Academic dress of McGill University

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Spring commencement at McGill University, circa 1930

The academic dress of McGill University describes the caps, gowns and hoods which are prescribed by the university for its degree candidates/holders. Until the mid-20th century, McGill also prescribed academic dress for its matriculating or enrolled students as well as its faculty. Founded in 1821, McGill University is consistently ranked as Canada's preeminent university,[1] and among the top 20 universities in the world.[2][3][4]


McGill's scarlet, Ph.D. regalia dates back to the early 19th century

Academic regalia has been part of university life at McGill since it started offering classes in the 1820s at its historic Montreal campus on the flank of Mount Royal.[5] It predates the codification of academic regalia in the United States through the Intercollegiate Code of Academic Costume that most American colleges and universities adopted in the late 1890s.[6] Until the 1930s, McGill observed the British tradition of requiring its faculty and students to be attired in academic robes for classes and lectures, "except in those cases in which a dispensation shall have been granted by the faculty."[7] McGill's renowned political economy professor, Stephen Leacock, is often remembered for his black, tattered robe that "had grown greenish with age," but which he wore to the classroom without fail each day, raising concerns among his fellow professors and students that it could one day cause him injury.[8]

Academic regalia at McGill was traditionally differentiated in accordance with the wearer's status and degree.[9] Matriculating undergraduates had to attend classes in "plain, black stuff gown, not falling below the knee, with round sleeve cut above the elbow.".[7] Graduating students for the bachelor's degree, on the other hand, wore robes falling below their knees with full sleeves cut to the elbow, and black hoods lined in silk which were edged with white rabbit fur. Master's degree candidates/holders wore the same black gown as the bachelor's, with the masters' sleeves appearing in semi-circular cut toward the bottom. Doctors of Philosophy (Ph.D.s), Science, Literature, and Civil Law wore the university's scarlet full dress. The doctoral full dress was the equivalent of the academic dress of the University of Cambridge for its higher doctorates, rather than for its Ph.D.s.[10] It was originally made of scarlet cloth, "faced with silk of the same colour as the lining of their respective hoods."[11] The turned-back, full sleeves of the McGill doctoral dress were also lined up with silk in the same colour that denoted the wearer's field of study. Doctorate and master's hoods were identical in form. They were distinguished from the bachelor hoods by the former's scarlet colour, greater length and absence of rabbit fur.[12] McGill University's official colour is scarlet.[13]

Faculty and matriculating students at McGill in the 19th and early 20th centuries did not have to wear caps and hoods to classes and lectures. The bachelor's and master's caps for commencement and other formal ceremonies were of the mortarboard-style or the square academic cap described in university bulletins or "calendars" as "the ordinary black trencher with black tassel."[11] In contrast, doctoral degree holders wore the black, velvet Tudor bonnet or tam associated with the University of Cambridge's full doctoral dress.[14] Ribboned together around the McGill bonnet's crown were two gold strand tassels.

Current Regulations for Academic Dress[edit]

Silk-lined hood of the McGill doctoral regalia

Academic dress at McGill has not changed much since written regulations were first issued in the 1840s. Only three notable changes have evolved since that time. The first was the removal of the academic dress requirements for faculty and students during classes and lectures starting in the mid-1930s. Academic dress is currently worn only at commencement and special convocations, such as the installations of the university's principal and chancellor and the inauguration of endowed chairs.[9][15] A second development was the identification and codification of the colours of silk linings to denote the wearer's field of study.[16] This became necessary as McGill offered more and newer fields in its curriculum, such as nutrition, physical therapy, occupational therapy and urban planning, particularly since the 1960s. A third innovation was the option, introduced in 2001, of wearing the scarlet Ph.D. regalia partly closed-front and hooked, which departs from the totally open-gown style of the University of Cambridge full dress for its Ph.D.s and higher doctorates.[17]

Current Regulations for donning academic regalia at McGill ceremonies are summarized below:[18]

Non-degree Certificates and diplomas: Black gown, without any hood, unless the wearer has previously obtained a degree.

Bachelors: Black Bachelor gowns with large sleeves to the wrist, black hoods bordered with white fur and lined with the distinctive colour of their degree, and mortarboard caps.

Masters: Black Master gowns with sleeves that have a square slit just below the shoulder and a long flat sleeve to below the knee, black hoods without the fur border but lined with the distinctive colour of their degree, and mortarboard caps.

Doctorates, other than Ph.D.s (e.g., M.D.s): Black Master gowns, hoods of scarlet cloth lined with the distinctive colours of their degree, and mortarboard caps.

Ph.D.s: Scarlet gowns with pale green facings, hoods lined in pale green silk, and Tudor bonnets.

Honorary doctorates: The Ph.D. scarlet gowns, with facings and hood silk linings in the colour of the field for which they are honored, and Tudor bonnets.

In addition, designated university marshals wear grey ceremonial gowns and hoods lined in scarlet and Tudor bonnets at convocations and other formal ceremonies.

