Cecil College
Cecil College

Why Graduates Dress the Way They Do

Cecil College
Cecil College
Cecil College class of 2015. Cecil College via Flickr // Public Domain

My mind and my time have been preoccupied this week because my older daughter is graduating from high school this weekend. I’ve been to her art show, awards ceremony, spring concert, banquets, parties, the baccalaureate service, and still have more to come. We’ve assembled a dress, mortarboard, tassel, gown, stole, and honor cords to wear. It’s hard to remember, but both my graduations back in the ‘70s seemed simpler. I could have worn the same cheap black gown for both high school and college graduation. And the same gold tassel, too.

BYU-Hawaii Class of 2011. BYU–Hawaii via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

While students usually buy a fairly inexpensive version of the traditional cap and gown to be worn once, my father was a college professor and invested in a costly black wool academic ensemble that could be worn again and again. After all, he attended commencement ceremonies three times a year for 30 years. I always felt sorry for him during hot graduation days with long-winded speakers. At colleges and universities today, you may see a wide variety of academic gowns and colors. Oh, the graduating students will wear mostly the same type of gowns, but professors and visiting dignitaries will often wear the academic attire of the institution they graduated from, possibly decades ago. And among the students, there will be colors assigned to their discipline, gown styles assigned by degree, and different stoles and cords to indicate honors and affiliations.

The first real universities were born of religious orders in the 12th and 13th centuries. The uniform of the student was therefore the garb of a initiate or a monk, meaning a long plain robe with a hood, with a cap and/or a stole added along the way to indicate rank. As more universities were founded by different religious orders, the uniforms became more varied. Even today, the traditional styles of graduation dress at European schools depend on long running tradition within the institution, and vary widely between colleges.

In America in the 18th century, students wore their academic caps and gowns to all classes. By the turn of the 19th century, this started to give away to wearing the gown only on designated days, and after the Civil War only for occasions in which one represented his university or graduation ceremonies.

Oxford College senior class 1907. Miami University Libraries - Digital Collections via Flickr // Public Domain

Each college developed their own traditions and therefore their own academic costumes. Over time, as colleges proliferated, the ceremonial gowns varied so greatly that they were recognized by few outside the particular campus. In 1895, a plan was conceived to standardize the academic wear of American colleges and universities, which helped to set the cap and gown style we all recognize today. The standards were based on the traditions at Columbia University. Different configurations were set for the gown and hood to recognize the wearer’s academic rank and degree, and colors were assigned to signify the wearer’s discipline. However, the Academic Costume Code (adopted in 1932) recognizes that there is no authority to enforce the code and that variances will occur among schools.

It should be noted that it is impossible (and probably undesirable) to lay down enforceable rules with respect to academic costume. The governing force is tradition and the continuity of academic symbols from the Middle Ages.

The tradition should be departed from as little as possible, not only to preserve the symbolism of pattern and color, but for practicality as well (when radical changes are adopted manufacturing problems and scarcity of inventory may ensue).

College of Business and Technology Class of 2009. College of Business and Technology via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Changes occurred, alright. Schools began to distinguish themselves by using gowns in the school colors instead of the recommended black. But the basic shape stayed to signify what the gown meant.

Berkeley High School class of 2012. Berkeley Unified School District via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

High schools gradually adopted the traditions of college academic wear for commencement ceremonies. The ceremonial hood and ranked stripes were dispensed with, as everyone gets the same diploma. Otherwise, each school sets their own traditions for graduation wear, although most adhere to the basic college style, simplified.

Puyallup High School class of 2005. Quinn Dombrowski via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The distinctions in rank in the college code have also been adapted somewhat for high schools. Different colored stoles, cords, and tassels indicate club affiliations, offices held, class rank, or honors conveyed. Some schools want students to select one stole and/or tassel indicating their highest honor (as colleges do), while others will allow students to wear as many of each as they like. And the graduate can wear as many honors cords as they earn. The differences in the students’ appearance can therefore be striking. However, since each accoutrement must be purchased, graduates with a limited budget may have more honors than they wear.

Saint Mary's High School Class of 2010. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Even more individuality can be achieved by decorating the top of one’s mortarboard cap. Students discovered long ago they can do this to enable family and friends to recognize them from above while they sit in a sea of similarly-dressed fellow graduates, while preserving the uniform look for pictures taken from the front. A few graduates did this decades ago, but it became quite popular in the 1990s. The decorations may includes words, pictures, or even attached objects to illustrate one’s name, discipline, or interests. Some take the opportunity for a joke. You can make your own, or even have your mortarboard decoration professionally produced

Tulane class of 2013. Tulane Public Relations via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

If you are graduating from any level of school this spring, congratulations and best wishes for the future!

