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A University of Oxford Doctor of Philosophy in full academic dress.
Doctors at an academic event in the United States.
Academic dress for Phd in Singapore with description

Academic dress or academical dress is a traditional form of clothing for academic settings, primarily tertiary and sometimes secondary education, worn mainly by those that have been admitted to a university degree (or similar) or hold a status that entitles them to assume them (e.g. undergraduate students at certain old universities).[1] It is also known as academicals and, in the United States, as academic regalia.

Contemporarily, it is commonly seen only at graduation ceremonies, but formerly academic dress was, and to a lesser degree in many ancient universities still is, worn on a daily basis. Today the ensemble generally consists of a gown (also known as a robe) with a separate hood, and usually a cap (generally either a mortarboard, a tam, or a bonnet) which are distinctive to each institution. Academic dress is also worn by members of certain learned societies and institutions as official dress.[2][3]



Academic dress for Masters in Singapore with description

The academic dress found in most universities in the British Commonwealth and the United States is derived from that of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which was a development of academic and clerical dress common throughout the medieval universities of Europe.[4]

Formal or sober clothing is typically worn beneath the gown so, for example, men would often wear a dark suit with a white shirt and tie, or clerical clothing, military or civil uniform, or national dress, and women would wear equivalent attire. Some older universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge, have a prescribed set of dress (known as subfusc) to be worn under the gown. Though some universities are relaxed about what people wear under their gowns, it is nevertheless considered bad form to be in casual wear or the like during graduation,[5] and a number of universities may bar finishing students from joining the procession or the ceremony itself if not appropriately dressed[6] (though this sometimes refers only to requiring the proper wear of academic dress and not what is worn beneath it, if unseen).

British academic dress

There is a distinction between different types of academical dress. Most recently, gowns, hoods and caps are categorised into their shape and patterns by what may be known as the Groves Classification of Academic Dress, which is based on Nicholas Groves's document, Hood and Gown Patterns.[7] This lists the various styles or patterns of academic dress and assigns them a code or a Groves Classification Number. For example, the Cambridge BA style gown is designated [b2] and a hood in the Cambridge full-shape is designated [f1], etc.

The Burgon Society was founded in 2000 to promote the study of academic dress.[8] It has publications and activities to do with academic dress and is currently in the process of updating Shaw's book on British and Irish academical dress for publication.[9]



The modern gown is derived from the roba worn under the cappa clausa, a garment resembling a long black cape. In early medieval times, all students at the universities were in at least minor orders, and were required to wear the cappa or other clerical dress, and restricted to clothes of black or other dark colour.

An alternative coloured gown, Open University, MEd.

The gowns most commonly worn, that of the clerical type gowns of Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Master of Arts (MA), are substantially the same throughout the English-speaking world. Both are traditionally made of black cloth, (although occasionally the gown is dyed in one of the university's colours) and have the material at the back of the gown gathered into a yoke. The BA gown has bell-shaped sleeves, while the MA gown has long sleeves closed at the end, with the arm passing through a slit above the elbow.[10]

There are two types of yokes which are used for gowns. The more traditional is the curved yoke, whilst the square or straight yoke is used more in modern times.

Another type of gown is called the lay type gown, which is similar to the MA gown in that it has long closed sleeves, but does not have a yoke. Instead, there is a flap collar with the gathers underneath it. Thus it is less voluminous than the clerical type gown. This gown is often used for the dress of officers and graduates of some degrees (especially at Oxford and Durham).

In the Commonwealth, gowns are worn open, while in the United States it has become common for gowns to close at the front, as did the original roba.

Some gowns may have 'strings' (i.e. grosgrain ribbons) attached to them behind the lapels. These in the past were tied together to hold the gown together but are now merely indicators of rank, such as in Cambridge where strings indicate one is a full member (i.e. BA or MA, etc), or just for decoration.

Dress and undress gowns

The festal gown and hood of the Cambridge MusD.

Since medieval times, doctors, like bishops and cardinals, have been authorised to wear garments of brighter colours such as scarlet, purple or red. In many older universities, doctors have scarlet dress gowns or robes (sometimes called "festal robes") which are worn on special occasions. There are two distinctive shapes used in the UK for doctor's gown; the Oxford doctor's shape and the Cambridge doctor's shape. The former has bell-shaped sleeves, the latter has long open sleeves. Another rarer form is the Cambridge MusD dress gown which is a pattern between the two.

The other form of doctor's gown is the undress gown. This is a black gown (which may or may not be distinct from the master's gown depending on the university; if it is, it usually is trimmed with lace, braid or other subtle indicators of rank) worn for less formal occasions such as lectures. This type of gown is rarely seen or worn nowadays as many wear the dress gown instead; there are fewer applications for the undress gown in normal university life. However, the undress gown still plays a part in the older universities where academic dress is usually worn. At Cambridge, each doctor has its own undress gown, each trimmed differently, meaning one can identify the degree of the wearer without the hood (the same is also for bachelors and masters gowns at Cambridge).[10] St Andrews prescribes a cassock-like gown with a row of buttons running down the front, coloured according to the degree, and is meant to be worn closed. This gown is worn as the undress gown for higher doctorates, with a Cambridge-type gown for full dress. The two may be worn together or separately.[10]

In the universities of the UK there are days called scarlet days or red letter days. On such days, doctors of the university may wear their scarlet 'festal' or full dress gowns instead of their undress ('black') gown. This is more significant for the ancient universities such as Oxford and Cambridge where academic dress is worn almost daily; the black undress gown being worn on normal occasions as opposed to the bright red gowns. Since most universities have abandoned academic dress to the graduation ceremony (where doctors wear always scarlet), the significance of scarlet days have all but disappeared.

Undergraduate gowns

Undergraduates at many older universities also wear gowns;[11] the most common essentially a smaller knee-length version of the BA gown, or the Oxford Commoners gown which is sleeveless lay type gown and has two streamers at the back at Oxford.[12] At Cambridge, most colleges have their own distinctive design of gown.[13] This is not the case at the Ancient Scottish universities, such as the University of St Andrews, where the undergraduate gown is scarlet and typically features a velveteen collar.[14] Undergraduate gowns are seldom worn (even in institutions that prescribe them) nowadays except in the older universities. Most new universities do not prescribe them since academic dress has fallen out of daily use so students would hardly, if ever, wear them.

