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My graduation ceremony is coming up in a few months, and I have the option of buying or renting a graduation cap and gown.

I will be starting an assistant professor job this year, so I suspect (but am not sure) that I will need to wear the dress at graduation ceremonies at my new institution.

If I were to buy the graduation dress, would I ever need to wear it again?

Location: My new job will be in an Asian university.

What I did I asked a colleague at the institution where I will be working, and he told me that indeed, I could rent a gown for free if I were to attend a graduation ceremony.

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    Could you state your location? Different places have very different customs in this respect (and some places have entirely abandoned the tradition of dressing up, so graduations are done in everyday clothes), hence it is not clear whether the person being graduated in your place uses the same costume as the staff performing the ceremony. – O. R. Mapper Apr 27 '15 at 14:40
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    How cool is your gown? – StrongBad Apr 27 '15 at 14:52
  • May depend on degree type: herffjones.com/college/capgown/gowndifferences – Compass Apr 27 '15 at 15:32
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    When in doubt, just do both. Rent one and buy one. – CaptainCodeman Apr 27 '15 at 16:34
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    Not worthy of an answer on any SE site, but my only answer to this question would be in the form of another question: "How sentimental/tradition-oriented are you?" If you like that sort of thing, reminiscing about the past, remembering the good ol' times then sure why not? Otherwise, I think it's a waste of money. :) – posdef Apr 29 '15 at 11:30
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Different institutions have different policies on robes for faculty members at graduations, although most will arrange for robes for faculty who do not have their own. However, if you take advantage of this option, you might not get much choice in your regalia - so if the institution that you are graduating from has its own particular design for regalia that you love, it might be worth getting your own. I have heard that there are institutions who will require that all faculty members wear the same design of regalia for graduation ceremonies, in which case spending a lot of money on a non-traditional set - which you then cannot wear at commencements - would be less than optimal.

Since you have an assistant professor job lined up, you could just ask someone at your new institution what the policies are there.

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As noted in the comment, the location might change our opinion of the problem, however I will make notes from my experience.

When I graduated with my first degree I hired a gown as I could not see the value of owning one and knew I would study for higher degrees, and perhaps I could buy one later in my career. I received my second degree in-absentia because I knew that I would graduate again with a third degree in due course.

Now I attend ceremonies on a regular basis my institution can provide my gown for any formalities. Someone really parsimonious might say that you never need to buy a gown.

However, I have great regret not getting the earlier gowns. Time has changed things in a way I could not predict when I was making the decisions. The gown from my first university was designed by the hippest fashion designer of the 1960s. It was real 1960s cool in colour, shape and cut. No black gowns and mortarboards for them. As the institution matured they felt hip fashion icons of the 1960s were no longer cool and switched to plain black gowns and mortarboards. Now, in present times, it is impossible to source the original gowns. They are collectors items that rarely come on eBay and go for huge prices. All the original graduates, like me, now realise what a fantastic item they missed and want to get them. (Because, today, they look quite fantastic again).

The Computer Science Class of 1976
The Computer Science Class of 1976 - Note the curved Hats

The gowns from my second university, which some of my colleagues own, have changed in quality over the ages. When I graduated they were made by fine tailors from excellent cloth with fine silks and quality trimmings. Today they are polyester and so forth and mass produced identically to all the other university gowns.

My rented gown just does not impress half as much as the originals that others wear at these fine ceremonies.

Only you can know how fine are the gowns that you could buy. No one can know what the future brings.

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    Wow, fascinating. If it isn't too much trouble, could you perhaps provide a picture of such a cool 60s gown? We have no real tradition of gowns over here in my country, so I can't even imagine a cool gown. – SáT Apr 28 '15 at 4:09
  • @SáT I can't seem to find one on google images or eBay. Have to scan some old 35mm film - take a while. Will try. – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Apr 28 '15 at 14:00
  • @SáT - Found one on Picasa! – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Apr 28 '15 at 14:15
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Don't bother. It's over 10 years since my ceremony, I've been in academia all that time, and I've never seen the need. I've also seen very few faculty with their own robes. For graduation most institutions I know of will organize robe hire (and pay for it), so there's not even that incentive.

