Academical Dress

The current definitive and authoritative rules for correct academical dress for members of the University of Cambridge are given in University Ordinances, Chapter 2, section “ACADEMICAL DRESS”.

When Academical Dress is required:

Registered students of the University are required by the University to wear academical dress:

  • when attending University ceremonies in the University Church or in the Senate-House;
  • at all other times at which the Vice-Chancellor may by public notice direct that academical dress be worn.

Members of the University who are not registered students are required by the University to wear academical dress:

  • in the University Church, the Senate-House, and the Schools [the meaning of “Schools” in this context is not defined in Ordinances, but in current practice certainly includes examination rooms, just as it once included lecture rooms];
  • generally on public occasions;
  • at official meetings;
  • on all other occasions on which the Vice-Chancellor may by public notice request that academical dress be worn.

Both registered students and non-students might in addition be subject to the regulations or customs of their college defining when academical dress is required to be, or should be, worn within that college. For instance, those regulations or customs might include attending Formal Hall, Chapel services, Matriculation, official college meetings, or disciplinary proceedings.

What Academical Dress comprises:

Academical dress comprises a Gown, a Hood, and a Head-dress. The design of those three components varies according to the status of the wearer in the University. Only graduates of Cambridge may wear a hood. By custom within the colleges, hoods are not worn when dining. By custom, the head-dress is not worn indoors, unless the wearer is officiating in a formal ceremony (this is enforced at graduation ceremonies, where only officiating persons may wear head-dress: graduands and spectators may not).

Undergraduate students:


The only requirement of the University is that “Undergraduates’ gowns shall reach to the knees”. Each college, by regulation or custom, has its own design of undergraduate gown, most of which are variants of the same plain undergraduate gown, distinguished by colour or some additional decoration. At Queens’, the undergraduate gown is the plain undergraduate gown, with no differentiating characteristics (a design also used at Peterhouse, Churchill, and Robinson Colleges).


Undergraduate students may not wear a hood (except at their graduation ceremony, when they wear the hood of the degree that they are about to receive).


Undergraduate students may wear the square cap, or no head-dress. The implication of this wording is that no type of head-dress other than the square cap is permitted while wearing academical dress. The dispensation of being allowed to be without a head-dress when wearing academical dress applies only to undergraduates.

Members of the University, other than undergraduates, who are not Cambridge graduates:

This category includes graduate students and academic staff and officers who are not Cambridge graduates.


Possessors of the “Status of Bachelor of Arts” (normally, those aged under 24) wear the B.A. gown but without the strings.
Possessors of the “Status of Master of Arts” (normally, those aged 24 or above) wear the M.A. gown but without the strings.


Those who are not Cambridge graduates may not wear a hood (except at their graduation ceremony, when they wear the hood of the degree that they are about to receive).


The square cap.

Graduates of the University of Cambridge

Gown and Hood

Graduates of Cambridge wear the gown and hood of the most senior of their Cambridge degrees (see University Ordinances, Chapter 2, section “ORDER OF SENIORITY OF GRADUATES”; and section “ACADEMICAL DRESS”, sub-sections “Black Gowns” and “Hoods”). The design of the gown and hood is determined solely by the title of the degree, without any differentiation by subject of study, as might happen at other universities.


For resident graduates: the square cap. For non-resident graduates, the head-dress is not specified. In this context, “resident” means residing within the Precincts of the University.

Graduates holding doctoral degrees of the University of Cambridge

Normal day-to-day academical dress, with black gowns (sometimes known as “un-dress” wear), is as defined above. But, on certain days (commonly known as “Scarlet Days”), persons with doctoral degrees may wear festal (or “full-dress”) academical dress in public. The “Scarlet Days” are:

  • Christmas Day, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day;
  • the day appointed for the Commemoration of Benefactors;
  • the days of General Admission to Degrees;
  • all other occasions on which the Vice-Chancellor may by public notice request that festal gowns be worn.

By custom, a College can nominate certain days or events as being occasions on which doctors may wear their festal academical dress within that college.

Gown and Hood

The different festal gowns for each doctoral degree are defined in Ordinances, Chapter 2, section “Festal Gowns”. The hoods are the same as those used with un-dress gowns.