In the past, undergraduates wore gowns according to their rank; for noblemen they wore coloured gowns with gold gimp lace, buttons and other decorations whilst fellow-commoners, gentleman-commoners, scholars, commoners, pensioners, sizars, battelers and servitors wore black gowns of decreasing flamboyance based on their standing in the universities.[15]


One of the copes of the University of Cambridge.

Another form of dress, now rarely seen, is the habit, which is worn over a black gown. Only Oxford and Cambridge (though Durham in theory also) use habits and mainly reserve their use for very formal ceremonial occasions and to a specific group of academics or officials.

The Convocation habit used at Oxford is a scarlet sleeveless garment worn over the black gown, with the sleeves of the gown pulled through the armholes. It is similar to a bishop's chimere except that it is worn closed with two large buttons. It is worn by doctors at meetings of Convocation or Congregation by those presenting candidates for degrees.[16]

Even more rare and ancient is the cappa clausa or cope, a large scarlet cloak with an ermine shoulder piece worn by the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, or a deputy, when admitting to degrees, and by anyone presenting new higher doctors or BDs for admission to their degrees[17]. The cope was once used by Vice-Chancellors of some universities outside Cambridge in the past but the only other univesity that still uses it is the University of the South in America[18][19]).

In Durham, the early statutes permit the wearing of a convocation habit but 'under the gown' [20] thought later statutes say 'with gown' instead of under it. The Durham habit survives as part of the dress for the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor which are worn under their laced gowns. There are two forms; one is sleeveless like the Oxford pattern and the other is sleeved so more like a cassock than a habit. In theory, doctors could wear the sleeveless type over their black undress gowns like in Oxford but this is very rare as many do not know that they are entitled to it.

Other habits that have fallen into disuse include the cappa manicata which was the same as the Oxford habit except that it has two long disused sleeves dangling behind and was used by lay doctors at Cambridge, the cappa nigra which was a shorter version of the Oxford habit worn by MAs, and the tabard which was similar to a BA gown.[21]

The Cambridge Proctors' ruff and the Oxford Proctors' tippet could also be considered another version of a habit, a mantle, but the use of these are restricted to said officials.


A modern reproduction of the original Lampeter BA hood in Cambridge full-shape [f1].

The hood was originally a functional garment, worn to shield the head from the elements. In the English tradition, it has developed to an often bright and decorative garment worn only on special occasions. It is also worn by clergy and lay readers of the Anglican Communion in choir dress, over the surplice, and it is common in cathedrals, churches, and chapels for the choirmaster and/or members of the choir to wear an academic hood to which they are entitled during services, over their cassock and surplice, although only for the choir offices (Morning and Evening Prayer) and not for the Eucharist.

Hoods comprise two basic patterns: full shape or simple shape. The traditional full-shape hood consists of a cape, cowl, and liripipe, as is used at Cambridge. At Oxford, the bachelors' and masters' hoods use simple hoods that have lost their cape and retain only the cowl and liripipe. Some universities only have a cape and cowl and no liripipe; these are referred to as the Aberdeen shape. Various other universities have different shapes and patterns of hoods, in some cases corresponding to the pattern current at the ancient universities at the time when they were founded, and in others representing a completely new design.[22]

The colour and lining of hoods in academic dress represents the rank and/or faculty of the wearer.[23] In many Commonwealth universities bachelors wear hoods edged or lined with white rabbit fur, while masters wear hoods lined with coloured silk (originally ermine or other expensive fur). Doctors' hoods are normally made of scarlet cloth and lined with coloured silk.[24] Faculty colours were introduced by the University of London and many universities followed suit.[25]

The hood is nearly always worn with a gown though there are some exceptions such as Oxford doctors who do not wear a hood with their festal robes (though this regulation is often ignored at graduation ceremonies at other universities when Oxford doctors are sitting in the faculty).

The neckband of the hood usually has a loop of which original function is to hook onto the button of a cassock. Since many do not wear cassocks for graduation, the loop is sometimes hooked onto a shirt button instead. However, since the hood is rather heavy this has a tendency to pull the lightweight shirt upwards. The correct way to wear the hood is to allow the neckband to naturally hook itself onto the collar under the tie which secures the hood in place. Sometimes, the hood is worn too forward and down being hooked onto the jacket button or pinned which causes the hood to sit badly and more be likely slip down the shoulders like a shawl.


The Bishop Andrewes cap as used for University of Cambridge DDs.

The academic cap or square, commonly known as the mortarboard, has come to be symbolic of academia. In some universities it can be worn by graduates and undergraduates alike. It is a flat square hat with a tassel suspended from a button in the top center of the board. Properly worn, the cap is parallel to the ground, though some people, especially women, wear it angled back.

The mortarboard may also be referred to as a trencher cap (or simply trencher). The tassel comprises a cluster of silk threads which are fixed together and fastened by a button at one end, and fixed at the centre of the headpiece. The loose strands are allowed to fall freely over the board edge. Often the strands are plaited together to form a cord with the end threads left untied.

In many universities, holders of doctorates wear a soft rounded headpiece known as a Tudor bonnet or tam, rather than a trencher. Other types of hats used, especially in some universities in the UK, are the John Knox cap (mostly at Scottish universities), the Bishop Andrewes cap (a reinvention of the ancient form of the mortarboard, worn by Cambridge DDs) and the pileus (at Sussex). In some universities, such as Oxford, women may wear an Oxford ladies' cap.[26]

For Catholic — and some Anglican — clergy, the traditional black biretta may be worn in some circumstances instead of the mortarboard. Those clerics who possess a doctorate wear the black biretta with four ridges — instead of the usual three — and with piping and pom of the color of the discipline, thus, e.g., emerald for canon law, scarlet for sacred theology, etc.[27]

As with other forms of headgear, in the Commonwealth, academic caps are not generally worn indoors by men (other than by the Chancellor or other high officials), but are usually carried. In some graduation ceremonies caps have been dispensed with for men, being issued only to women, who do wear them indoors, or have been abandoned altogether. This has led to urban legends in a number of universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland which have as a common theme that idea that the wearing of the cap was abandoned in protest at the admission of women to the university. This story is told at the University of Cambridge, Durham University, the University of Bristol, the University of St Andrews and Trinity College, Dublin among others.

