Academic Dress Traditions in Scotland

Scottish universities have long held academic dress traditions, and use the styles of academic dress found in other UK universities. However there are some specific features common to Scottish graduation regalia that are more unusual which we have covered for you here.

No Caps

Whilst most bachelors and masters students in the UK will wear a square 'mortarboard' cap to graduate, Scottish students do not. They simply wear a gown and hood with no cap at all. 

Of course many students like to have a mortarboard to take to graduation to wear in photographs and to throw in their air with their friends! When you order a gown set from Churchill Gowns you will find one included, even if you can't actually wear it to cross the stage.

And for students at Edinburgh University there's more good news in the hat department... The Edinburgh ceremony includes a bizarre tradition where each student is tapped on the head with a velvet cap called The Geneva Bonnet. Rumour has it this cap was made from the breaches of a 16th century Scottish scholar, John Knox, however this myth was dispelled during recent repair work when a label bearing the name Henry Banks was discovered in the hat.

The Scottish Gown

The majority of bachelors and masters students graduating from Scottish universities will wear the Scottish style of gown, known as an 'M12'. It has a long closed sleeve, which ordinarily represents masters students, however in Scotland most bachelors students also wear the M12. The M12 can be distinguished from other masters gowns by two features. First it has a hook shape, like the shape of a scythe, at the bottom of each sleeve. Second, it has a chord and button at the back of the neck. 

Scottish Graduation Gown

Left to right: illustration showing the shape of the bottom of the M12 sleeve, Heriot-Watt University masters regalia showing the chord and button on the neck of the M12 gown

Some Scottish universities, including Glasgow, Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian and the University of the Highlands and Islands also make use of more traditional bachelors style gowns, and reserve the M12 style for masters students.

Scottish Hood Styles

Two Scottish universities invented hood shapes that are now widely used across the UK. The Aberdeen shape is a rounded hood with the outside and lining usually in contrasting colours. This shape was first adopted at Aberdeen University and is now one of the most common styles, in use at other universities such as UCL, Huddersfield, Edge Hill, Salford and Bedfordshire.

Aberdeen Shape Hoods

Aberdeen shape hoods - left to right: Aberdeen University LLB hood, Salford University bachelors hood, UCL bachelor of medicine hood

Edinburgh University also created a new style of hood which is triangular in shape and has the lining visible at the front and back of the hood. The Edinburgh hood is not only now used by Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier Universities, but also many universities in England such as Liverpool, University for the Creative Arts and Bath Spa.

Edinburgh Shape Academic hoods

Edinburgh shaped hoods - left to right: Edinburgh University MSc hood, Glasgow Caledonian University BSc hood, Liverpool University BA hood

Red Undergraduate Gowns

In centuries gone by students across the UK would wear gowns throughout their studies, including to attend lectures and also formal dinners. Nowadays this tradition is only upheld at a small number of universities. In England, black or navy undergraduate gowns are still worn at Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, but rarely elsewhere.

In Scotland these undergraduate gowns were very different to those worn in England. They were made of bright red wool, presumably to keep students warm in the harsh Scottish winters! They also featured a velvet collar and shoulders (the 'yolk'). The colour of the velvet collar indicated which university the wearer attended. So a burgundy collar was worn at St Andrews, and a blue collar was worn at Dundee. Nowadays this type of gown is only commonly used at St Andrews.