Oxford has a long tradition of academic dress, and a visitor to Oxford
during term will see academic dress worn on a regular
When academic dress is worn
Academic dress is still worn very often in Oxford, and every
must buy (or borrow) a gown, cap,
and white bow tie (for men) or black ribbon (for women) for the
purpose of the University enrollment (known as matriculation
Regulations regarding gowns differ from college to college, but
gowns are commonly worn to:
- Formal Hall (formal dinner, which
occurs as frequently as every night in some colleges and as rarely
as once a term in others, or not at all)
- College collections
(tests that take place at the start of term)
- Head of house's collections (end of term academic progress
- College matriculation
Gowns and caps are worn to disciplinary hearings in the Proctors'
In addition, gowns are worn with cap, hood (for graduates), and
In 2006, a referendum held amongst the Oxford student body showed
81% against making the wearing of subfusc voluntary in examinations
— 4,382 voted in the poll, almost 1,000 more than voted in the
previous term's students' union elections. This was widely
interpreted by students as not so much being a vote on making
subfusc voluntary, but rather a vote on whether or not to
effectively abolish it by default, as it was assumed that if a
minority of people came to exams without subfusc, the rest would
soon follow. The defeat of this motion showed clear support
throughout the Oxford student body for the retention of the subfusc
Components of Oxford academic dress
After the names of the components, the Groves Classification Number
The gowns in use in Oxford can be divided into two basic shapes.
All gowns are open-fronted, except for the Doctor
' convocation habit which is closed at the
- Scholars' gown [u2]
- BA gown [b1]
- MA gown [m1]
- Doctors' full dress gown [d2]
- Doctors' convocation habit [d5]
- Proctors' dress gown [d2]
gown has no collar, but instead has the
voluminous material of its back and sleeves gathered into a yoke.
All of the above have open bell-shaped sleeves, with the exception
of the MA gown and the Doctors' convocation habit. The MA gown has
long closed sleeves with arm slits just above the elbow and a
crescent-shaped cut at the foot of the sleeve, forming two
forward-facing points. The Doctors' convocation habit is
Gowns of the same basic shape are worn by barristers
), preachers and bishops
Church of England
- Commoners' gown [u5]
- Graduate students' gown [u5]
- Higher faculties bachelors' and masters' laced gown [d4]
- Doctors' undress laced gown [d4]
- Chancellor's/Vice-Chancellor's gold laced gown [d4]
- Bedels', University Verger's, etc. gown [d4]
gown derives from a garment fashionable in
times. It is less voluminous
than the clerical-type
gown, and has a flap collar and
long closed sleeves with arm slits just above the elbow, except for
the Commoners' and Graduate students' gowns, whose closed sleeves
have evolved into streamers through which the arm does not
Gowns of the same basic shape are worn by solicitors
, court ushers, the Speaker of the House of
, the Chancellor
of the Exchequer
, and the Lord
MA hoods seen from rear
Hoods in Oxford are of three shapes. Doctors (except Doctors of
Clinical Psychology and Doctors of Engineering) and Bachelors of
Divinity wear hoods in the Oxford full shape
in the case of doctors and black in the case of Bachelors of
Divinity. All other hoods can be either in the Burgon
[s2] or the Oxford simple shape
some are traditionally made in one shape or the other. Most of the
newer degrees use the Burgon whilst older degrees use either,
although the Burgon shape is becoming more popular.
Generally, hoods are worn by graduates whenever subfusc
worn, but sometimes they are worn with an ordinary tie, e.g. by the
lecturer at a public lecture.
Men wear a mortarboard
(also known as a
or trencher cap) [h1], which is not worn indoors,
except by the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Proctors. When
meeting the Vice-Chancellor, Proctors, or other senior official of
the university in the street, it is traditional for a man to touch
or raise his cap. In practice few people wear their caps nowadays,
and instead carry their caps on occasions where caps are required.
A common misconception, even among students at Oxford, is that the
wearing of the mortarboard, even outdoors, is permitted only after
Women may choose between the mortarboard or the soft cap
[h5]. Originally, women were required to wear their mortarboards
during university ceremonies. From Michaelmas 1995, they were
required to wear the soft cap, but permitted either to wear or to
carry the mortarboard. From Hilary 2008, they are now, like men,
required to carry their mortarboards when at university ceremonies
indoors. Women who opt for the soft cap must still wear, and not
carry, them indoors.