The misinterpretation of some regulations has led to the confusion that certain universities do not prescribe headwear, whilst some universities have abandoned headwear for socio-political reasons, most notably the Open University, or because the designer intended it, such is the case of Vivienne Westwood and her design for King's College London.[28]

The University of East Anglia is infamous for two new hats designed by Cecil Beaton that were prescribed. One is known as the 'Dan Dare' or 'Mickey Mouse' cap which is a skull cap with a narrow rim around the top for bachelors; the other was known as the tricorn or upside-down iron, which was basically a mortarboard but with a triangle instead of a square for the top board for masters. These caps were unpopular with students who preferred the square and they soon fell into disuse. The tricorn is still used as the official hat of the Registrar.[29]

Dress for university officials

Lord Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, wearing his official academic dress as the university Chancellor.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge's deputy wearing the cope (cappa clausa) led by a bedel.

Officers of the universities generally wear distinctive and more elaborate dress. The Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor may wear a black damask lay type gown (sometimes with a long train) trimmed with gold or silver lace and frogs. They wear a velvet mortarboard, similarly trimmed with gold braid and tassel. This form of dress is not strictly 'academical' but it is typical dress for those in high positions. Other than this gown, they may have other distinct forms of dress, such as the scarlet cappa clausa or cope worn in certain circumstances by the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge or his/her deputy and by higher doctors presenting candidates for degrees, which was once worn by Doctors of Divinity.[30]

Officers of lower rank may wear plain black lay type gowns, sometimes with gold or silver trim, or ordinary gowns in university colours. In general, officials do not wear hoods with their gowns.

Marshals and bedels often wear black lay-type gowns with bands and a black bonnet.

British customs

At degree ceremonies, graduands often dress in the academic dress of the degree they are about to be admitted to prior to the actual graduation ceremony. This is not the case at several of the older universities in the UK, most notably, Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews which have their own distinct traditions.

Oxford: Prior to admission to the degree, the graduand will normally wear either the undergraduate commoner's or scholar's gown (if being admitted to the BA), or the graduate student's gown or the gown and hood of their previous Oxford/external university degree (if being admitted to a higher degree). After being formally admitted during the ceremony, they exit the Theatre and assume the gowns and hoods of their new degrees and then return to the Theatre in their new gowns and hoods. For certain degrees such as the higher doctorates and MAs, if they profess the Christian faith, the graduand may (if they wish) kneel in front of the (Vice-)Chancellor and be admitted in 'the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit' whilst being tapped on the head with the Bible.[31]
Cambridge: Prior to admission, undergraduates wear their College undergraduate gown with the hood of the highest degree they are about to receive, graduates with degrees from other universities wear the BA/MA status gown with the hood of the highest degree they are about to receive and graduates already possessing Cambridge degrees wear the gown and hood of the highest degree they currently possess. After the ceremony day, they would wear the correct gown and hood for their new degree. During the ceremony they would kneel in front of the Vice-Chancellor or their deputy with the hands closed together whilst the VC encloses the graduand's hands between their own and admits them with a Latin formula.
St Andrews: Prior to admission, graduands wear only the gown of the degree they are about to be admitted to. During the ceremony, they kneel in front of the Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor who formally admits them by tapping them on the head with a folded round cap whilst the bedellus puts the hood of their new degree on them. Some Scottish universities follow this practice also.

Academic regalia in the United States

Academic regalia in the United States has been influenced by the academic dress traditions of Europe. There is an Inter-Collegiate code which sets out a detailed uniform scheme of academic regalia followed by most, though some institutions do not adhere to it entirely, and fewer still ignore it.


Modern rendering of students and faculty of King's College, New York (earlier name of Columbia University), in academic dress circa 1754. The drawing was created for the university's 1954 bicentennial. (Columbia University Archives).[32]

The practice of wearing academic regalia in what is now the United States dates to the Colonial Colleges period, and was heavily influenced by European practices and styles.[33] Students of most colonial colleges were required to wear the "college habit" at most times - a practice that lasted until the eve of the American Civil War in many institutions of higher learning.[34] In some rare instances the practice has persisted, such as at Sewanee, where members of one student society continue to wear the gown to class.[35] After the civil war, academic regalia was generally only worn at ceremonies or when representing the institution.[34] There was not, however, any standardization among the meanings behind the various costumes. In 1893, an Intercollegiate Commission made up of representatives from leading institutions was created, to establish an acceptable system of academic dress. The Commission met at Columbia College (now Columbia University) in 1895 and adopted a code of academic regalia, which prescribed the cut and style and materials of the gowns, as well as determined the colors which were to represent the different fields of learning.[36] In 1932 the American Council on Education (ACE) authorized the appointment of a committee "to determine whether revision and completion of the academic code adopted by the conference of the colleges and universities in 1895 is desirable at this time, and, if so, to draft a revised code and present a plan for submitting the code to the consideration of the institutional members of the Council." The committee reviewed the situation and approved a code for academic costumes that has been in effect since that year. A Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies, appointed by the American Council on Education in 1959, again reviewed the academic dress code and made several changes.[33]

Although academic dress is now rarely worn outside commencement ceremonies or other academic rituals such as encaenia in the U.S. graduation ceremonies have gained popularity and have expanded from high school graduations to middle school, elementary school and kindergarten graduation ceremonies[37].

Academic robes (gowns)

The Harvard doctoral gown and hood, which does not entirely follow the American Council on Education system.
Professors and newly conferred doctors of philosophy posing at a Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduation.

