What Do PhD Graduation Gown Colors Mean

Jesse Alexander For Students, Fun Facts, Graduation

The Doctoral Graduation Gown

& What All Its Different Colors Mean

With so many collegiate traditions and classifications, it can be hard to understand the difference between the colors. With the wide array of customization options for regalia such as graduation gowns, caps, and tams it can get even more challenging.

The doctoral graduation gown, in particular, has additional features such as velvet chevrons and linings, with piping around their edges. For simplicities sake, we’ll refer to those options in this article as “trim.”

Below, we’ve shared the meaning of a few graduation gown trim options. Using the info below, you’ll more readily understand the reason for graduation attire variations at your upcoming ceremony. If you’re in the market for doctoral gowns, then this will help you pick the right one.

Black Gown Fabric, Velvet & Piping

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Most schools use the color black for their doctoral gowns. Some doctoral degrees have specially colored velvet or piping that reflects their academic field. We list black here, as most universities commonly use it as a base color, and customized from there – or use it alone for simplicity.

Aside from doctoral graduates, Board of Trustees members and governing members are also allowed to wear doctoral gowns. Much like the doctoral grads, they don black regalia as well. Unlike doctoral grads, their regalia isn’t an indication of their level of degree attainment. Trustee gowns denote the role they occupy and usually have four chevrons instead of the standard three.

Note: School’s almost always use black as a shell color for all their graduation hoods; no matter what the degree level or academic focus.

Oxford Blue Gown Fabric, Velvet & Piping

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blue, otherwise known as Oxford Blue, originated at Oxford University in the U.K. It’s still used their today and all over the world – a centuries old tradition that is still going strong today.

No matter what doctoral program you’re graduating from (history, engineering, biology, or literature), you’ll probably end up wearing a gown with Oxford blue trim at your ceremony. While universities most commonly use this color as a “catch-all,” more schools are starting to use degree-specific colorings.

White Gown Fabric, Velvet, & Piping

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This graduation gown color is used to represent the humanities, including Literature, Liberal Arts, and Fine Art. You’ll see colors employed in the gown trim to symbolize the graduate’s chosen subject (rather than the degree level).

Gold Gown Fabric, Velvet & Piping

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Depending on the field of study, there are a few different variations on the gold color scheme. Social and Natural Sciences use a golden yellow color for their trim, while Library Science and Information Management graduates use a lemon color.

Finally, Agriculture graduates use a “maize” (a.k.a. corn) color, which represents their farming studies. If you’re getting a doctorate, this color may be on your gown trim – though all degree levels will use these velvet colors on their hoods.

Silver Gown Fabric, Velvet & Piping

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Typically, silver is used to represent the communications field, including Broadcasting, Oratory, and general communications. Meanwhile, Veterinary Science graduates have a darker gray trim on their gowns.

College-Specific Gown Coloring

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Though these guidelines dictate the majority of undergraduate and graduate-level ceremonies, there are more than 125 universities with school-specific color schemes. For example, Boston University doctoral grads wear scarlet and black, while Johns Hopkins University grads use gold with black trim. Typically, the graduation gown colors mirror the university colors.

The Full Gown Color Spectrum

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To learn more about the graduation gown colors and see some visual examples, visit GraduationSource’s Caps & Gowns page. Here is an abbreviated list of other colors mentioned in the Academic Costume Code, which is part of the Intercollegiate Bureau of Academic Costume:

  • Communications: Crimson
  • Education: Light Blue
  • Fine Arts: Brown
  • Medicine: Kelly Green
  • Music: Pink
  • Philosophy: Oxford Blue
  • Social Work: Citron

For the full graduation gown velvet list, check out GraduationSource’s degree color chart.