See also: The Stories Behind Graduation Traditions

Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Pop Culture
Glove Story: The Freezy Freakies Phenomenon of the 1980s
Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Kids who grew up in the northeast in the 1980s were pretty invested in a fad that might have gone unnoticed in warmer parts of the country. Cajoling their parents at department stores during shopping trips, hundreds of thousands of them came home sporting a pair of Freezy Freakies—thick winter gloves that came with a built-in parlor trick. When the temperature dipped below 40°F, an image would suddenly appear on the back part of the material.

Swany America Corporation, which made, marketed, and distributed the gloves, released more than 30 original designs beginning in 1980. There was a robot, a unicorn, rocket ships, ballerinas, rainbows, snowflakes, and various sports themes, though the “I Love Snow” image (below) may have been the most popular overall. At the height of Freezy mania, Swany was moving 300,000 pairs of gloves per year, which accounted for about 20 percent of their overall sales.

A Freezy Freakies glove before and after the temperature change
Freezy Freakies

“Boys loved the robot design,” Bruce Weinberg, Swany’s vice president and a former sales director for Freezy Freakies, tells Mental Floss. “Above 40 degrees, the image would disappear.”

The secret to the $13 Freakies was thermochromic ink, a temperature-sensitive dye that's been used in mood rings and heat-sensitive food labels and can appear translucent until it's exposed to warmer temperatures. Swany licensed the ink from Pilot, the Japanese-based pen company, after Swany CEO Etsuo Miyoshi saw the technology and thought it would be a good fit for his glove-focused operation. (Though they experimented with making luggage in the 1990s, Swany has predominantly been a manufacturer of higher-end ski gloves.)

Weinberg isn’t sure how Miyoshi settled on the “Freezy Freakies” name—the president is now retired—but says Miyoshi knew they had a hit early on. “After a few seasons, they could tell they had a winner product,” he says. Swany even put advertising dollars into TV commercials, a rare strategy for glove-makers not named Isotoner.

Pilot was able to adjust the temperature at which the ink would become transparent, or vice versa. If kids were impatient, or if it happened to be during the summer, Weinberg says it wasn’t uncommon to find Freezy Freakies stuck in the freezer so they could materialize their art design. “At trade shows, we’d do something similar with some ice or a cold soda,” he says. “All of a sudden, some ice cubes would make it change, and buyers would think that was really cool.”

The Freakies were such a hit that Swany licensed jackets and considered changing the name of the company to the same name as the glove. It’s probably just as well they didn’t: While Freakies lasted well over a decade, by the 1990s, things had cooled. In the new millennium, Swany was down to selling just a few hundred pairs a year. Color-changing ink for coffee mugs or beer cans was more pervasive, wearing down the novelty; knock-offs had also grabbed licensed cartoon characters, which Swany was never interested in pursuing.

The brand was dormant when a company named Buffoonery approached Swany in 2013 to license Freezy Freakies for a crowdfunded revival. This time, the gloves came in adult sizes for $34. The partnership has been successful, and Weinberg says Buffoonery has just signed an extension to start producing kids’ gloves.

“Parents will probably want matching ones for their kids,” Weinberg says. And both might still wind up in the freezer.

Live Smarter
The Very Disgusting Reason You Should Always Wash New Clothes Before Wearing Them

It’s sometimes assumed that clothing with a price tag still dangling from the sleeve can skip an initial wash. Someone else may have tried it on, sure, but they didn’t run a marathon in it. Why not just throw it in the closet as soon as you get home?

One big reason: lice. As The Independent reports, Donald Belsito, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, told NBC's Today show recently that clothing fresh off store racks can harbor infestations of lice, scabies, or fungus.

You might be familiar with head lice as the dreaded insects that occupy the scalp and give school health monitors cause for concern. Head lice can be transmitted via clothing and other fabrics, and anyone who tried on a shirt or dress before you did can be a carrier. While they only live for one or two days without a blood meal, that’s still enough time to cause problems if something is being tried on frequently.

Scabies is far more insidious. The mites are too small to see, but the allergic reaction they cause by burrowing into your skin to lay eggs will be obvious.

Both scabies and lice can be treated with topical solutions, but it’s better to kill them by washing new clothes in hot water. A good soak can also get rid of formaldehyde, a common chemical used in fabrics to help ward off mold in case stock gets wet in transit. Formaldehyde can cause allergic skin reactions. For all of these reasons, it’s best to hit the washing machine before those new pants ever hit your hanger.

[h/t Independent]


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