Bachelors' and masters' gowns in the United States are similar to their counterparts in the United Kingdom, though bachelor's gowns are now designed to be worn closed, and all are at least mid-calf length to ankle-length.[38] The masters' gown sleeve is oblong and, though the base of the sleeve hangs down in the typical manner, it is square cut at the rear part of the oblong shape. The front part has an arc cut away, and there is a slit for the wrist opening, but the rest of the arc is closed. The shape is evocative of the square-cut liripipe incorporated into many academic hoods (see, below). The master's gown is designed to be worn open or closed.[38]

Doctoral robes are typically black, although some schools use robes in the school's colors.[38] The Code calls for the outside shell of the hood (see, below) to remain black in that case, however. In general, doctoral gowns are similar to the gowns worn by bachelor's graduates, with the addition of three velvet bands on the sleeves and velvet facing running down the front of the gown, the Code calls for these to be either black or the color designated for the field of study in which the doctorate was earned (see Inter-Collegiate colors, below). However, it should be noted that in the case of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), although it is awarded for study in any number of fields, the dark blue velvet of philosophy is always used regardless of the particular field studied. For example, a Ph.D. in theology would wear velvet trim in dark blue, while a Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) would wear scarlet trim. The robes have full sleeves, instead of the bell sleeves of the bachelor's gown. Some gowns expose a necktie or cravat when closed, while others take an almost cape-like form. It is designed to be worn open or closed in the front.[38]

Members of the Board of Trustees or other governing body officers of a college or university, regardless of their degrees, are entitled to wear doctor's gowns, faced only with black velvet and black velvet bars on the sleeves. However, their hoods (see, below) may be only that of a degree actually held by the wearer, or one specially prescribed for them by the institution.[39] The color standardization for the outside shell of the hood as black provides flexibility of use and helps facilitate this practice.

The hood

Two Doctors of Philosophy (PhD). Note the five inch wide band of (dark blue) velvet signifying a doctorate and the field of philosophy, respectively (see the text regarding the Ph.D.). The universities from which they received the degree from may be determined from the colors and pattern of the lining of the hood (note a chevron as mentioned in the text). Note, also, the black velvet facings and sleeve bars which the Intercollegiate Academic Code prescribes for both doctors as well as for college or university trustees.

The Code calls for the shell material of the hood to match the robe, and for the color to be black regardless of the color of the robe being worn.[40] The interior lining - generally silk - displays the colors of the institution from which the wearer received the degree, in a pattern prescribed by it (usually, if more than one color is used, chevrons or equal divisions).[41] The opening of the hood is trimmed in velvet or velveteen.[42]

The width of the hood velvet is 2 inches, 3 inches, and 5 inches for the bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees, respectively.[42] The length of the hood will vary with the level of academic achievement as well: bachelors wear a 3 foot length, masters a 3.5 foot length, and doctors a 4 foot length.[43] Only the doctoral hood will have "panels" at the sides of the hood that lie cape-like across the back.

In most American colleges and universities, the color of the velvet hood trimming is distinctive of the academic field — or as closely related as possible — to which the degree earned pertains (see Inter-Collegiate colors, below).[44] For instance, one who has earned a Master of Arts in Journalism would wear velvet trim of crimson to signify "journalism", rather than white to represent "arts"

Candidates may have the hood ceremoniously placed upon them, as is done at some British universities, or a college/school may 'self-hood' en masse at the appropriate time during the ceremony as has been the practice at Fordham University in the United States.[45] Additionally, the Code allows for the wearing of the hood into the commencement ceremony as part of the academic procession, but only if neither of the two procedures above are being employed.[46] The Code also states: "It is quite appropriate for the bachelor's gown to be worn without a hood."[46] Many institutions, particularly larger ones, have therefore dispensed with the bachelor's hood at commencement ceremonies altogether, though a graduate is still entitled to wear one once the degree is conferred.[39] Honorary or earned doctoral degrees are very often conferred by the highest academic officer of an institution bestowing the appropriate hood at the podium, regardless of the procedure being followed for other candidates at the ceremony.

Only one hood may be worn at any given time.[46] Trim colors may not be combined or displayed together in any way to attempt to indicate more than one academic field.[38] The regalia indicating the highest degree attained is usually worn, though the Code seems to allow for a graduate to revert for some occasion to the entire academic costume (e.g. robe style, trim width, hood length, etc.) of a lesser degree earned. Those who hold multiple degrees of the same level (i.e. more than one master's or doctorate degree) may wear at any given time the regalia, in its entirety, of any one degree earned.[46] The Code does not allow for 'mixing-and-matching.' The regalia prescribed by an academic institution and the degree actually awarded by that institution to the wearer (as indicated by trim color, hood length, robe style, etc.) must be consistent. The one exception is for officers of the academic institution who, while wearing a doctoral gown of the University being served, may display one hood from any degree earned from any institution.(see Academic robes, above).[39]

Mortarboard, tams and other headwear

Headwear is an important component of cap-and-gown, and the academic costume is not complete without it. The headwear will vary with the level of academic achievement and, to some extent, on the individual academic institution's specifications.

  • Caps - The mortarboard is recommended in the Code, and the material required to match the gown.[47] The exception—velvet—is reserved for the doctor's degree only, seen in the form of a multiple-sided (4, 6, or 8) tam, but the four-sided mortarboard-shaped tam in velvet is what the Code seems to recommend here.[47] The only color called for is black, in all cases.[47]
    • During graduation ceremonies in the United States, both women and men wear caps, and both women and men wear their caps indoors throughout most of the ceremony.[46] The exceptions are for men during a baccalaureate service, the national anthem ("The Star-Spangled Banner"), any benediction that may be offered by a chaplain or other authority, and sometimes the singing of the alma mater if the local custom requires it.[46] Although military and civil uniform, national costume, and clerical garb etc. are worn beneath the academic robe, traditionally only the biretta in conjunction with clerical garb will replace the academic cap. All other costumes forgo the normal headwear in favor of the appropriate academic version.
  • Tassel - The tassel worn on the mortarboard or a tam seems to provide, by tradition, the greatest opportunity for latitude in American academic dress. It has been black, or represented the university's colors, or the colors of the specific college, or the discipline. The tassel has also been used to indicate membership in national honor societies or other awards. However, strictly speaking, the ACE code states that "The tassel should be black or the color appropriate to the subject,"[47] and only makes an exception for the gold tassel.[47] Just as for the use of velvet headwear, the gold metallic tassel is reserved for those entitled to wear the doctoral gown.[47] Only one tassel is worn at a time.[47]
    • There is in some colleges and universities a practice of moving the tassel from one side to the other on graduating, but this is a modern innovation that would be impractical out of doors due to the vagaries of the wind. However, this mark of transition to graduate status has the benefit of taking less time than more traditional indicators such as the individual conferring of the hood or a complete change of dress part-way through the ceremony (as at Oxford in the United Kingdom). In such universities it is common for undergraduates to begin the commencement ceremony with their tassels on the right. Switching the tassel to the left may be done individually or as a group. For doctoral and masters students, the tassel commonly begins and remains on the left.[46]