For a Doctor of Divinity: a black velvet cap. For other Doctors, a wide-brimmed round velvet bonnet with gold string and tassels (except that a Doctor, when taking part in ceremonial in the Senate-House, may with the festal gown wear the square cap).

Members of the University who are graduates of other universities

Normal day-to-day academical dress is that appropriate to the wearer’s status in the University of Cambridge. But on “Scarlet Days” (see above), a member holding a degree of another university or degree-awarding institution may wear the academical dress of that degree. This allowance does not extend to those who are being presented for a degree, nor to those who are presenting others for degrees, nor to certain senior or ceremonial officers of the University (see Ordinances for details).

Historical evolution

The academical dress of the University of Cambridge has evolved over the centuries, both (a) in the design of the dress, and (b) in the regulations for the dress being worn. For general summaries of the history of academical dress as it applies to Cambridge, see [1917], [1925], [1927], [2014], [2021].

The decade from 1828 saw the gradual introduction by some colleges of distinguishing features to the designs of their undergraduate gowns: distinctions that still exist today.

The most recent major re-codification of University Ordinances for the design of academical dress occurred with the approval of Grace 2 of 23 February 1934 on the adoption of the Third Report of the Council of the Senate on academical dress, dated 5 February 1934, published in the Cambridge University Reporter, 1933–​34, pp. 614–​6. Subsequent changes, of which there have been many, have been incremental to the basic structure of the 1934 regulations.

The 1934 regulations were the first to introduce the curious requirement “Undergraduates’ gowns shall reach to the knees”. No reason was given in the Report for this. The University had not previously, in modern times, concerned itself with detailed specifications of undergraduate dress, as that had been left to the colleges. The University had never specified the length of any graduate gown (which were all ankle-length): it seems that undergraduate gowns were singled out for special attention in the matter of length. Through to the mid-19th century, undergraduate gowns were the same ankle-length as graduate gowns [1805] [1815] [1843] [1850] [1862]. It has been noted elsewhere [1917] [2021] that undergraduate gowns had become shorter by the early 20th century. This process of shortening seems to have been gradual, and never remarked upon. One may speculate that perhaps the reason for the 1934 length requirement was to put a stop to the process of unregulated shrinkage of the undergraduate gown.

Since long before the 1934 regulations, and unchanged by them, undergraduates were required to wear academical dress “in the streets at all times on Sundays, and on other days after dusk”. Proctors would patrol the streets and public houses after dusk, and any undergraduate found not wearing academical dress would be fined. This requirement was not abolished until 1964.


The Gown Guide of The Cambridge University Heraldic & Genealogical Society.

Sources and Further Reading

1690: Habitus Academici in Universitate Cantabrigiensi (Plate 7) in Cantabrigia Illustrata, by David Loggan. (OCLC 49269400)
1716: Reprint by Henry Overton. (OCLC 224010628) [with short printed descriptions of each plate]
1905: Edition by John Willis Clark. (OCLC 314540959) [with Life of Loggan, and long commentary on each plate] 

1805: Costume of the various orders in the University of Cambridge, by Richard Harraden. (OCLC 71645408)

1815: Description of the Dresses, in A History of the University of Cambridge : its Colleges, Halls, and Public Buildings, by William Combe, pub. Rudolph Ackermann, Vol. 2, pp. 312–​4 et seq. (OCLC 3229135)

ca.1843: The Costumes of the Members of the University of Cambridge, pub. Nathaniel Whittock; (OCLC 27253352)
ca.1850: The Costumes of the Members of the University of Cambridge, pub. Henry Hyde; (OCLC 1063619477) [some plates modified]
ca.1862: Costumes of the University of Cambridge, pub. W. Metcalfe. (OCLC 4265384)

1874: Social Life at the English Universities in the Eighteenth Century, by Christopher Wordsworth. (OCLC 2040073)

1893: English Academical Costume (Medieval) by Edwin Charles Clark, in the The Archaeological Journal, Vol. 50, pp. 73–​104, 137–​149, 183–​209. (ISSN 0066-5983)

1909: Cambridge Robes for Doctors & Graduates : and College Gowns for Undergraduates, by Arthur George Almond; ** (OCLC 13879473) [reprinted 1921, 1923, 1928] 
1934: revised edition, as: Cambridge Robes for Doctors & Graduates by A. G. Almond Ltd; (OCLC 16750590) [see 1926 for Undergraduate Gowns] 
1959: reprint. (OCLC 264964764)

