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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 5 | May 8, 2003

Fashionable Congregation Wear

What the Best-Dressed Graduates will be Wearing this Spring and More Importantly…Why?

By Brian Lin

It all started in the Middle Ages.

Congregation gowns and academic dress originated from the clergy regalia from that period, according to University Relations Director Chuck Slonecker, who has been running congregation ceremonies since 1989.

“At the time, monks and priests were often brought into an area by business people, where they were asked to pray to prevent the spread of the plague and other epidemics. Eventually they also undertook the responsibility of educating the children and that’s the beginning of academia as we know it.

“The priests’ gowns reflect their religious order and the monk’s hoods were designed so the congregation could toss in their contribution as they walked by. The mortarboard is associated with Oxford whereas the bonnet originated with Henry VIII and what was known as the Cambridge Hat.”

UBC, like many other Canadian and U.S. universities, follows the British tradition of academic dress.

“Each university can decide the style and colours of their gowns, within some general rules,” explains Eilis Courtney, associate director of the Ceremonies Office. “The hoods are lined in different colours to represent the different degrees.”

Undergraduate & Master’s

The undergraduate gown, modelled by Sameer Al-Abdul-Wahid (1), president of the graduating class, is black with long sleeves. The edged light blue lining in his hood signifies al-Abdul-Wahid’s Bachelor of Science degree.

The Master’s gown is identical to the undergraduate gown, with the exception of the full lining in distinctive colours to signify the graduate’s degree.


The PhD regalia consist of a maroon silk gown and sleeves of UBC blue with gold piping. Brian Wilhelm (2), who’s receiving his PhD in medical genetics and his wife Josette-Renee Landry (3), who is receiving her PhD in genetics, are wearing the typical PhD gowns, including a hood with blue silk shell and gold lining.


Faculty members typically wear regalia from their alma mater. Chuck Slonecker’s (4) gown is representative of most North American PhD gowns. His black gown with velvet chevron was purchased from his alma mater, the University of Washington, 35 years ago for US$200. The purple and gold of his hood are UW’s colours while the blue signifies his PhD degree in Science.

Library, Archival and Information Studies Prof. Luciana Duranti’s (5) gown is one of the most colourful among faculty members at UBC. Adorned with lace around the neck, the gown comes from Duranti’s alma mater, the University of Roma in Rome, Italy.

“It’s a black gown with red cuffs which are folded to different lengths and held up by a different cord to signify your rank and degree,” explains Duranti. “My gown has a dark green sash held on the shoulder by a gold rosette on black velvet. Green signifies archival science and gold on black is our Faculty (Library and Archival Science) colour.”

President, Chancellor and Honorary Degree recipients

The colour and style of the President, Chancellor and honorary degree recipient gowns are particular to UBC. Honorary degree recipients wear red gowns lined in blue, purple or cream velvet for the respective degrees (LL.D., D.S.c. and D.Litt.)

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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