Graduation: Why are we still wearing shapeless gowns?


Is there a way academic dresses can be made in right sizes?

As I prepared for my graduation last year, I was so excited to finally wear a proper gown that would see me get admitted to what Condoleezza Rice calls the club of the most privileged – the club of the educated. And since I am mad about taking pictures, I was also dying to take pictures and share them with my friends. But my excitement wore off just three minutes after I was handed my gown. You see, that gown was too big. Well, I am not exactly a tiny person but wearing that gown felt like putting weight on my shoulders – it was not only big but also heavy. I knew right there and then that I would not look beautiful on my graduation day. So I had to look for other interesting things that would add fun to my graduation day such as getting a good cake. But that is a story for another day.

The graduation gowns, if you have been wondering, have been around since the 13th Century and the dress was modelled on the dress of the cleric. Now, I will spare you the intricate details about how universities today arrived at the gown, hoods and cap colours. The question I kept on asking myself as I struggled to fit into my gown (taking it to tailor for resizing was not an option) and look presentable on an important day such as that, I was wondering – is it possible to just get something that fits properly?

Well, have you graduated? Did your graduation gown weigh you down or was I just unlucky? Let us talk in the comments section.

Looking like a clown on one of the most important days of your life does not just sound right

Wearing something that constricts your movement is not the best thing that can happen to you. Okay, I concede, universities have pre-made gowns that are randomly hired by the graduating class. But considering the amount of money that we pay to hire those gowns for pitiable amounts of time, isn’t it possible to at least get something that comes close to fitting properly? Why would someone who is obviously a small size be tortured with an extra-large gown? I believe that it is possible to sort out the gowns according to their sizes and at least have graduands look less clumsy.

People are increasingly graduating at a younger age

It is not uncommon to meet a 21-year-old graduating with their first degree. I think institutions of higher learning need to begin to have this in mind as they acquire academic gowns. We cannot continue assuming that people are graduating with their first degrees in their late 20s or early 30s as the case was in the past. I think if universities paid more attention to the fact that their graduates are increasingly younger, then we will have less problems with the oversized gowns.

We are living at a time when people are slimmer than in ages past

People, especially youngsters in universities, are putting in extra effort to actually be smaller. Or petite. So in a graduating class where everyone is struggling to be a size 10 or 12, I do not see how practical it is to insist on acquiring size 40 gowns because almost no one will properly fit in those gowns. Now, to be clear, I am not advocating for mini-dresses made in the form of graduation gowns. What I am saying is that, even for a regalia like that, there are appropriate sizes for different bodies.

Can’t we move away from this?

I said that at the risk of sounding naïve. But look at it this way: this academic dress has been in operation since the 13th century, can’t our generation think of something else that is appropriate for such academic occasions and which that can outlive us for centuries on end? Or did the invention of the graduation gown come with a warning that it must never be changed?

Well, that is my letter to administrators (or whoever decides academic dresses for graduands).

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I have a persistent thirst to know things and that has pushed me to read a lot of books and ask questions including stopping strangers on the road to ask them questions about the inspiration behind their hairstyles… Apart from the madness, I am generally a very bubbly, reasonable and energetic person.