Academic Dress | University of Oxford
Academic Dress
To conclude Encaenia celebrations the Vice-Chancellor hosts a garden party for the honorands, their guests, and members of Congregation.

Academic Dress

The form of academic robes worn at Oxford can be traced back to the coats and ecclesiastical robes of medieval Europe, when dress marked the rank and profession of the wearer. In fact, the academic dress worn today is very much the same as that worn in medieval times. The older forms incorporate colours that were readily available in the past as well as those harder to acquire, like scarlet and blue, which were consequently significant markers of status. Thus, strong primary colours are common alongside black, white and purple. Academic dress is a physical representation of the University’s structure and a reward, and its colour and flamboyance are markers of the significance of the occasions on which it is worn.

When to wear academic dress

When to wear academic dressFull academic dress for Master of Philosophy and Bachelor of Philosophy (left), and Doctor of Civil Law and Master of Surgery (right). (Credit: Rob Judges)

University members wear academic dress at University ceremonies, examinations and some official meetings. Each degree has a black gown and hood proper to it. Doctors (those with Oxford DPhils or the higher doctorates of DD, DCL, DM, DLitt, DSc and DMus) also have a scarlet robe worn without a hood at the highest ceremonial occasions; the doctoral black gowns are therefore sometimes called ‘undress’ gowns. There are thus several gradations of academic dress depending on the occasion (the table at the end indicates when each gradation is worn):

  • black gown only
  • black gown and hood over everyday (smart) dress
  • black gown, cap and hood over subfusc (see below) – i.e. “full academic dress” for bachelors and masters
  • scarlet robe and cap worn over subfusc – i.e. “full academic dress” for doctors.
  • for Doctors on a small number of occasions (like the admission of the Vice Chancellor or Proctors and Assessor), Convocation habit – a scarlet sleeveless gown called a chemir worn over the black undress gown and hood, subfusc and white bands with cap.

MA hood and gownMA hood and gown. (Credit: John Cairns)
On occasions where the black gown or gown and hood is called for, Oxford graduates of any degree and Congregation members generally wear the MA hood and gown.

List of events at which academic dress should be worn (not exhaustive):

  • Encaenia – full academic dress
  • Encaenia Garden Party – academic dress of any university
  • Orations and Admissions – black gown and hood/Convocation habit
  • Meetings of Congregation – black gown only
  • Meetings of Convocation – black gown only
  • Degree Ceremonies – black gown and hood (including alumni – i.e. Members of Convocation – who are guests); Full academic dress/Convocation habit (Deans presenting candidates)
  • Royal/Head of State Visits – full academic dress

NB. For Encaenia and Degree Ceremonies, members of Congregation and Convocation (which includes all Oxford graduates) should wear Oxford academic dress. Others should wear business attire or national dress.

An invitation that uses any of the following wording indicates the need to wear academic dress:

  • Gowns will be worn – black gown only
  • Doctors may wear their scarlet robes – Full academic dress

Subfusc

White bandsWhite bands worn at Encaenia and other days. (Credit: John Cairns)
A dark suit with dark socks, or a dark skirt with black tights or trousers with dark socks and an optional dark coat; black shoes; plain white collared shirt; a black tie or white bow tie.

Higher doctors, the Proctors (and Pro-Proctors when deputising) the Assessor and certain other University officials wear white bands at Encaenia and certain other days (see Guidance Table - coming soon); all doctors wear bands with Convocation habit.

Members of the armed forces may wear service dress under their gowns.

Ministers of religion may wear clerical dress under their gowns.

For further information on subfusc click here

Undress/black gowns

Moira WallaceBlack gown. (Credit: John Cairns)
Proctors (undress)
The Master of Arts gown with a button and tippet sewn onto the bottom left of the yoke, during and after holding office.

Pro-Proctors (undress)
The black gown of their degree.

Assessor (undress)
The Master of Arts gown with a button and tassel sewn onto the bottom right of the yoke , during and after holding office.

Doctor of Divinity
Full-style gown of black silk, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind and closed sleeves with a crescent-shaped cut at the bottom and an opening at the elbow.

