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Academic dress is a traditional form of clothing for academic settings, primarily tertiary (and sometimes secondary) education, worn mainly by those who 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). 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 daily. Today the ensembles are distinctive in some way to each institution, and generally consists of a gown (also known as a robe) with a separate hood, and usually a cap (generally either a square academic cap, a tam, or a bonnet). Academic dress is also worn by members of certain learned societies and institutions as official dress.
The academic dress found in most universities in the Commonwealth of Nations 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.
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 a 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 ceremonies, and a number of universities may bar finishing students from joining the procession or the ceremony itself if not appropriately dressed (though this sometimes refers only to requiring the proper wear of academic dress and not what is worn beneath it, if unseen). 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.
The materials used for academic dress vary 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) gowns are often made of inexpensive polyester or other man-made synthetic fibre. In Britain, rented gowns are almost always polyester while 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 poplin, grosgrain, Percale, cotton, wool, cassimere, broadcloth, 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. 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.
Doctor's robes usually use wool flannel, panama (worsted), superfine cloth, 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. Usually, ex-hire gowns are available for purchase at cheaper prices though the quality may be lower.
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