Colour/s of Hood Linings[edit]

In fur-lined hoods and mortarboards, bachelor's degree candidates line up for a McGill commencement
Master's degree robe with square sleeves slit above the elbow and long, crescent-shaped back sleeves

Current Regulations prescribe that the colour/s of silk linings for McGill hoods shall represent the field/faculty of the wearer. The same colour/s shall apply to the silk facings and reversed-sleeve linings of the McGill Ph.D. robes.[18]

Architecture White
Arts Pale Blue
Commerce and Business Administration Purple
Dental Surgery Pink
Education Half yellow/half pale blue
Engineering Scarlet
Law French Grey
Library Science and Information Studies Orange
Management Gold
Medicine Dark Blue
Music Mauve
Philosophy (Ph.D.) Pale Green
Science Yellow
Science (Agriculture) Dark Green
Science (Agriculture Engineering) Half dark green/half scarlet
Science (Applied) Half yellow/half pale green
Science (Architecture) Half yellow/half white
Science (Food Science) Jade Green
Science (Nursing) Half dark blue/half scarlet
Science (Nutritional Sciences) Half beige/half dark blue
Science (Occupational Therapy) Half beige/half bright green
Science (Physical Therapy) Half dark blue/half yellow
Social Work Fuchsia
Theology Blue purple
Urban Planning Half bright green/half dark blue


Oil portrait (1913) of United States Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg in McGill doctoral gown originally made of Russell cord

McGill academic gowns were traditionally made of woolen stuff, Russell cord or (in the case of some of its faculty and officials) silk.[12][13] Among the oldest existing McGill regalia is a complete set from 1864 consisting of a black mortarboard, black woolen gown and a hood "of scarlet wool lined with silk." Originally worn by a graduating student from McGill's Faculty of Medicine, it remains on permanent display at the McCord Museum in Montreal.[19]

Today's McGill robes are made from synthetic fiber like most other university robes, which has reduced the cost of purchasing them. Pilgrim fabric is used for the university's formal scarlet gown for its Ph.D.s. McGill hood linings for all degrees and degree levels, which were originally cut out of silk, are presently made of synthetic art silk.[20] Rabbit fur has been discontinued for the bachelors' hoods. Instead, artificial fur (or faux-fur) has been used since the late 1990s.[21][22]

The mortarboards worn for bachelor's and master's degrees are also presently made from black synthetic fiber. The Tudor bonnets or tams of the Ph.D.s are in black velvet with their oblong-shaped brim appropriately hard-backed.[23]

University Officials[edit]

Ceremonial regalia of McGill's Principal and chief executive

The distinctive robes worn by McGill University's Chancellor, Principal, and Chair of the Board of Directors (which could also be the Chancellor[24]) are variants of the university's master's gown, with its square slit below the shoulders. The Chancellor's robe features gold trims and facings. The Principal's trims and facings are in silvery-white. As the university's chief executive, the sleeves of the Principal's robe are also embroidered with the university's coat of arms[25] University officials' robes are worn open and without hoods. Their black caps are either velvet mortarboards or Tudor bonnets, both of which are adorned with thicker strand tassels in gold for the Chancellor, and silvery-white for the Principal.


Detail of McGill University seal on Principal's sleeves. Scarlet, the university colour, is prominent in its various academic regalia
  1. ^ Retriefed 2012-12-04.
  2. ^ "QS World University Rankings". Topuniversities. Retrieved 2012-09-11. 
  3. ^ "World's Best Universities; Top 400 Universities in the World". US News. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  4. ^ "McGill University: Desautels Faculty of Management - Full-Time MBA Profile". Businessweek. 2012-11-29. Archived from the original on 2013-11-29. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  5. ^ Smith, Hugh and Kevin Sheard (1970). Academic Dress and Insignia of the World: Gowns, Hats, Chains of Office, Hoods, Rings, Medals and Other Degree Insignia of Universities and Other Institutions of Learning. Cape Town: A.A. Balkema, p. 1732.
  6. ^ Academic regalia in the United States
  7. ^ a b McGill University. Annual Calendar of McGill College and University, Session 1906-1907. Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1906, p. 71.
  8. ^ The man who laughed. The Montreal Gazette, June 13, 1981,,817417.
  9. ^ a b Frost, Stanley Brice (1980). McGill University, Volume I: For the Advancement of Learning, 1801–1895. McGill-Queen's University Press, 1980. ISBN 978-0-7735-0353-3.
  10. ^ University of Cambridge (2008). Degree Ceremonies: Academical dress. 2008-06-09. Retrieved 2010-04-28.
  11. ^ a b McGill University. Annual Calendar of McGill College and University, Session 1906-1907. Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1906, p. 72.
  12. ^ a b Annual Calendar of McGill College and University, Session 1879-80. Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1879, p. 105.
  13. ^ a b The Encyclopedia Americana 1918. New York and Chicago, p. 49, Retrieved 2012-12-27.
  14. ^ David T. Boven (2009). American Universities' Departure from the Academic Costume Code Transactions of the Burgon Society 9: 156-174.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Smith, Hugh and Kevin Sheard (1970). Academic Dress and Insignia of the World: Gowns, Hats, Chains of Office, Hoods, Rings, Medals and Other Degree Insignia of Universities and Other Institutions of Learning. Cape Town: A.A. Balkema, p. 1731.
  17. ^ University of Cambridge. Statutes and Ordinances - Statutes and Ordinances 2009". Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  18. ^ a b McGill University. Convocation Caps, Gowns and Hoods. Montreal, Quebec, 2000.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Pumps and Circumstance,Tassels: Dexter or Sinister? The Harvard University Gazette, June 10, 1999, Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^