Doctor of Music/Doctor of Civil Law/Doctor of Medicine/Master of Surgery/Doctor of Letters/Doctor of Science/Doctor of Philosophy
Black gown of silk or art silk, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a form of black lace sewn on the collar, the lower part of the back and sides of the gown, underneath the arms, down the sides of the sleeves above the elbow and at the ends of the sleeves, which are closed and cut straight, but have an opening just above the elbow.

Doctor of Clinical Psychology/Doctor of Engineering/Master of Letters/Master of Science/Master of Philosophy/Bachelor of Philosophy/Bachelor of Music/Bachelor of Medicine and of Surgery/Bachelor of Civil Law/Magister Juris
Black gown of silk or art silk, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a form of black lace sewn on the collar, the lower part of the back and sides of the gown, down the sides of the sleeves above the elbow, and at the end of the sleeves, which are closed and cut straight but have an opening just above the elbow.

Master of Studies/Master of Theology/Master of Business Administration/Master of Fine Arts
Black gown of silk or art silk, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a form of black lace sewn on the collar, the lower part of the back and sides of the gown, down the sides of the sleeves above the elbow, and at the end of the sleeves, which are closed and cut straight, but have an opening just above the elbow.

Bachelor of Divinity
Full-style gown of black silk or art silk or Russell cord, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind and closed sleeves with a crescent-shaped cut at the bottom and an opening at the elbow.

Master of Arts
Full-style gown of black Russell cord or synthetic material, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind and closed sleeves with a crescent-shaped cut at the bottom and an opening at the elbow.

Bachelor of: Arts, Fine Art, Theology/Master of: Biochemistry, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, Physics, Computer Science, Mathematics, Mathematics and Philosophy, Physics and Philosophy
Full-style gown made from black Russell cord or synthetic material, with a full gathered yoke behind and long open-fronted sleeves.

Student Gowns

Student gownsStudent gowns: Commoners (left), Scholars (middle), Graduates (right). (Credit: John Cairns)

Commoners – Black gown of cotton or synthetic material with a turned over collar. It has no sleeves but has a streamer on each side with square pleating hanging to the full length of the gown, which falls to the hip.

Scholars – Black gown of Russell cord or synthetic material in full style with a gathered stiffened yoke behind and short open sleeves. The gown should reach the wearer’s knees. 

Graduates (not already a graduate of Oxford) – Black gown of cotton or synthetic material of the same style as the Commoners’ gown, but reaches to the knees of the wearer.

Hoods

HoodsHood worn by Bachelor of Theology (left), and Bachelor of Fine Art (right). (Credit: Rob Judges)
Proctors
Dean Burgon shape, black silk lined with white ermine, turned out.

Pro-Proctors
As Proctors, only when deputising for the Proctors. Otherwise the hood of their degree.

Assessor
Dean Burgon shape, white corded silk lined with white silk.

Doctor of Divinity
Full shape, scarlet cloth lined with black silk.

Doctor of Civil Law/Doctor of Medicine
Full shape, scarlet cloth lined with crimson shot silk.

Doctor of Letters/Doctor of Science
Full shape, scarlet cloth lined with grey silk.

Doctor of Philosophy
Full shape, scarlet cloth lined with dark blue silk.

Master of Surgery
Dean Burgon shape, black silk lined and edged with blue silk.

Doctor of Clinical Psychology
Dean Burgon shape, dark royal blue ribbed silk, edged and lined red.

Doctor of Engineering
Dean Burgon shape, red ribbed silk, edged grey and lined petrol blue.

Master of Letters / Master of Science
Dean Burgon shape, blue ribbed silk edged and lined with grey silk.

Master of Philosophy /Bachelor of Philosophy
Dean Burgon or Oxford shape, blue ribbed silk, edged and lined with white silk.

Bachelor of Music
Dean Burgon or Oxford shape, lilac ribbed silk trimmed with white fur fabric.

Bachelor of Medicine and of Surgery/ Bachelor of Civil Law/Magister Juris
Dean Burgon shape, blue corded silk or poplin with white fur fabric.

Master of Studies
Dean Burgon shape, deep green ribbed silk, edged and lined with white silk.

Bachelor of Divinity
Doctors’ shape, black corded silk lined with a fine black ribbed silk.