Doctors in the lay faculties (i.e. those except Divinity and
Philosophy) wear Tudor bonnets
which are round and made of velvet.
comes from the Latin
for "of a dark/dusky colour", and refers to the clothes worn with
full academic dress in Oxford. Generally, this means, for
- Dark suit.
- Black socks and shoes.
- White shirt and collar.
- White bow tie.
- White blouse.
- Black tie.
- Black skirt or trousers.
- Black stockings or tights.
- Black shoes.
- Dark coat (if desired).
In addition, doctors in the higher faculties and senior university
officials wear bands, such as those worn with legal court dress
Members of the British Armed
may wear their service uniform
with gown and hood (for graduates) in place of subfusc
cap. There is no formal guidance about what order of dress should
worn (i.e. Army No. 1 or Service Dress) or whether swords are to be
worn; however, uniform caps are to be worn in the street and
carried when indoors. Persons in Holy
may wear clerical dress instead of
is worn at university matriculation
, at university examinations and
degree ceremonies and at Encaenia
exams, candidates often also wear a carnation
in their buttonholes: white for the
first exam, pink thereafter, and red for the final exam of the run.
Although this system has differed over time, this is the one
currently advised by the University and its Colleges.
A number of myths surround subfusc
and its use in
examinations - for example, that subfusc
has a counterpart
in 'full fusc', said to be a full suit of armour, which if worn to
Finals examinations automatically results in a student being given
a First; or the claim that one enterprising undergraduate examined
the University statutes prior to an examination and discovered that
all students sitting exams in subfusc
are entitled to a
glass of sherry. He demanded his due in the exam, and the
duly responded, before
fining him one shilling for failing to wear his sword, allegedly
also part of the archaic statutes. This latter story is disputed as
untrue, and has been circulating in various forms (sometimes
attributed to Cambridge) since at least the late 1950s.
Although gowns and robes have traditionally been made from stuff
or (in the case of members of the higher faculties) silk,
most modern gowns and robes are made from synthetic material.
Similarly, hoods traditionally made out of silk are now more
usually made of synthetic "art silk". Rabbit fur is also rarely now
used in the making of bachelors' hoods, with artificial fur used
(i.e. those without a scholarship
) wear a short black
gown which just covers the suit jacket. The gowns
have a flap collar and instead of sleeves have two streamers
adorned with folds. These are the remnants of closed sleeves, as
can still be seen on the laced gowns of the higher faculties.
(and some exhibitioners
) wear a black
gown down to the knee. The gowns are
gathered at the yoke, and have bell sleeves to the elbows (in
effect they are short versions of the BA gown).
Until the abolition of their statuses in the nineteenth
each had distinct gowns, generally of
coloured silk in the lay
shape, decorated with lace.
Undergraduates and mortarboards
It is often claimed that undergraduates by custom do not wear their
caps (or even that they can be fined for doing so). This is
incorrect. Out of doors caps may be worn, but it is customary to
touch or raise one's cap as a salute to senior university or
college officers. Like all other male members of the university
(including graduates) other than the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor
and Proctors, male undergraduates must remove their caps during
university ceremonies indoors.
It is also only in recent years that female undergraduates have
been permitted to remove their mortarboards during university
ceremonies. Women who opt for the mortarboard now no longer wear
them indoors, but conform with the practice of male members of the
university. As mentioned earlier, women who opt for the traditional
women's soft cap still do not have this dispensation, and should
remain covered at all times.
There are instances when male undergraduates are required to wear
their mortarboards indoors. Undergraduates appearing before the
Proctors' Court are required to present themselves wearing their
caps and to salute the Proctors in the customary manner upon
entering. They then remove their caps for the remainder of the
Graduate students who do not already have an Oxford degree wear a
gown that is a full-sized version of the
commoner's gown, reaching to the knee. However, they are not worn
by graduates of other universities who are reading for the degree
of Bachelor of Arts, who wear a commoner's or scholar's gown as
appropriate. Nor are they worn by non-members of the University
reading for diplomas
, who wear no gown, even
. Alternatively, graduate students may wear
the academic dress of their old university except at those
occasions where "foreign" academic dress is prohibited, such as the
and the second half of degree ceremonies when the
graduand pays his respects to the Vice-Chancellor in the dress of
his new Oxford degree.
The MA hood.
This hood is in Oxford simple-shape [s1] which is rarely used
for MA hoods nowadays.
See also Degrees of
the University of Oxford
BA and MA
The two most common graduate gowns in Oxford are the Bachelor of
Arts (BA) [b1] and Master of Arts (MA) [m1] gowns, which are worn
by new graduates of whatever subject. The degree of Masters of Arts
is granted to BA graduates at a degree ceremony no sooner than 21
terms after matriculation.
The BA gown is a long black clerical-type
gown with long
bell-shaped sleeves to the wrists. The gown is gathered at the
yoke. The MA gown is similar to the BA gown, except that the long
sleeves are squared and closed at the ends, with a crescent cut out
of each sleeve-end, and a horizontal slit just above the elbow for
the arm to pass through.
The hoods are as follows:
- MA — black silk edged and lined with crimson / shot crimson
- BA — black silk half lined and bound with white rabbit fur
Undergraduate master's degrees awarded to those on certain 4-year
courses in the sciences (M.Biochem., M.Chem., M.CompSci.,
M.EarthSc., M.Eng., M.Math., M.MathCompSci., M.MathPhil., M.Phys.,
M.PhysPhil.) wear BA gowns and hoods, and were previously entitled
to wear an MA gown after gaining the precedence of a Master of
Arts. Such graduates still automatically gain MA precedence 21
terms after matriculation; however, in 2009, the out-going Vice
Chancellor, Dr Hood, in consultation with the Proctors, decided
with retrospective effect that such graduates would not be entitled
to wear the MA gown even after gaining MA precedence.
Doctors in Oxford have three forms of academic dress: undress, full
dress and convocation dress.
The undress gown
in the lay faculties is a black
gown with a flap collar and closed sleeves,
decorated with black silk lace. The gown may be worn with a
doctor's hood, which is scarlet lined with coloured silk:
- DM, DCL — scarlet cloth (full shape) lined with crimson
- DLitt, DSc — scarlet cloth (full shape) lined with grey
- DPhil — scarlet cloth (full shape) lined with dark blue
The full dress gown
is a scarlet clerical-type
gown, with open bell-shaped sleeves and gathered at the yoke. The
sleeves and facings are in the appropriate coloured silk. The full
dress gown of Doctors of Music is exceptional (see below). Full
dress gowns are normally worn with sub-fusc
, but never
with a hood.
The convocation habit
like a scarlet full-dress gown, except in that it has no sleeves,
is fully lined with silk of the appropriate colour, and closed at
the front. It is worn over the black undress gown, with the sleeves
of the undress gown pulled through the armholes. It is always worn
with white tie, bands and hood. A similar garment (in scarlet or black) is
worn over a white rochet by bishops in the Church of
England e.g. when sitting in the House of Lords.
Lay higher faculties
Members with postgraduate bachelors or masters degrees in the lay
higher faculties (i.e. those other than Divinity or Arts) wear
gowns almost identical to the lay doctors' undress gowns (with the
exception of the MCh, the gowns of bachelors' and masters' do not
have an extra panel of gimp underneath the arms).
The hoods of bachelors and masters of the lay higher faculties are
- MCh — black silk edged and lined with dark blue silk
- BM BCh, BCL — steel blue silk half lined and bound with white
- MLitt, MSc — light blue silk edged and lined with grey
- BLitt, BSc (no longer awarded) — light blue silk half lined and
bound with white rabbit fur
- BMus — lilac silk half lined and bound with white rabbit
- MPhil, BPhil — dark blue silk edged and lined with white
The MLitt/MSc hood.
Bachelors and doctors of Divinity
their counterparts in the other higher faculties, do not wear the
black silk laced gown but wear a black undress gown of the
, identical to the MA gown, but in silk
rather than stuff. This is worn with a cassock, cincture and
Doctors of divinity also have the scarlet full dress gown (facings
and sleeves of black velvet) and the scarlet convocation habit,
which is worn over the black silk gown.
The hoods in the faculty of divinity are as follows:
- DD — scarlet cloth (full shape) lined with black silk
- BD — black corded silk (full shape) lined with black ribbed
Doctors of Music
Doctors of music have no convocation habit, as this degree (as well
as that of Bachelor of Music) was open to those who were not
members of Convocation. The degree is known to have existed since
the early 16th century, and seems to have originally used the same
robes as Doctors of Medicine, on the rare occasions when this was
necessary. However, since the beginning of the 17th century,
Doctors of Music have worn gowns of white or cream damask or
brocade, with facings and sleeve-linings of cherry-red silk being
present since at least the late 18th century: the latter are shown
in a 1792 plate by Charles Grignion.
Today, the full dress gown is made of cream silk brocade with apple
blossom embroidery, with cherry silk sleeves and facings. The hood
worn with the undress gown is of the same materials:
- DMus — cream apple blossom silk brocade (full shape) lined with
Other masters', bachelors' and doctors' degrees
The newer masters degrees follow with the silk gown of the lay
higher faculties, and the following hoods:
- MBA — claret silk edged and lined with dark grey silk
- MSt — deep green silk edged and lined with white silk
- MEd (no longer awarded) — black silk edged and lined with green
- MTh — black silk edged and lined with magenta silk
- MFA — gold silk edged and lined white silk
Holders of the MJur degree wear the BCL hood. Holders of the
undergraduate masters' degrees wear the BA gown and hood until the
21st term from matriculation, when they wear the MA gown and
The newer bachelors' degrees follow with the stuff gown of the BA,
and the following hoods:
- BFA — black silk with a narrow band of gold silk
- BEd (no longer awarded) — black silk with a narrow band of
- BTh — black silk with a narrow band of magenta silk.
The academical dress of the new professional doctorates are:
- DClinPsycol — blue Burgon simple-shape lined red silk
- EngD — red Burgon shape lined petrol blue edged grey
There is no full dress gown for the professional doctorates so the
doctor's undress gown is worn.
The Chancellor of the University is elected for life by the
Convocation (i.e. the alumni with degrees) of the University. He
wears on ceremonial occasions a black silk lay-type
with a long train, decorated with gold lace, similar to the gowns
of the Lord Chancellor
Chancellor of the
. The Chancellor's mortarboard has a gold tassel, like
that of the former noblemen commoners. In undress he wears the DCL
dress or undress gown. In Oxford he always wears white tie and
Previously Vice-Chancellors had no distinctive dress, but instead
wore the convocation habit if they were doctors or the MA gown and
hood if they were not. When John Hood
non-MA from outside the Congregation of the University, was
appointed Vice-Chancellor in 2005, a new lay-type
(undress) gown was designed for him, being black with simple gold
trimming on the sleeves and flap collar.
A official/dress robe was commissioned in 2006. It is a lay-type
gown with detachable panels on the lower sleeves of embroidered
gold and silver laurel branches growing out of the University
shield with the arms of the University's colleges seated on them.
The back of the gown has a large University shield similarly
trimmed with gold and silver laurel branches.
The two proctors in Oxford are responsible for the discipline of
junior members of the university. In addition they have various
ceremonial and administrative roles.
In Oxford the proctors wear white tie and bands, and a black
gown of the doctors’ full dress pattern with
sleeves and facings of blue velvet. A hood fully lined with
is worn turned inside out so that
only the fur is visible. This was formerly the full dress of the
M.A. On their undress M.A. gown they have a tippet
, or small pouch, sewn to the yoke, which they
keep for life.
In both Oxford and Cambridge the Proctors could formerly be seen
patrolling the streets after dark with the university police
, or bulldogs
, who wore top hats in
Cambridge and bowler hats in Oxford.
Previously the Assessor wore an MA gown with a tippet sewn onto the
yoke. He now wears a Proctor's dress gown with purple instead of
blue velvet sleeves. The hood is Burgon or Oxford simple-shape made
of unlined white corded silk.
The university bedels
, or mace-bearers
after their ceremonial function in
formal processions, wear plain black lay-type
, and white tie and
Members of the Chancellor's Court of Benefactors
Members of the court wear a gown in the shape of Doctor's gown that
is deep cherry in colour. There is a line of lace that runs across
the collar, down the facings in addition to two lines around the
sleeves. They wear a bonnet is deep cherry with a short tassel in
the same colour.
- Shaw, G.W. (1995) Academical Dress of British and Irish
Universities, Chichester: Philmore & Co. Ltd, ISBN
- Venables, D.R. (2009) Academic Dress of the University of
Oxford, Oxford: Mayfield Press, ISBN 978-0-9521630-1-5
- Kerr, Alex (ed.) (2005) The Burgon Society Annual
2004, The Burgon Society.
- See, for instance, this article in the student press
- The Burgon Society: The Design of Academical
- Letter from Council Secretariat, June 2009. For the former
position see Gazette, 15 July 1999, Decree (1)
- Robes and Robemakers, The Burgon Society Annual 2004,
- Venables (2009)
- Burgon Notes: February 2008