Inter-Collegiate colors

The colors allocated to the various fields of learning have been largely standardized in the United States by the Intercollegiate Bureau of Academic Costume, and accepted by the American Council on Education in its Academic Costume Code.[41] The color assigned to a given hood trim and/or tassels and—where appropriate—gown facings, should be as closely related as possible to the field studied.[44] For example, one who has earned a degree in animal husbandry would wear the maize of agriculture, as no color is specific to the subject of animal husbandry, and it is generally included within the broader field of agriculture. Less simply, mathematics is traditionally among the liberal arts (which are represented by white) while more recently associated with what has been termed the formal sciences, (which would seem to imply being represented by golden yellow for science), and thereby exposes debates about the very nature of some fields. The codified colors associated with the different academic disciplines are as shown below:

Faculty Color Sample
Agriculture Maize
Arts [Liberal Arts], Letters [Literature], Humanities White
Commerce, Accountancy, Business Drab
Dentistry Lilac
Economics Copper
Education Light Blue
Engineering Orange
Fine Arts, Architecture Brown
Forestry, Environmental Studies, Sustainability Russet
Journalism Crimson
Law Purple
Library Science, Information Management Lemon
Medicine Green
Music Pink
Nursing Apricot
Oratory, Speech, Communications Silver Gray
Pharmacy Olive Green
Philosophy Dark Blue
Physical Education, Manual Therapy, Physical Therapy Sage Green
Public Administration, Public Policy, Foreign Service Peacock Blue
Public Health Salmon Pink
Science (both "Social" and "Natural") Golden Yellow
Social Work Citron
Theology, Divinity Scarlet
Veterinary Science Grey

A distinction is made in the code, which calls for a graduate to display the color of the subject of the degree obtained, not the degree itself, the achievement level of which is indicated by the cut of the robe, the length of the hood, and the width of the trim.[42] For example: if a graduate is awarded a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree specifically in business the trimming should be drab, representing commerce/accountancy/business, rather than white, representing the broader arts/letters/humanities; if the BA was in economics, the trim should be copper; if in environmental studies, it should be russet, etc. If the BA was in literature, a subject within the humanities (as well as the very definition of "letters") and not assigned a unique color, the velvet should indeed be white. Similarly, if a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree was awarded for physics, the velvet trim should be golden yellow, representing physics as one of the natural sciences; however, if the BS was in engineering, the trim should be orange, or if it was in education, the trim should be light blue, etc. The same method is true of master's degrees and doctorates. A Master of Public Administration in Science and Technology should show trim of golden yellow for science, not peacock blue for public administration; conversely a Master of Science in Public Administration should display peacock blue trim for public administration and not golden yellow for science.

In the case where a color is specified for a field that may be included in another, broader, discipline, and that broader discipline is represented by its own color (e.g.: oratory, assigned silver gray trim, is generally regarded as among the liberal arts [arts], represented by white trim), the graduate should wear the color of the more specific field (in this case, silver gray for a degree in oratory, rather than white for liberal arts).

Conversely, it is problematic when a field of study that does not have its own color assigned to it has been considered to be included in more than one discipline, which are represented by different colors, e.g.: history has traditionally been considered as among the humanities, represented by white, while also considered a social science, which can be represented by golden yellow. This is often addressed by an academic institution allowing the degree earned to influence (but not determine) color assignment. For instance, a Bachelor of Arts graduate in history might display white, while a Bachelor of Science graduate in history at the same institution could properly display golden yellow (or, theoretically, vice-versa), thereby creating confusion in appearing to display colors based on degree earned rather than—as stipulated in the Code—academic field studied.

In 1986, the American Council on Education updated the Code and added the following sentence clarifying the use of the color dark blue for the Doctor of Philosophy degree, which is awarded in any number of fields:

In the case of the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree, the dark blue color is used to represent the mastery of the discipline of learning and scholarship in any field that is attested to by the awarding of the degree, and it is not intended to represent the field of philosophy.[42]

The doctorate other than the Ph.D. will be represented by the colors indicated above. For example, the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Public Health should display salmon pink for public health, not light blue for education, and the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in Public Administration should display peacock blue for public administration, not salmon pink for public health. The Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng.) degree, if no further specialization was made, should be represented by orange, and the Doctor of Divinity (Div.D.) by scarlet if no further specialization, etc.


A number of other items such as cords, stoles, aiguillettes, etc. representing various academic achievements or other honors are also worn at the discretion of some degree-granting institutions. Technically, however, the ACE code does not allow their use on or over academic regalia:

"Other Apparel - Shoes and other articles of visible apparel worn by graduates should be of dark colors that harmonize with the academic costume. Nothing else should be worn on the academic gown." (emphasis added)[46]

American academic dress is typically closed at the front and properly worn with the prescribed cap, as well as the hood. On the baccalaureate dress shown other items such as scarves, stoles or cords may be seen.

Apparel and tokens representing awards and honors are not considered a component of academic dress, not only because the ACE code does not allow it, but also because (a) they are often worn without the defining cap and gown, and (b) they are usually not worn by a graduate with academic robes after the Commencement year in which the honor was awarded. Nevertheless, they are often seen with academic regalia in the United States, and are therefore mentioned here.


When worn about the neck, medals/medallions may not be in conflict with the Code if worn beneath the hood and if appropriate (see Academic robes, above) visible only with the gown open.

The Code's exception is only for special regalia prescribed by the institution for a chief marshal, the university or college president, etc. which may include medallions or other devices symbolic of the office.[39] The concept of the medallion as an indication of authority is traced to the Middle Ages.[48] As a medallion in this case is symbolic of the office and not academic achievement, once the wearer leaves the office they are no longer entitled to wear it. Therefore, it is not a component of an individual's academic regalia, but a component of the regalia for the office.