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    You don't say where you are; the asker doesn't say where they are. How do we know that your experience is representative of what their experience will be? – David Richerby Apr 27 '15 at 19:14
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    My institution expects you to provide your own regalia for commencment ceremonies. As does my father-in-law's. Mind you, in both places you need only attend once a year, and it is common to borrow a robe from a colleague if your own is unavailable. – dmckee Apr 27 '15 at 23:06
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I bought my Harvard doctoral robes in 1973. And I have worn them a few times over the years. Probably fewer than 10 times. Deans and higher administrators probably attend many more of these events.

At Ohio State, a representative group of faculty attends each commencement ceremony. You can wear your own robe, or our department had a few generic robes for use by those do not have one. Of course I would always be noticeable in my crimson robe among all the black.

The robe is made of some synthetic fabric, and should be dry cleaned, not just stuffed in a washing machine. I only needed that once: we were in a procession walking through the rain.

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    I also bought my Harvard doctoral robes, and I've had occasion to wear them again three or four times. When my children were small, my doctoral hood served as their superhero cape (and it survived!). – Andreas Blass Apr 27 '15 at 15:07
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I didn't attend my final graduation and didn't see the reason to buy a gown with so many other expenses adding up moving to my tenure track job. However, I quickly found out that at my new institution, I had to wear regalia for freshman convocation, 1-2 commencements, and now a few other special events, and at $60-$75 each for rentals, I paid the same amount renting as I ended up paying for my decent (but admittedly bargain basement) doctoral hood/gown. I also splurged for the cool soft hat because I hadn't seen the fancy flock of seagulls option of the poster above. Until today, I hadn't regretted that.

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I actually wish I had. (At this particular stage in my life it seems no longer necessary, but fifteen, twenty years ago I seriously contemplated it --- and then promptly procrastinated.)

It probably does not make much sense to buy one just for your own graduation (I didn't even attend mine), but if you intend to make a career in academia, you will likely be expected to attend commencement ceremonies for your students. Sure, you can rent a gown once or twice a year, but the rentals are all so uniform, and your institution may not even offer the degree you were awarded, so the colors are all wrong, etc.

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When I got my doctorate I bought the whole set - gown+hood+octagonal hat. The friendly people at the ND admin building overseeing the orders strongly advised me to also rent one for the commencement festivities. Their reasons: A) the fully tailored robe would not be done in time, B) there's the risk of getting champagne poured all over the robe at the commencement party. They exaggerated item B, but item A was compelling enough.

During the last 25 years I have needed to wear the set less than ten times at various academic festivities: At the defences of my own grad students (in these parts they are very formal occasions in comparison to US) when I've been presiding the event. And elsewhere in doctoral defences as an opponent / external examiner / whatever. This is not too often, so the argument that it's wasted money is not without merit. However, getting extensive use of it was not on top of my list of reasons for buying the doctoral outfit in the first place. It has always also been a souvenir / memorabilia and also a uniform / badge of rank.

And I still get sentimental every time I dig out the gown, dust it and put it on. Also, because it's different from our local norm academic white tie + top hat outfit, my robe always attracts some positive comments. I'm too vain to fully ignore those :-)

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I think the biggest question will be whether or not you are required by your department head, dean, provost, or university head to attend some number of graduation ceremonies every year. There has been a push at my university to get faculty attendance up at these events, and they require a cap and gown. As such, and with the increased attendance, there probably aren't enough loaner robes to go around, so at least some faculty need to buy their own.

Now, since you're still a presumably poor student, why don't you rent your robe for your own graduation and then get the lay of the land when you get to your new university? There's some lost money, but in the long run it will seem small in comparison to the sunk cost of buying a robe that it turns out you don't need. You can always buy one next year at your new university (even in the style of the one you graduated from) once you get there and find out if it's worthwhile.

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