The hoods, gowns, and caps worn in academic ceremonies today are modified versions of clothing worn by ecclesiastics and students in the 12th and 13th centuries. They wore gowns and hoods to their lectures, probably for warmth in the damp, unheated halls where classes were held. The designs and colors of these costumes have come to symbolize the level of academic attainment and the institution attended.
The bachelor’s robe has an elaborate yoke but is otherwise a plain garment with a closed, pleated front and long, full pointed sleeves. The master’s robe is identifiable by its sleeves, cut for the arm at the wrist and just above the elbow, which have a distinctive oblong back and are squared at the ends. The doctor’s robe, full cut and with voluminous long sleeves, is distinguished by its rich velvet trim. Robe-length front panels and velvet sleeve bars are either black or symbolize, by their color, the field in which the doctorate was obtained. The mortarboard or tam is worn with tassels that are usually black but may represent the degree held by the wearer. (from Commencement Exercises, Spring 2009 booklet published by SEBTS).