It is essential that all graduands wear the correct academical dress when they are presented for a degree at Congregation. The full rules governing academical dress are set out in the University's Statutes and Ordinances. The following rules alway apply:
- A person who already holds a Degree or Degrees of the University wears the gown and hood of the highest Degree he or she has already received from the University. For this purpose, degrees are ranked as follows: PhD, MA, MPhil, MEng, MSci, MB, BChir, VetMB and BA.
- Any person who does not hold a Cambridge Degree (e.g. an undergraduate) when being admitted to a Degree wears his or her undergraduate, B.A. status or M.A. status gown (graduates over 24 years old should wear M.A. gown), as appropriate, and the hood of the Degree, or the higher of the Degrees, which he or she is to receive.
- Medics receiving the MB normally wear a BChir gown and hood as the BChir is usually conferred beforehand 'in absence'.
- A person being admitted to a Degree by incorporation, or to the M.A. Degree under Statute B.III.6, wears the gown and hood of the Degree he or she is to receive.
The overall effect should be formal and tidy. A blouse must be either black or white. A black or white pullover is a permitted alternative. In addition, a black or white cardigan may be worn. Any jacket, dress, skirt or trousers must be black although a dress may have a white collar. Sleeves must be at least three-quarter length. Shoes must be entirely black and of sober style. Backless shoes, sandals, boots, buckles or very high heels are not permitted. Stockings or tights must be worn and must be un-patterned and must be of neutral colour or black with the latter being preferred. Heavy jewellery should not be worn and exaggerated hair styles and/or hair colouring should be avoided. Handbags are best avoided for practical reasons.
It can be difficult to attach the loop on the neckband of the hood to a light-weight blouse and a black jacket often gives the best results. It is advisable to have some safety pins available to help to secure the hood.
Please note that the national dress rules have been tightened up considerably. Now, national dress, uniforms etc. are generally allowed only if the national dress is black, white and grey, and if the national dress is what the graduand would usually wear at other formal University occasions. Exceptions are made if there are religious requirements. If you wish to wear national dress it is essential that you contact the Praelector at least 3 weeks before the Congregation, as he will need to seek the Proctor's permission.
The University's academical costume consists of a gown; a hood (made of different material or in a different colour to denote either the wearer's existing Degree or the Degree they are about to receive); and a cap or bonnet.
Persons taking their first Cambridge degrees wear appropriate gowns (in the case of undergraduates their undergraduate gown which varies in colour or design from College to College), with the hood of the degree to be taken. The hoods clearly indicate the degrees sought by graduands, and those seen at General Admission include (in order of precedence):
- Master of Law: black and light cherry silk
- Master of Engineering: black cloth lined with bronze silk
- Master of Natural Science: black silk lined with pink and light blue silk
- Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine: mid cherry silk and more fur
- Bachelor of Music: dark cherry satin and white fur
- Bachelor of Arts: black cloth and white fur
- Bachelor of Education: black cloth, blue silk and white fur
- Bachelor of Theology for Ministry: black cloth, black silk and white fur.
The 'fur' used is now made of synthetic material.
In almost all cases, persons taking their MA wear the gown and hood of the highest degree he or she has already received from the University. Therefore a person who has received a BA from Cambridge and who still has their gown worn at General Admission, may wear it but would need to rent a hood. It is important that gowns are clean and ironed.
Making these sit properly is a perennial problem ... but with these handy instructions you can try doing your own or your friends'...
Gowns present no real problem -- and the exact pattern does not matter, although New Hall by tradition wears a gown with a small triangular nick at the top of the sleeve opening. They do tend to dip backwards however, and you need to pull yours forward (by the facings at the front) so that the neck is not half way down your back before you pin anything else to it.
Hoods however are much less easily made to behave, sliding outwards off your shoulders given half a chance, and they usually need pinning to the gown.
Capes, cowls and liripipes(!). Opening them out is the first battle. Take the neck band in one hand and hold them up as right; check it's not inside out by looking at the tail seam. Fold the edge of the hood back so as to show a few inches of fur. Now slip the band over your head, so that the square panel (the "cape") lies against your back and the hood proper (the "cowl") rests on it with the tail ("liripipe") dangling.
The ideal to be sought is with the neck band close to your neck at the sides, and passing just under shirt collar level at the front, so that the hood itself is only just visible from the front. If you let it reach out over your shoulders, it always slips further out and down! If you have an open neck, you will probably want the neck-band a little lower; but the lower it goes the more readily the hood spreads out over your shoulders.
How to achieve the ideal. Most people need to pin the neck band to the gown. Put the pins through the very top of the neck band, into the edge of the gown at collar bone level; you can usually make them almost invisible by inserting them from underneath. You may need to experiment according to the size and weight of your own hood.
All of the required items of academical dress may be hired from three main academic hire companies who have outlets in Cambridge: