One of my most cherished duties as a university professor is to take part in Commencement each December and May. It’s a chance for students and their families to celebrate accomplishment and new beginnings, and I always enjoy meeting families of the students I have in some cases come to know quite well. For their part, the students and their families get the added treat of watching a parade of my colleagues and I wearing colorful dresses from the Middle Ages.
As with most wickedly pedantic things in life, just about every detail in the silly garb we professors don for Commencement has some particular meaning. This includes the heavy velvet robes and hoods themselves, thought to hearken to a time when seats of higher learning were exclusively in big, drafty stone buildings without central heating.
For those holding the doctoral degree, typical academic regalia includes a robe with big, puffy sleeves that feature three velvet bars, and two additional strips of velvet in the front flanking the zipper. Usually the background fabric and velvet are black, but to be extra fancy many robes these days have the velvet trimmed with bright piping, often gold. Also, many people wear officially sanctioned designs of the university that conferred their degree, and these are often rendered in school colors.
In addition to the robes, most faculty will wear puffy velvet caps with 4, 6, or 8 sides and usually with a gold tassel. Finally, we button ourselves into complex contraptions that are supposed to be the hoods, but they really only function as colored insignia to be seen from behind. Modern hoods have velvet trim (a dark royal blue is used for most disciplines to designate a PhD) and bright satin panels on the inside that are displayed to the outside. If you’re not wearing official robes of your conferring institution, then it’s the school colors displayed on the hood that identify that institution.
Now one problem about all this academic regalia stuff is that it’s bloody expensive. My official Penn State regalia looks super cool, but there’s no way I’m going to be able to justify spending nearly 800 bucks for this costume. So here’s how I usually look at Commencement:
That’s right, for the lame professors like me out there, our current institutions keep basic regalia on hand for us to rent. This serves the basic purpose, but it’s a big hassle to go and rent it a couple of times a year, the items get kind of threadbare after a while, the mortar board makes me look like an undergrad, and worst of all, the hood suggests that I obtained my PhD from Oklahoma State. I’m not trying to be a snob, I just want to be accurate, so I’ve been in the market for a basic set of professor’s kit that will show my Penn State heritage without breaking the bank.
There are lots of places that will make a custom hood for your academic dress. These guys can outfit me for less than 300 bucks, and I’ve decided that I would be willing to spend that much on this stuff. There’s just one problem: using the best of my Google Fu, I’ve been unable to find a photo of someone wearing the Penn State PhD hood, photographed from behind. Seriously, I’ve been all over this and have searched many times. The key information I need to order my own hood is where to put the blue and where to put the white in the satin panels of my hood. I didn’t want to guess and be wrong; I actually wanted to see one. They don’t exist.
This is because when people graduate and pose for photos, we want to see their faces! In a last ditch effort to find this crucial information myself before making some phone calls, we dug out my own photos from Penn State’s Graduate Commencement, 18 December 1999. Sure enough, there I was in photos from the front:
And then, joy of joys, there it was: WE were smart enough to get at least one photo from behind! Now I know where to order the white and where to order the blue!
So there you have it, Google: Right here is the only photo on the Internets of a PhD hood from Penn State! You’re welcome. Now we’ll see if I can get my act together and actually order this thing in time for Commencement . . .
Edit – For those looking to order from Grad Shop.com, here’s a screencap of exactly where to put the blue and the white. Congratulations on needing to do this! We Are . . . Penn State!