When the hard work has paid off and the cap and gown is in your hands, the sense of accomplishment is overwhelming. All those hours hunkered over homework, days of listening through lectures and test taking have accumulated in a degree for which you get to get all dressed up. But in all that studying, listening and planning, has the question of how to properly wear the cap and gown and any cords come up? If the bundle of graduation finery on the bed is perplexing you, understanding its significance can ensure you have no final faux pas as you exit school.

History of the Cap and Gown

The uniform that is so briefly worn has a long history. When universities began forming in the 12th century, academic regalia soon followed. Oxford and Cambridge were the first to officially don graduation attire and insisted that everyone wear long gowns during ceremonies to create a unified group.

Cap and Gown Rules

The traditional gown is made of material that wrinkles rather easily, so hang up the garment as soon as you receive the package. If the wrinkles are stubborn and don’t fall out on their own overnight, a handheld steamer or cool iron brushed inches over the top of the delicate material can straighten out those tenacious creases. The zipper, if there is one, goes in the front. The hemline should fall below the knee and above the ankle. The stole is next over the gown and under the collar followed by any cords. Medals or other insignia are last to be placed above the collar and cords. The crown of the cap should face forward with the bottom about an inch above your eyebrows. Traditionally the mortarboard, the top flat piece, should be flat and level with the floor. Now, for the most important part. The tassel is worn to the right and dangles near your temple. Once the diploma is in your hands you can lift the tassel to the left with the other members of your graduating class.

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What Lies Beneath?

What you wear under the cap and gown also matters. There are a few suggestions on what graduates should wear under the flowing gown. Men are expected to wear khakis or dark pants, matching dark socks and shoes and a light-colored dress shirt and tie. Women can wear dark slacks, a skirt or a dress with dark shoes. While flats or pumps are recommended, high heels and sandals are not.

About the Author

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.