Honor cord

Honor cords usually consist of twisted cords with tassels on either end. They are sometimes awarded for various academic achievements, or to members of honor societies. Often, cords come in pairs with a knot in the middle to hold them together. Sashes, stoles, or medallions are also awarded in place of cords. Any of these items are customarily worn with non-academic attire, as well. With cap and gown, and hood when utilized, some educational institutions have permitted these cords to complement the regalia of a high school or university candidate, ignoring the ACE Code to the contrary. Unlike hoods, tassels and stoles, custom allows more than one cord to be worn at the same time.

Opposition to academic attire

As part of the socio-political upheaval of the 1960s in many western cultures, eschewing academic regalia became a popular means of protest, particularly in response to the Vietnam War and the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968) in the United States.

Student protests, which had the effect of cancelling graduation ceremonies at some American universities, led to a general relaxing of protocols on academic attire and ceremonial pageantry. After the war, academic regalia continued to be shunned by some who considered it a symbol of elitism. However, since the 1980s, academic regalia has been in resurgence. Some colleges or academic departments allow graduating students to vote on whether or not to wear academic regalia at graduation ceremonies.

Academic dress in France

This article is partially translated from

In France, academic dress, also called the toge (from the word toga, an ancient Roman garment) is similar to French judges' court dress, except for its colour, which depends on the academic field in which the wearer graduated. It is nowadays little worn, except by doctors during the opening of the university year or the ceremony for a doctorate honoris causa. For doctors, it consists of:

  • a long gown (a bit similar to a cassock) with a long row of buttons (traditionally, 33, but nowadays usually less) in front and a train at the back (which in the current costume is not visible but attached with a button in the inner side of the gown). The gown is in two colours: black and the standard colour of the academic field in which the wearer graduated (see below), with simarras (two vertical bands in the front of the gown).
  • an épitoge (epitoga): a piece of cloth with white fur stripes (three for doctors) attached by a button on the left shoulder, with a rectangular ,long, thin tail in the front and a triangular, shorter, broad tail in the back (both tails carry the fur stripes); its colour is that of the relevant academic field. The epitoga has evolved from the academic hood, which explains why the French academic dress does not include a hood.
  • a long, wide belt or sash, either black or of the colour of the relevant academic field, ended by fringes (which may be golded or of the same colour as the belt), and attached with a broad ornamental knot.
  • a white rabat (jabot), over which a white tie may be worn for ceremonial occasions. Il is made of lace for the Dean of the Faculty, the President of the University, and a few other officials; of plain cotton for others.
  • only for men, a mortarboard of the colour of the relevant academic field with a golden stripe, which is usually not worn but carried (since anyway the academic dress in France is rarely worn outdoors, and men are supposed not to wear hats indoors), and often even omitted.
  • theoretically, white gloves, which are not worn anymore.

The colours of the various academic fields are daffodil (yellow) for literature and arts, amaranth (purplish red) for science, redcurrant (reddish pink) for medicine, scarlet red for law, and violet (purple) for theology. University rectors, chancellors or presidents wear also specific costumes, which are violet regardless of the academic field in which they graduated.

Field of graduation Colour name Colour aspect
Divinity (and all high officials regardless of the field) Violet (Purple, specifically the Royal Purple shade)
Law (colour also worn by high magistrates) Écarlate (Scarlet)
Medicine (and health-related fields) Groseille (Redcurrant, a reddish shade of pink)
Science (exact and experimental) Amaranthe (Amaranth)
Arts, literature, philosophy, humanities Jonquille (Daffodil, a shade of yellow)

The dress exists in two versions: the petit costume ("small costume") and the grand costume ("great costume"). Both are identical in form, and differ only in the presence or absence of the mortarboard and the repartition of colours on the gown and sash (the other elements of the dress, especially the epitoga, being identical for both):

  • for the petit costume, the gown is all black, except the simarras which are of the colour of the academic field; the buttons are black; the sash and its fringes moiré black; the mortarboard is usually not worn;
  • for the grand costume, the gown is black between the simarras, which are moiré black, and of the colour of the academic field on the sides and on the sleeves, except their turn-ups, which are black; the buttons are of the colour of the academic field; the sash is of the colour of the academic field, its fringes may be either the same colour or gold.

In formal occasions, the grand costume is equivalent to white tie, whereas the petit costume is equivalent to black tie.

Academic dress in Germany

This article is based on

The German academic dress is called "Talar" (with the accent on the second "a": talár; from Latin talare which means to the ankles), and can be described as the normal black long gown with wide sleeves common to all scholars in Europe and America. It can be traced back to the every day clothes of the scholars in the Middle Ages. The same word Talar is also used for the robes of Protestant (Lutheran) pastors, judges, and rabbis, although these gowns often differ more or less in cut, length, drappings, and sometimes even in color (the gowns of the German Supreme Court are e.g. completely dark red).

Academic dresses of the Free University of Berlin

In Germany only the rectors, deans, professors, and lecturers wore the gowns—not students or graduates. Each German university had its own system of colors and drapings, which differs from that of British and American universities (for example, theology is normally not bright red but dark purple, similar to the French system). After the so-called "student's revolution" following the years of 1967, all German universities dropped their academic dress because they were identified by the (at that time mostly socialist influenced) students with right-winged conservatism and reactionism: The famous slogan "Unter den Talaren - Muff von 1000 Jahren" (beneath the gowns the fug of 1000 years) refers not only to the old traditions of the middle ages, but also to the Nazi regime and their self-declared "empire of 1000 years".[49]

It was not until recently that some universities started to use their traditional academic dress again. For example, the University of Bonn re-adopted academic dress in 2005 for the first time since 1969.[50] Today many young and newly founded universities also use academic dress, not to revive old traditions but to follow Anglo-American examples.

Chinese academic dress

The Portuguese traje

In most Portuguese universities and other types of higher education institutions, usage of academic dress for undergraduates, or traje académico is still widespread and has even gained popularity in recent decades.[citation needed] The traje is composed of black trousers (or skirt, for female students), white shirt, black tie, a black overcoat, known as batina (in the case of male students, the classical traje also includes a black vest) and a black robe.[51] Some Portuguese higher education institutions have their typical academic outfit which differs greatly from that born in the ancient University of Coimbra. This is the case, for example, of those worn by the students of the University of the Algarve and Minho University.

