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I have graduated three times from UK universities. First was a bachelors' degree, then a Masters' degree, then a PhD. The graduation robes associated with my PhD graduation are absolutely horrible. I am now a lecturer in a UK university and if I attend graduation ceremonies at this University (or others, I suppose), I am supposed to wear the academic robes from my highest degree, i.e. the horrible PhD ones.

So my question is this, is it considered acceptable to wear the robes from my 'lower' degrees at such occasions, or even the equivalent PhD robes from the university I now work at (much nicer!)?

Basically, can I get away with wearing the wrong robes to graduation ceremonies?

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    I am struggling to imagine what negative consequences you could really face for wearing the "wrong" robes. – potentially dense Jul 1 '15 at 13:05
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    a kilt is probably not acceptable. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jul 1 '15 at 13:10
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    Wouldn't that question be more suitable for a site on medieval role-playing? – Cape Code Jul 1 '15 at 13:23
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    I'm curious, what university? I personally love the "horrible" robes I see at graduations. – mikeazo Jul 1 '15 at 14:58
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    @DrC those robes are are awesome. wear them with pride. – Lyndon White Nov 8 '15 at 22:56
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In the United States, there are typically two acceptable pieces of regalia to wear: either your university-specific regalia or a "generic Ph.D." regalia that is just simple black robes plus your doctoral hood. It would seem rather gauche to me to wear non-Ph.D. regalia or to wear the regalia of a school that is not your alma mater, even if that is where your post is. I don't know if "generic Ph.D." regalia is also accepted in the UK, where many universities have a much longer and more formal set of traditions than in the US, but I would recommend that you look into that as a possibility.

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    "Generic PhD regalia" should do also in the UK. I wonder what else a PhD should wear who comes from a non-anglophone country, where regalia are not customary. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jul 1 '15 at 13:12
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    @henning: I guess that boils down to the question whether "a robe, but the 'wrong' one" is still better than "no robe at all" (just formal attire, such as a suit and a tie). – O. R. Mapper Jul 1 '15 at 13:13
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    @O.R.Mapper - I can't read your comment without thinking The Emperor's New Robes. :^) – J.R. Jul 1 '15 at 14:50
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    @J.R., did you hear about the emperor's new paint? It's a pigment of your imagination. – hildred Jul 1 '15 at 21:48
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    I don't understand how an answer that exclusively deals with the US came to be the most upvoted answer on a question tagged united-kingdom, or why such an answer was even posted for that matter. – user9646 Nov 19 '15 at 14:28
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This is a matter for whichever official at your university is in charge of ceremonies; in a British university there is almost certainly someone who knows the official rules, even if the university as a whole is very relaxed about academic dress. At some universities (Oxford and Cambridge are the main examples) the rules about wearing 'local' versus 'foreign' academic dress are very strict, and still taken fairly seriously (there are only specific occasions when academic dress from other universities may be worn, and for other purposes fellows are 'incorporated' into the university so they are entitled to wear MA robes).

  • If your question is 'can I get away with it', the answer is almost certainly 'yes', assuming your institution is one of the majority that are quite relaxed about academic dress.
  • If your question is 'should I wear the less gaudy robes', I would suggest the answer is 'no'; part of your role at a graduation is to make the event as meaningful as possible for your students graduating, and wearing more impressive robes supports that.

I recommend the 'Academical Dress' Facebook group as a source of academic dress advice and knowledge, often from the people (at the Burgon Society) who wrote the book on the topic.

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Yes, you can totally get away with it. The situation in the UK is much more formal than in the US, where I have seen a graduation ceremony that looked exactly like the Comanche attack scene from Blood Meridian, but I have never seen anybody called out for wearing the wrong robes, except for once in Cambridge where I was gently chided for letting some ribbons hang out which were supposed to be tucked under the armpits.

Wear whatever you feel comfortable with. As long as it's academic dress, nobody will know and it doesn't really matter. (But if you did happen to get a PhD from Leeds, you are wrong about those robes! They are awesome!)

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Who will ever know? No one really knows what degrees you have, save the panel that hired you and the people at HR who maintain the staff records!

Spotting a degree and university by eye from a robe is a real skill that I suspect few possess. Its even rarer than bird spotting. (Never heard of robe twitchers)....

Wear what looks the best in the photos or the official video, because you will appear in many hundreds of parent photographs.

Myself, I put on the most colourful ties and waistcoats under my robe. Colour, pomp and show is what the entire ceremony is about.

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    Who will ever know? I guess most people in your department and a few people out of it, some of whom may know what your robes look like. (Though I doubt many would would report you to the Ministry of Robes.) – Kimball Jul 2 '15 at 0:44
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    Faculty know each other's colors. We comment on them regularly at graduation, how we feel sorry for those stuck with pink for the rest of their academic lives, how much we like the deep blues, etc. – RoboKaren Jul 2 '15 at 1:52
  • Another thing that happens is that people also borrow regalia for one reason or another. My wife waited until she was the Dept. Chair and the school would let her charge the $800 expense before she got her own "correct" set. – Ukko Sep 14 '17 at 18:36
  • I'm very confused by the suggestion that the OP's colleges wouldn't know what university the OP attended. – Stella Biderman Sep 15 '17 at 14:39
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I can't comment on whether you'd get away with it, as that depends on your institution and colleagues, but wearing the wrong robes is certainly both bad form and rude.

It's bad form to disrespect the rules of the ceremony, and it's rude to everyone who is graduating to do so. Moreover, it's rude to everyone who has ever got a PhD from Heriot-Watt to treat a Masters from another university as more valuable to display than your doctorate from Heriot-Watt.

You may not like it, but you neither get to choose the design of your institutes's robes not what the robes you wear mean and wearing the wrong gown communicates to anyone who understands that you place your masters in higher esteem to your PhD.

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