Most law professors have a JD. Often, the JD robe for a school is different. One easy example: Harvard JDs wear a black robe at graduation instead of the crimson robe. At Yale, the JD robe is black but the Ph.D robe is blue.

Yet, many Harvard JDs who become law professors wear the traditional Harvard crimson doctoral robe. Is this okay?

I think at many schools, the JD robe is different (black often with purple stripes on sleeve). At some schools, the JD robe is the same as the Ph.D. robe (Cornell, USC). So which is it if you are a law professor and want to wear a robe from your JD school?

  • You might clarify what USC you mean. Sep 25 at 22:07
  • "USC" = University of Southern California. Their JDs wear robes at graduation that appear to be the same as what their Ph.D graduates wear. Sep 25 at 22:11

2 Answers 2


When it comes to academic ceremonies, you as a faculty member can either bring your own robe or order one to be rented for you via your institution. The latter will of course follow the design of the institution, since they are rented, not custom-made. If you bought your own, you probably ordered it according to the design used by the institution you graduated from. Wearing academic regalia of a different type is of absolutely no consequence. There is no signed or unsigned agreement nor a custom that prevents a titled academic to wear the robe of the institution at which they are a guest or a member.


The important part, in the United States, is the color of the velvet trim, that is, the "sergeant's stripes" on the sleeves, the facing of the gown and trim on the hood. In the United States these are specified by the American Council on Education in the voluntary Academic Costume Code. Someone with a law degree should wear purple velvet. Alternatively, black velvet is acceptable for any doctoral degree. The satin lining of the hood should be in the colors of the institution that granted the degree.

The color of the fabric should be black or, if the degree-granting institution has adopted some other color, then that color. My own institution has a rather fancy doctoral gown, required but rentable for the commencement ceremony. I chose to buy for later wear a plain black gown, but it still has my school colors in the hood lining and philosophy blue velvet trim.

I'd be misrepresenting myself if I chose to wear Harvard crimson fabric even if everything else were correct. It would be wise to avoid fabric colors other than black unless they represent the school that granted the degree.

  • Yale gowns are Blue. My institution has a fancy color also. But I'll also note that JD degree isn't a research doctorate (Doctor of Law is) and many consider it the intellectual equivalent of a masters. At one time one Boston university offered, for a fee, to send a JD diploma to any graduate with a Bachelor of Law degree as was the case with a former (small) college president. No additional study, just a fee. A JD is about the practice of law, not the theory.
    – Buffy
    Sep 25 at 19:52
  • That's actually what prompted my question. I've seen many Harvard JD's wear the crimson gown when faculty members but the Harvard JD gown at graduation is actually black. Yale's situation is similar. Many Yale JD professors wear the blue gown but the gown they wore at graduation was black. Sep 25 at 20:06
  • 1
    I suspect that Harvard provides the crimson for all faculty who rent just to make it logistically easier. It may not be technically correct, but it'd be too expensive to have inventory in every flavor. Making black the one-size-fits-all default might be more technically correct, since black is never wrong, but Harvard is probably reluctant to reduce the fraction of attendees wearing its signature crimson.
    – cag51
    Sep 25 at 22:30
  • I mean professors with a JD from Harvard all wear the Crimson doctoral gown at their school's graduation even though when they graduated from Harvard, they wore a black doctoral gown. Is the crimson gown "off limits" to the JD graduates? Must not be as a matter of practice. Sep 26 at 3:27
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    Not part of my original question but had to respond to Buffy. She is giving very outdated and wrong information about the JD and how it relates to a bachelor of law. Further, the JD is definitely the terminal degree for law and many of Harvard's (just to use one example) esteemed faculty over the years "only" had a JD for their post-undergraduate studies. Sep 29 at 19:24

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