Usage is generally restricted to the first weeks of the semester, during the introductory and reception activities which make part of the Praxe tradition. In some older institutions, where traditions are better implemented, one can see students trajados during the entire year, though.

Sweden and Finland

A traditional Finnish technology student's hat from the Helsinki University of Technology. (photograph taken on top of a mirror)
Finnish doctoral hat for a doctor of science from the University of Oulu.

Finland and Sweden have similar traditions when it comes to academic dressing. For finer academic situations white tie is usually worn, however, often together with special headwear or even a cape.

In Finland and Sweden students of technology wear a special kind of cap called a studentmössa. It is similar to the cap given to all high-school graduates in both countries, but features a tuft and different kind of cockade showing what university the bearer is attending. Technology students generally wear their caps much more frequently, and thus the tuft often symbolizes university-engineers. Although different universities have different etiquettes regarding the use of the cap, it is generally not awarded to the student before he or she has completed the first year of studies. The technology student's hat may also be worn in quite informal occasions, such as together with the "party overalls" worn as part of the student culture at many universities.

In both countries also many universities have doctoral hats for persons who have completed a Ph.D. or similar degree, these are usually top hats. At some universities, a doctoral ring is awarded together with the hat. In the Ingmar Bergman film, Wild Strawberries, an important scene is the conferral of a Jubilee doctor degree on the main character at the University of Lund, which includes the presentation of such a hat and ring. At the University of Helsinki wearing a cape and a sword together with the doctoral hat is common. Students of the student organization "Limes" are also often seen wearing a black cape[52].


In general, the materials used for academic dress are heavily influenced by the climate where the academic institution is located, or the climate where the graduate will usually be wearing the costume (as a faculty member at another institution, for example). In either case, the ACE allows for the comfort of the wearer, and concedes that lighter materials be used in tropical climates, and heavier materials elsewhere.[53] In addition, it acknowldges cotton poplin, broadcloth, rayon, or silk as appropriate.[54]

The materials used for academic dress varies and range from the extremely economical to the very expensive. In the United States, most Bachelor and Master degree candidates are often only presented the "souvenir" version of regalia by their institutions or authorized vendor, which are generally intended for very few wearings and are comparatively very inexpensive. For some doctoral graduates commencement will be the only time they wear academic regalia, and so they rent their gowns instead of buying them. These rented (or hired[55]) gowns are often made of inexpensive polyester or other man-made synthetic fibre. In Britain, rented gowns are almost always polyester whilst Russell cord, silk or artificial silk gowns are only available when bought. Undergraduate gowns are usually made from cotton or cotton and polyester mix and are relatively inexpensive to encourage students to own them.

People who choose to buy their dress may opt for finer fabrics, such as princetta, poplin, crosgrain, Percale, cotton, wool, cassimere, broadcloth, bengaline, Russell cord or corded/ribbed material. For silk, there are a range of types including artificial silk/rayon, ottoman (i.e. ribbed or corded silk), taffeta, satin, alpaca, true silk, shot silk or a mixture. Pure ottoman silk is rarely used except for official gowns as it is very expensive.[56] Some gowns may be trimmed with gimp lace, cords, buttons or other forms of decoration.

In the past, fur has been used to line certain hoods (especially those of the UK) which range from rabbit to ermine. In the past, sheepskin was widely used. Most now use imitation fur instead, mainly because of cost and animal rights concerns. Some robemakers will use fur if the customer requests and pays for it, as some feel that the quality and feel of artificial fur has yet to match that of real fur.[57]

Doctor's robes usually use wool flannel, Panama, damask or brocade and are brightly coloured (or black, but faced with a bright colour) to distinguish them from lower degrees. They tend to be the most expensive because they must be dyed in a specific colour and/or be trimmed in coloured silks. Many doctoral gowns have a special undress version so adding to the cost of a full set.

A full set may cost about $360 (£180) for cheap materials to as much as $5800 (£2900) for high quality materials.[58] Usually, ex-hire gowns are available for purchase at cheaper prices though the quality may be lower.[59]

See also

Academic dress details for the following universities are available via these links:-

United Kingdom and Ireland




  • Fowler, J. T. (1904), Durham University: earlier foundations and present colleges. London: F. E. Robinson & Co.
  • Goff, Philip (1999), University of London Academic Dress. London: University of London Press. ISBN 0-7187-1608-6
  • Shaw, George W. (1966, 1995), Academical Dress of British and Irish Universities. Chichlester: Philmore & Co. Ltd. ISBN 0-85033974-X
  • Groves, Nicholas (2002, 2003, 2008), Key to the Identification of Academic Hoods of the British Isles. London: Burgon Society.
  • Groves, Nicholas; Kersey, John (2002), Academical Dress of Music Colleges and Societies of Musicians in the United Kingdom. Norfolk: Burgon Society. ISBN 0-9544110-0-5
  • Hargreaves-Mawdsley, W.N. (1963), A History of Academical Dress in Europe. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Venables, D.R. & Clifford, R.E. (2009), 9th ed., Academic Dress of the University of Oxford. Oxford: Shepherd & Woodward. ISBN 0-9521630-0-4


  • Kerr, Alex (ed.) et al. (2004), The Burgon Society Annual 2003.
  • Kerr, Alex (ed.) et al. (2005), The Burgon Society Annual 2004. ISBN 0-9544110-6-4
  • Kerr, Alex (ed.) et al. (2006), Transactions of the Burgon Society: Volume 5. ISBN 0-9544110-7-2
  • Kerr, Alex (ed.) et al. (2008), Transactions of the Burgon Society: Volume 6. ISBN 0-9544110-8-0
  • Kerr, Alex (ed.) et al. (2008), Transactions of the Burgon Society: Volume 7. ISBN 0-978-9544110-5-3
  • Kerr, Alex (ed.) et al. (2009), Transactions of the Burgon Society: Volume 8. ISBN 978-0-9561272-1-1
  • Powell, Michael (ed.) et al. (2002), The Burgon Society Annual 2001.
  • Powell, Michael (ed.) et al. (2003), The Burgon Society Annual 2002.


