualify at their choice The oldest national, academic Honor Society
Pi Sigma Alpha Red, black, and white cord National Political Science Honor Society
Psi Chi Gold cord (with gold and blue tassels at each end); issued by the dept. to all students who meet the academic criteria National honor society in Psychology
Sigma Beta Delta Knotted dark green and gold cords with tassels, purchased and worn by students who qualify at their choice. International Honor Society for Business, Management and Administration
Sigma Pi Sigma Green and ivory cords; purchased and distributed to students who qualify National Honor Society for outstanding scholarship in physics
Sigma Tau Delta Red and black cords with tassels; purchased and worn by student who qualify at their choice International Honor Society that recognizes high achievement in the study of English
In addition:
Student Class Marshals Gold epaulet, worn over left shoulder; lent to each student marshal Selected from top students in each class by faculty marshals


Office of       Inclusive Excellence African Kente cloth stoles purchased by the college program and awarded at the Ajani ceremony prior to Commencement
Senior Class Officers A small lapel pin worn on the left side of gown with Mary Baldwin college seal and officer’s position.
Student Government Officers A small horizontal black and gold pin with SGA, the cupola from Lyda B. Hunt dining hall, and the words Executive Committee. Worn on the left side of the gown.
Cynthia Haldenby Tyson Leadership Pin A small gold lapel pin worn on the left side of gown
Senior Impact Gold apple charm on tassel; given to students who made a gift to Mary Baldwin
Carpenter Society Pin A small, pewter lapel pin with infinity symbol
Global Citizen Society A small globe lapel pin
Lavender Graduate Lavender lapel pin
Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership Silver disk; green and gold cord indicates Advanced Leadership Certificate


MAT Black, white, gold hood purchased by students
MEd Black, light blue, gold hood purchased by students
MLITT Gold hood with white velvet border purchased by students
MFA White and gold hood with brown velvet border purchased by students

Gowns worn by master’s degree candidates are distinguished by bat wing–shaped sleeves. The hood is different, too: It is longer than the one worn by those who have earned the bachelor’s degree. The lining is yellow and white, Mary Baldwin University’s official school colors. The trim is white for the Master of Arts in Teaching program and the Master of Letters in Shakespeare and Performance, while the Master of Education program has light blue trim and the Master of Fine Arts in Shakespeare and Performance has brown trim.