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I wore a gown to attend graduation and other formal events when I studied at a UK university. I still keep that gown but I'm not in academia for years. Under what situation would it still be useful?

  • Formal dinner/event at my alma mater
  • Formal dinner/event at another university in a different country
  • Attend my children's school graduation

Or rather I should wear suits in all these situations to be safe (but boring)?

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    Halloween perhaps? Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 13:48
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    How about your wedding!!
    – htm11h
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 16:34
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    If you like the gown you can wear it any time, any place. Heck, you can even wear it even if you've never attended college in the first place :-) Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 19:36
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    I'm from the UK. I hired a gown for my graduation. Since then I've never been in a situation in which it would be appropriate to wear an academic gown; I've also never seen anyone wear an academic gown for any reason since then. It might come in handy if you become one of the dignitaries present at someone else's graduation ceremony.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 0:26
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    @OrangeDog I am almost certain that was supposed to be a joke. Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 22:37

4 Answers 4

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I also still have my gown, since we had to wear it quite often as students, and it was cheap. But I'm well aware the main use for a gown as an adult is going to a fancy dress party as a wizard or old-school headmaster.

Unless you do go back into an academic setting where it's required occasionally, they basically have no other purpose. Wearing one where no one else is may come across as slightly narcissistic, trying to show off that you have a degree.

To address your list:

  • You could wear it there, but a lot of people don't keep their gowns (the vast majority in the UK are hired for a day).
  • Again, you could wear it, but I highly doubt it would be a requirement. It would be too impractical to enforce a dress code like that in such a situation.
  • I don't know what a school graduation is like so can't comment

In the end, do what you like. No one will care particularly either way.

Just to note, in the few academic settings where it is actually a bit more of a requirement, the hood is also usually required rather than just the gown.

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    For a sizable portion of the UK students who own a gown because it was useful, it indicated they didn't have a degree (i.e . it was the undergradaute rather than graduate gown).
    – origimbo
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 9:25
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    @origimbo Yes good point. So the subset of people who still own a gown and it being a graduate gown is smaller still.
    – thosphor
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 12:28
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    Upvoted for use of a "costume party." It's a good gag, people will get a laugh out of it; you can wave a chopstick around and pretend it's a wand, and boom, free Halloween. Aside from this it has no other purpose; I put mine in my closet along with other such "souvenir" clothing (conference shirts, hoodies from work, a cummerbund from a wedding tuxedo rental I ended up keeping, etc.). Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 20:01
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I presume by "gown" you refer to "academic regalia". In the US the only occasion I can think to wear this would be at a graduation ceremony with your students as a faculty member - even then it would not be common everywhere so you'd want to check to be sure.

None of the situations you describe would be appropriate to wear the academic regalia in the US. (I know you asked about UK but others may also find your question; I suspect it's the same there but do not know)

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  • I suppose it depends a lot on just what the ‘gown’ is - British vs American English might be an issue here. If it is a nice looking fancy dress, wear it whenever it would be appropriate and fun.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 13:40
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    @JonCuster I clarified that I am interpreting "gown" in this context to refer to the academic regalia, rather than an evening dress which can be reworn at any event where one would wear such dress or a hospital smock which is often open in the back and should be avoided in public situations generally.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 14:57
  • Both graduation ceremonies and if you're unlucky enough to get dragged to new student convocation.
    – user71659
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 18:17
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    @JonCuster some UK universities which are still stuck in the 17th century, actually have gowns. It is very odd if you're not used to it, but it is a thing. See, for example: walters-oxford.co.uk/a-guide-to-graduation-gowns
    – terdon
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 12:17
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Situations where I have worn (or seen others wear) an academic gown after graduation in the UK:

  • Formal events at my University. Including dinners, graduations, convocations, and major church services
  • Conducting a choir and/or orchestra
  • As secondary school teachers, at the end of year "graduation" assembly and thanksgiving church service
  • As part of a fancy-dress costume
  • As part of a stage costume

The idea of the gown is to indicate your academic credentials. It would be inappropriate to do so in a situation where that would unfairly exclude others. So don't wear it to a graduation or dinner unless attendees are instructed to wear gowns. If people who "outrank" you aren't wearing a gown, then you shouldn't either.

If you were leading classes or lectures or giving sermons, it would probably be appropriate to wear a gown, but it would be seen as very old-fashioned.

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  • e.g. I wore mine and popped along to the official proclamation of King Charles III to the University.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 16:42
  • At my secondary schools, the headteacher and deputy headteacher wore their gowns at twice-weekly regular assemblies too. Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 16:53
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    "Giving sermons" ... In certain protestant traditions, the clergy wear academic gowns (as opposed to other types of gowns) during services. I think maybe this goes back to Calvin, who emphasized "an educated clergy".
    – GEdgar
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 17:28
  • @GEdgar indeed. That's why I included it.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 17:39
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This is more anecdotal than a specific answer, but I was once invited to spend a few days at Cambridge as the guest of one of the colleges. I otherwise have no association with them. For dinner (hmmm and sherry hour), however, I was asked to rent an appropriate academic gown, which I did.

So, it seems that in those circumstances when others, including professors and students, would be gowned, it would probably be fine, even required, that you do also.

So, your first bullet seems to be a clear "yes". The second would depend on the traditions in the place. So, probably not in the US. The third is probably acceptable nearly everywhere, if seen to be a bit odd. But if the kids are graduating from your old place then likely yes, otherwise see point two.

In the US, doctoral students are encouraged to purchase a gown, though rental is usually available. They then wear those at other formal academic events such as future graduation ceremonies and convocations and, perhaps formal dinners. But, customs vary. In the UK it was once common to see academics gowned (for lecture, say). Perhaps it still is. But in the US it is rare and requires a special occasion.

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    I think the only ones in the UK still obsessed with gowns are Oxbridge. My other half is a professor at a UK university (not Oxbridge, but Russell group), the only time he wears a gown is if he's attending a graduation ceremony. He rents his. Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 14:31
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    @marianne013 and even in Oxbridge colleges, at least by my impression in 2016, it was very rare for colleges to request academic regalia from guests and not members of the college. I never saw it once, not even for alumni.
    – user176372
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 15:08
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    Yes, but Oxford has the whole "show up to your exams in a gown" faff. Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 18:07

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