Master of Arts
Dean Burgon or Oxford Shape, black corded silk, edged and lined with crimson or shot crimson silk.

Bachelor of Arts/Master of; Biochemistry, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, Physics, Computer Science, Mathematics, Mathematics and Philosophy, Physics and Philosophy
Dean Burgon or Oxford Shape, black corded silk, lined and trimmed with white fur fabric.

Master of Theology
Dean Burgon shape, black corded silk, edged and lined with magenta silk.

Master of Business Administration
Dean Burgon shape, claret corded silk, edged and lined with dark grey silk.

Master of Fine Arts
Dean Burgon shape, gold corded silk, edged and lined with white silk.

Bachelor of Fine Arts
Dean Burgon shape, black silk with a narrow band of gold silk inside.

Bachelor of Theology
Dean Burgon shape, black silk with a narrow band of magenta silk inside.

Caps

When Caps are called for either hard caps (mortar boards) or soft caps may be worn.

NB. The Chancellor (or, when absent, the Vice-Chancellor) and the Proctors may retain their caps during a meeting of Congregation; all others should observe the convention of removing hard caps (soft caps may be retained).

CapsThe installation of Professor Louise Richardson as Vice-Chancellor. (Credit: John Cairns)

Convocation habit

Convocation habitConvocation habit worn over undress gown and hood. (Credit: Rob Judges)
Doctors only
A sleeveless gown (called a chemir) is worn over the undress gown and hood, with subfusc, cap and bands, as follows:

Doctor of Divinity
Sleeveless cloak of scarlet cloth, part lined with black silk and fastened with two black silk-covered buttons in front. The back is gathered in a yoke.  

Doctor of Civil Law/Doctor of Medicine
Sleeveless cloak of scarlet cloth, part lined with crimson shot silk fastened with two crimson silk-covered buttons in front. The back is gathered in a yoke.  

Doctor of Letters/Doctor of Science
Sleeveless cloak of scarlet cloth, part lined with grey silk fastened with two grey silk-covered buttons in front. The back is gathered in a yoke. 

Doctor of Philosophy
Sleeveless cloak of scarlet cloth, part lined with dark blue silk fastened with two dark blue silk-covered buttons in front. The back is gathered in a yoke.

Full Academic Dress

Worn over subfusc without hoods (with the exception of the Proctors, Pro-Proctors and Assessor)

Full academic dressFull academic dress for Doctor of Divinity (left), and Doctor of Music (right). (Credit: Chris Andrews)
Proctors
Full robe of black Russell cord, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind, a button and tippet sewn onto the bottom left of the yoke, and bell-shaped sleeves. The facings and sleeves are of midnight blue velvet.

Pro-Proctors
Full-style gown of black Russell cord, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind, a button and tippet sewn onto the bottom left of the yoke, and closed sleeves with a crescent-shaped cut at the bottom and an opening at the elbow. The facings are of black velvet.

Assessor
Full robe of black Russell cord, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind, a button and tassel sewn onto the bottom right of the yoke, and bell-shaped sleeves. The facings and sleeves are of purple velvet.

Doctor of Divinity
Full robe of scarlet cloth, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind, and bell-shaped sleeves; the facings and sleeves are of black velvet. This is worn with a scarf, cassock, cincture, bands and a square cap.

Doctor of Civil Law/Doctor of Medicine
Full robe of scarlet cloth, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind, and bell-shaped sleeves; the facings and sleeves are of crimson shot silk. This is worn with a velvet bonnet.

Doctor of Letters/Doctor of Science
Full robe of scarlet cloth, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind, and bell-shaped sleeves; the facings and sleeves are of grey silk. This is worn with a square cap (mortar board) or soft cap.

Doctor of Music
Full robe of cream-coloured silk with apple blossom pattern, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind, and bell-shaped sleeves. The facings and sleeves are of cherry crimson silk. This is worn with a velvet bonnet.

Doctor of Philosophy
Full robe of scarlet cloth, reaching below the calf of the wearer, with a full gathered yoke behind, and bell-shaped sleeves; the facings and sleeves are of dark blue silk. This is worn with a square cap (mortar board) or soft cap.