1917: University Costume, in The Historical Register of the University of Cambridge, ed. Joseph Robson Tanner, pp. 189–​198. (ISBN 978-0-521-26542-3)

1925: Gowns & Gossip, by Arthur George Almond. ** (OCLC 33196999)

1926: College Gowns, by Arthur George Almond. ** (OCLC 85025023) [“Second Edition”, taking 1909 as the First]

1927: University Costume, in Ceremonies of the University of Cambridge, by Henry Paine Stokes. (OCLC 6365173)

1963: A History of Academical Dress in Europe until the end of the eighteenth century, by William Norman Hargreaves-Mawdsley; (OCLC 187862)
1978: reprint. (ISBN 978-0-313-20250-6)
2008: Hargreaves-Mawdsley’s History of Academical Dress and the Pictorial Evidence for Great Britain and Ireland: Notes and Corrections, by Alex Kerr, in Transactions of the Burgon Society, Vol. 8, pp. 106–​50. (ISSN 2475-7799)

1966: Academical dress of British Universities, by George Wenham Shaw; (OCLC 1360555)
1995: 2nd edition as Academical dress of British and Irish Universities; (ISBN 978-0-85033-974-1)
2011: 3rd edition as Shaw’s Academical Dress of Great Britain and Ireland, ed. Nicholas William Groves;
      2011: Volume I: Universities and Other Degree-Awarding Bodies; (ISBN 978-0-9561272-3-5)
      2014: Volume II: Non-degree-awarding bodies. (ISBN 978-0-9928740-0-1)

1970: Academical dress from the Middle Ages to the present day, including Lambeth degrees, by Charles Aubrey Hamilton Franklyn. (ISBN 978-0-9500584-1-2)

1984: The Dress of the Cambridge Proctors, by John Hamilton Baker, in Costume, Vol. 18:1, pp. 86–​97. (ISSN 0590-8876 eISSN 1749-6306)

1986: ‘Doctors Wear Scarlet’ : The Festal Gowns of the University of Cambridge, by John Hamilton Baker, in Costume, Vol. 20:1, pp. 33–​43. (ISSN 0590-8876 eISSN 1749-6306)

1992: Cambridge University academical dress : with notes on Oxford academical dress, by George Wenham Shaw. (OCLC 84920611)

2004: The Regulation of Undergraduate Academic Dress at Oxford and Cambridge, 1660–1832, by William Gibson, in Transactions of the Burgon Society, Vol. 4, pp. 26–​41. (ISSN 2475-7799)

2010: Academical Dress on Monumental Brasses in Cambridge, by Alex Kerr, in Burgon Notes No. 12, pp. 3–​4.

2011: The Turbulent History of Undergraduate Academical Dress, by Alex Kerr, in Burgon Notes No. 17, pp. 2–​3.
2011: A Very Brief History of Undergraduate Academic Dress, by Alex Kerr. [Fuller version of above] 

2014: The Academic Robes of Graduates of the University of Cambridge from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day, by Nicholas William Groves, in Transactions of the Burgon Society, Vol. 13, pp. 74–​100. (ISSN 2475-7799)

2016: Ackermann’s Costumes of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, ed. Nicholas James Jackson. (ISBN 978-0-9928740-4-9)

2018: A comparison of academical and legal costume on memorial brasses, by John Hamilton Baker, in Commemoration in medieval Cambridge, ed. John Stephen Lee and Christian Steer, p. 90. (ISBN 978-1-78327-334-8);

2021: The Evolution of Undergraduate Academic Dress at the University of Cambridge and its Constituent Colleges, by Brian Morley Newman, in Transactions of the Burgon Society, Vol. 20, pp. 67–​93. (ISSN 2475-7799)

** Arthur George Almond was the proprietor of “A. G. Almond Ltd”, tailors and robe-makers in Cambridge, trading from 11 Sidney Street, until Marks & Spencer expanded into that site in 1936, when the Almond shop moved to a corner of Green Street. The life dates of this Arthur George Almond have not been confirmed, but were possibly 1854–​1927 [FreeBMD]. The company continued trading after his death, until being dissolved in 1961.