Blame Friar Tuck.
The billowing robe Hugh Anderson donned this week to collect his bachelor’s degree from Ryerson University has roots that date back eight centuries to a time when most scholars were brothers of the cloth. Seven yards of cloth, at least.
“Robes provided warmth in drafty monastery halls and the more bells and whistles on the trim, the higher up the chain the monk was,” explains Canada’s guru of graduation gowns, Bert Harkes, general manager of Harcourts Robe makers and Tailors.
“Today’s graduation hoods are really remnants from that Friar Tuck monks’ code because our education system started with the clergy.”
Somehow, in this new secular millennium marked by tank tops and flip-flops, the academic robe still rules convocation.
“You have to make a party for the parents; they’re all waiting for the moment of ‘The Photo,’” notes Harkes, “and the gown is very much the key.”
Anderson, who graduated from disability studies, calls academic robes “a great idea; it distinguishes us as graduates; it’s tradition.”
Fashion Prof. Lucia Dell’Agnese won the chance to design a new robe when Ryerson became a university 16 years ago. Her design of black silk damask with gold trim was still worn this week by current chancellor Raymond Chang. “With so much change in the world every day, convocation is an important rite of passage,” she said.