Further reading

  • American Council on Education staff (1997). American Universities and Colleges, 15th Edition. Walter de Gruyter, Inc. ISBN 0-2759874-5-0
  • Belting, Natalia Maree (1956), The History of Caps and Gowns, New York : Collegiate Cap & Gown Co. via Internet Archive
  • Franklyn, C.A.H. (1970), Academical Dress from the Middle Ages to the Present Day Including Lambeth Degrees. Lewes: WE Baxter.
  • Haycraft, F.W. (1948), 4th ed. rev. Stringer, E.W Scobie, The Degrees and Hoods of the World's Universities and Colleges. Cheshunt Press.
  • Rashdall, H. (1895, 1936), The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Claredon Press.
  • Rogers, F.R.S., Franklyn, C.A.H., Shaw, G.W., Boyd, H.A. (1972), The Degrees and Hoods of the World's Universities and Colleges. Lewes: WE Baxter.
  • Smith, H.H., Sheard, K. (1970), Academic Dress and Insignia of the World. Cape Town: AA Balkema.
  • Wood, T.W. (1882), The Degrees, Gowns and Hoods of the British, Colonial, Indian and American Universities and Colleges. London: Thomas Pratt & Sons.


  1. ^ Shaw (1995), p. 3
  2. ^ e.g. Burgon Society: Robes
  3. ^ History and Archives of the American College of Surgeons; Highlight of the Month October 10, 2005; The Clinical Congress: Then and Now, accessed 01/29/2008.
  4. ^ Goff, pp. 13-14
  5. ^ Warwick Graduation: Practical advice by Dr. Nicholas Jackson, FBS
  6. ^ University of Sheffield: What should I wear?
  7. ^ The Burgon Society: The Design of Academical Dress (6th May 2007) Classification of Styles
  8. ^ Burgon Society: Introduction (02 Nov 2008)
  9. ^ Burgon Notes, Autumn 2008.
  10. ^ a b c Shaw (1995); pp. 4-7
  11. ^ Hargreaves-Mawdsley, pp. 91-101, 128-135, 146, 148-149
  12. ^ Shepherd & Woodward: Oxford University student gowns
  13. ^ CU Cap & Gown Society: Gown-spotter's guide
  14. ^ Hargreaves-Mawdsley, pp. 138-145
  15. ^ William Gibson, The Regulation of Undergraduate Academic Dress at Oxford and Cambridge, 1660—1832, The Burgon Society Annual 2004, pp. 26—41.
  16. ^ Burgon Transactions 2005 (2006); pp. 50-53
  17. ^ [1] Statutes and Ordinances of the University of Cambridge, Chapter II.
  18. ^ Andrew Cusack: The 'New South' Scorns an Old Mace Photo of Vice-Chancellor, Dr. McCrady, wearing a cappa clausa
  19. ^ Vice Chancellors of the Univeristy of the South Shows the various VCs wearing copes.
  20. ^ Fowler, Appendix VIII: "CONVOCATION HABIT: Scarlet cassimere, with palatinate purple buttons, to be worn under the gown at all Convocations."
  21. ^ Burgon Transactions 2005 (2006); pp. 42-58
  22. ^ Burgon Annual 2003 (2004); pp. 18–23
  23. ^ Groves (2008), Hood Key
  24. ^ Shaw (1995); p. 8
  25. ^ Burgon Transactions vol. 5 (2006); pp. 80-89
  26. ^ Goff; pp.22-23
  27. ^ Klerikale Kopfbedeckungen: Kopfbedeckungen 1 (image heavy; 700+)
  28. ^ The Australian: King's bans mortarboards as old hat
  29. ^ Groves, Nick. The Academical Dress of The University of East Anglia. pp. 11–12
  30. ^ Shaw (1966); pp. 94-95
  31. ^ Venables (1998)
  32. ^ July 2008 conversation, Public Services Archivist, University Archives, Columbia University in the City of New York.
  33. ^ a b Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Historical Overview
  34. ^ a b Smagorinsky. The REGALIA of Princeton University: Pomp, Circumstance, and Accountrements of Academia. Page 5.
  35. ^ About - The Order of Gownsmen - Sewanee :: The University of the South
  36. ^ New York Times. "Gowns for College Men; Academic Costumes in American Universities (1896): Plan to Secure a Uniform Practice in the Use of the Caps and Gowns in This Country So that the Degree of the Wearer, the Faculty Under Whom It Was Obtained, and the Institution Conferring It May Be Readily Seen." Sunday, April 26, 1896.
  37. ^ - Kindergarten graduation in the United States
  38. ^ a b c d e Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Gowns
  39. ^ a b c d Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Some Permissible Exceptions
  40. ^ Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Hoods
  41. ^ a b Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Hoods;Linings
  42. ^ a b c d Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Hoods;Trimmings
  43. ^ Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Hoods;Length
  44. ^ a b Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Additional Guidance on Costume
  45. ^ FCLC Commencement Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed 12/15/2008
  46. ^ a b c d e f g h Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Wearing the Costume
  47. ^ a b c d e f g Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Caps
  48. ^ About Penn State: University Symbols
  49. ^ Famous photo of students in 1967 revolting in Hamburg in front of fully dressed scholars
  50. ^ 2005: First use of gowns in Bonn since 1969
  51. ^ El traje académico. Composición. Partes. Colores y titulaciones. Facultades. July 17, 2008 (accessed).
  52. ^
  53. ^ Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Gowns, Material
  54. ^ Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Caps, Material
  55. ^ American English uses 'rented', British English uses 'hired'.
  56. ^ An Ede & Ravenscroft Oxford MA hood made of pure Ottoman silk will cost around £347. Source: (21 September 2007)
  57. ^ The cost difference between artificial and real fur can be as much as a few hundred pounds.
  58. ^ Ede & Ravenscroft: Oxford DMus undress and full dress academic dress costs £2910 (undress gown: £181, hood: £409, rigid mortarboard: £80, full dress gown: £2117, velvet bonnet: £123). Information retrieved 18 May 2007.
  59. ^ Hired hoods are usually partially lined instead of fully lined when the regulations specify a fully lined hood. However, there are some cases where a hood that is specified as fully lined in the regulations, in practice, is part-lined to save on materials. This is especially the case for Glasgow full-shape hoods [f9] as they are large and most of the lining may not be seen when worn.

External links


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