All other degrees

Black gown, hood, and square cap or soft cap.

Senior University Officers

Chancellor

The Chancellor wears an elaborate and distinctive gown on all formal occasions. It is made from heavy black brocaded silk with gold lace trimmings on collar, facings, back and sleeves and on the long train. The mortar board is made from black velvet and a gold tassel. On less formal occasions, such as garden parties and dinners, the Chancellor will wear the full dress gown of a Doctor.

Vice-Chancellor

The Vice-Chancellor wears this elaborate robe on all formal occasions. The robe is made of heavy black corded cloth with black lace work on sleeves and gold lace work on the bottom of the sleeve streamers depicting all the different Oxford college coats of arms and the University coat of arms. 

On the back of the gown is a flap collar with a large University coat of arms embroided on it in gold lace. On less formal occasions the Vice-Chancellor will wear the robe or gown pertaining to his or her degree.

VC and ChancellorVice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson (left) (Credit: Oxford Image Library/John Cairns); Chancellor, Lord Patten of Barnes, and Page. (right) (Credit: Rob Judges).

The Proctors and Assessor

The Proctors and Assessor are elected each year by three of the colleges in turn. They are members of many boards and committees in the University. 

proctors and assessorThe Proctors and Assessor. (Credit: Rob Judges)

The Proctors deal with matters of student discipline and complaints whilst the Assessor is concerned with student health and welfare. The Proctors wear a full black gown with deep royal-blue velvet sleeves and facings together with a white ermine hood backed with black. A square cap is worn at all times; women do not wear the soft cap in this duty. The Assessor wears a full black gown with dark purple velvet sleeves and facings, together with a hood of Dean Burgon or Oxford shape made from white corded silk.  

The Marshal

The University Marshal is responsible for marshalling processions of the University. He wears a distinctive black gown with a shoulder cape and a silver badge on the left sleeve, and a round black bonnet, and he carries an ebony silver-mounted baton.  

The Bedels

The Bedels attend the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor on formal occasions. They wear a plain black gown with a round black bonnet, and carry staves as symbols. They play an important part in the running of degree ceremonies.  

The University Verger

The Verger wears a long black gown with a round black bonnet. He carries a small wand of silver gilt when in processions and helps in the preparations for University services and ceremonies.

Verger followed by BedelsUniversity Verger followed by Bedels. (Credit: John Cairns)

Marshal followed by BedelsUniversity Marshal followed by Bedels. (Credit: John Cairns)

Frequently asked questions

What do I wear to a meeting of Congregation?

Most members of Congregation elect to wear black gowns but they are optional.

What does 'full academic dress' mean?

Full academic dress means subfusc is worn with a gown and hood. To wear full academic dress your Oxford degree must have been conferred.

What does subfusc mean?

Subfusc is a dark suit with dark socks, or a dark skirt with black tights or trousers with dark socks and an optional dark coat (jacket); black shoes; plain white collared shirt; a black ribbon or white bow tie.

What should I wear to an Inaugural or big public lecture, i.e. Romanes, Cyril Foster?

Traditionally current members of the University wear black gown but this is optional. No subfusc. Any other guests should wear business attire.

What should I wear under my gown at Encaenia?

Members of Congregation should wear subfusc under their gowns. For guests who have had an Oxford degree conferred but aren't members of Congregation, subfusc is optional.

I have a PhD from another university. What should I wear to Encaenia?

Gowns from other universities are not permitted at the Encaenia ceremony.

If you are the holder of an Oxford MA, then MA gown and hood should be worn. If no Oxford MA, then business attire or a black gown over subfusc should be worn. Please note, subfusc is optional if you are not a member of Congregation.

Gowns from other universities are permitted at the Encaenia Garden Party.

I am attending Encaenia as a guest of a member of Congregation. What should I wear?

Business attire should be worn. Or if an Oxford degree has been conferred, gown and hood may be worn. However subfusc is not necessary.

Can I wear any gown to the Encaenia Garden Party?

Yes, this is the only Oxford University event where gowns from other universities can be worn. In fact, it is encouraged.

Can I wear any gown to the Encaenia Ceremony?

No, only Oxford University gowns may be worn.