In the academic world, we dress up for formal occasions — and everyone has to wear a dress. I know they’re technically “robes” and we do get to keep our britches on beneath, but that doesn’t make it feel normal.
For hooding, for baccalaureate, and for graduation itself, we don our robes and colorful hoods (some much more colorful than others) for long processions that involve more standing, waiting, and sitting than processing. We wear funny hats with tassels and points and for all the world, it feels for a day like I’m teaching at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry, without the benefits of magical feasts and quick exits by broom or floo powder.
Academic regalia, so I have read, has its roots in the monastic habits of monks who used to be primary educators of the western world. After early Americans designed all sorts of zany and eccentric outfits, a committee got together and tried to bring some order to the pedagogical zoo, deciding on standardized colors for specific major fields of study.
So, my hood features dark blue for philosophy, while others wear purple for law, white for arts and letters, brown for business administration, pink for music, and a rainbow of other colors for other degrees, combined with added colors for our respective alma maters, often in combinations that don’t ordinarily match.
I should be a better sport about playing dress up, and perhaps a few more years in the academic world will make it feel like second nature. At the moment, however, it still feels a bit phony, sort of like dressing up for church and pretending you’re a different person on Sunday than the other six days of the week.
But, I wouldn’t want to get personal …
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.