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Dressed to Impress: The Paris Hats

When thinking about Graduation Week we like to take a look back in time to the different traditions, past graduands, and academic dress which makes up this important occasion. This blog from the archive was written in 2014 by our past curatorial trainee, Deirdre Mitchell. In this post Deirdre reflects on the ‘Paris Hats’ which didn’t quite make the cut as traditional graduation garb!   

Hats designed for the Faculties of Medicine, Art and Law. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

Last week we were celebrating Graduation at the University of St Andrews and it was a great opportunity to see lots of different types of academic dress. However, this academic dress we see today is actually very different from what would have originally been worn when the University was founded in the early 1400s.

The University seal from 1414-18 shows students (left) wearing the original academic dress. Image Courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

When St Andrews was founded it largely followed the model of the University of Paris, which had been founded in the 1200s, and adopted many of its regulations regarding dress. St Andrews was also, like all the first Universities, founded by churchmen and as a result the early academic dress of the University was heavily influenced by the types of ceremonial dress worn in the church of the time.

However, after the Scottish Reformation much of this academic dress fell out of fashion because of its close association with the Catholic Church. While undergraduate dress made a quick comeback in the form of the red gowns, which I looked at in my last blog, most other types of academic dress did not.

Eventually, in the 1800s, in line with a restructuring of the degree system at St Andrews, the University decided to reinstate a comprehensive system of academic dress. From this decision we get the black gowns and different coloured hoods for different degrees which we are familiar with today, but also some more unusual types of academic dress which you might not have seen before!

Medicine Cap designed by BOSC. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

Knowing that Paris regulations had formed the basis of academic dress in St Andrews in the 1400s, the University looked back to Paris for inspiration when designing their new system of academic dress. They eventually ordered some samples from Paris, but what they got back was perhaps a little bit more glamorous than they were expecting!

In 1868 Bosc of Paris created hats for all of the different faculties at St Andrews, including Arts, Sciences, Divinity, Medicine and Law. They came to be known as the ‘Paris hats’ and they were probably intended to be worn by the Deans, or heads, of departments but, sadly, they never really caught on. The University eventually decided that they were too grand ‘even for occasions of high ceremony.’

While this may be true, it does seem a shame that these colourful headpieces were never seen on the streets of St Andrews!