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Why Graduates Dress the Way They Do

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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

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Invicta, Sideshow Collectibles
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Invicta's Star Wars Watch Collection Gives Geek Chic a High-End Makeover
Invicta, Sideshow Collectibles
Invicta, Sideshow Collectibles

Whether you identify more as a bounty hunter, stormtrooper, or droid from the Star Wars universe, now you can express yourself in style. As Nerdist reports, Invicta and Sideshow Collectibles have teamed up to produce a line of watches that reimagine characters from the sci-fi franchise as high-fashion accessories.

Boba Fett, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, and a stormtrooper are all available as stainless steel wrist watches. Each product borrows design elements from its namesake character: The Boba Fett models, for example, match the red-and-green color scheme of the bounty hunter's suit, while the faces of the Darth Vader watches mimic the antagonist's iconic mask. The back of each watch is branded with the character's name, face, and the Star Wars logo.

You can get the watches with stainless steel and silicone bands for $299 apiece or spring for the full steel band for $379. And because the Star Wars franchise is far from finished, the watches won't go out of style anytime soon.

Looking for a cheaper way to express your love for the movies? There's plenty of affordable Star Wars-branded swag to choose from.

Star Wars watch.

Star Wars watch.

Star Wars watch.

Star Wars watch.

Star Wars watch.

[h/t Nerdist]

All images courtesy of Invicta and Sideshow Collectibles.

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16 Fashion Rules the Royal Family Lives By
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS, AFP/Getty Images; John Stillwell, WPA Pool/Getty Images; Chris Jackson, Getty Images; JOHN STILLWELL, AFP/Getty Images; Chris Jackson-Pool, Getty Images; ARTHUR EDWARDS, AFP/Getty Images; David Rose, WPA Pool/Getty Images; Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS, AFP/Getty Images; John Stillwell, WPA Pool/Getty Images; Chris Jackson, Getty Images; JOHN STILLWELL, AFP/Getty Images; Chris Jackson-Pool, Getty Images; ARTHUR EDWARDS, AFP/Getty Images; David Rose, WPA Pool/Getty Images; Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images

The British royal family abides by a very specific—and strict—style guide. And though it must be tough to appear prim and proper all the time, the queen's handful of sartorial rules have kept the family looking posh and avoiding potentially embarrassing faux pas for 60-plus years. When should one wear their military garb? What else might clutches be good for, beyond carrying breath mints and lipstick? It's all in the (figurative) handbook! Below are 16 royal fashion do's and definite don'ts.

1. BRIGHT COLORS ARE A NECESSITY FOR THE QUEEN.

Queen Elizabeth II in a variety of colorful coats and hats.
Dan Kitwood, WPA Pool/Getty Images; DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS, AFP/Getty Images; John Stillwell, WPA Pool/Getty Images; Chris Jackson, Getty Images; JOHN STILLWELL, AFP/Getty Images; Chris Jackson-Pool, Getty Images; ARTHUR EDWARDS, AFP/Getty Images; David Rose, WPA Pool/Getty Images; Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images

After all, she wants to be noticed. Throughout her 66-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II has sported monochromatic fuchsia, lime green, and canary yellow outfits from her wardrobe, which boasts every (yes, every!) color of the rainbow. The uniform is quite sensible, though: She wants to guarantee the public can see her through the crowd.

"She needs to stand out for people to be able to say, 'I saw the Queen,'" her daughter-in-law, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, explained in the 2016 documentary The Queen at 90. "Don't forget that when she turns up somewhere, crowds are two-, three-, four-, 10-, 15-deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the queen's hat as she went past."

2. HATS FOR WOMEN ARE A MUST.

Portrait of then-Princess Elizabeth holding her daughter, Princess Anne, with the grandmothers Queen Mary (left) and Queen Elizabeth, following the christening in October 1950.
Portrait of then-Princess Elizabeth holding her daughter, Princess Anne, with the grandmothers Queen Mary (left) and Queen Elizabeth, following the christening in October 1950.
Central Press, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Royal etiquette requires one be worn by women to all official events. It's a stipulation that dates back to the 1950s, a time when women were starting to ditch their hats when going out in public. Though further modernization has eased up on the rule—Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton's perfect blowout is proof enough—the Queen insists the tradition be kept alive, especially at formal engagements like weddings and christenings. In fact, she rarely forgoes a headpiece, often trading a hat for a crown or headscarf.

The most important rule: Hats are discarded after 6 p.m., when it's time to break out the tiaras!

3. TIARAS ARE LIKE WEDDING RINGS.

Queen Elizabeth, Princess Anne, Princess Diana, and Duchess Catherine all wearing tiaras at various events.
Queen Elizabeth, Princess Anne, Princess Diana, and Duchess Catherine all wearing tiaras at various events.
Queen Elizabeth: Chris Jackson, WPA Pool/Getty Images. Princess Anne: Jeff Spicer, Getty Images. Princess Diana: Lionel Cherruault Royal Picture Library, Alamy Stock Photo. Duchess Catherine: Paul Hackett, WPA Pool/Getty Images.

Yes, only married women of the family get to don the jewels. That's because tiaras signify relationship status—and let curious bachelors know if a woman is off limits.

"It signals the crowning of love and the loss of innocence to marriage," Geoffrey Munn, the author of Tiaras: A History of Splendour, explained to Forbes. "The family tiara was worn by the bride and from that moment onwards it was the groom's jewelry she was expected to wear. It was a subliminal message that she had moved from her own family to another."

According to Munn, Princess Diana was the last royal to strictly adhere to the family jewels portion of the tradition—she came from the aristocracy and wore her family's Spencer tiara at her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles. Kate Middleton donned her first tiara, a Cartier halo piece borrowed from the Queen's collection, on her 2011 wedding day. And though it has yet to be confirmed, it is rumored that Meghan Markle will likely pay tribute to Prince Harry's mother by wearing one of the late Princess Diana's tiaras at her May 19 vows. As an American, odds of Markle having a "family tiara" are pretty low.

4. YOUNG PRINCES NEVER WEAR PANTS.

Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince George all wearing proper shorts as children.
Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince George all wearing proper shorts as children.
Prince Charles: STF, AFP/Getty Images. Prince William: PA Images, Alamy Stock Photo. Prince George: Richard Pohle, WPA Pool/Getty Images.

There are no dinosaur sweatpants in Prince George's closet. Like his father, Prince William, and his Uncle Harry, the 4-year-old heir—he's third in line to the throne—will only attend public events wearing smart shorts and never pants.

"Trousers are for older boys and men, whereas shorts on young boys is one of those silent markers that we have in England," British etiquette expert William Hanson told Harper's Bazaar. "A pair of trousers on a young boy is considered quite middle class—quite suburban. And no self-respecting aristo or royal would want to be considered suburban."

The tradition actually dates back to the 16th century and the practice of breeching, or when a tot grew out of gowns and moved on to, well, breeches. Adds Hanson, "The usual custom is that a boy graduated to trousers around 8 years old."

5. GLOVES ARE FOR PROTECTION.

Queen Elizabeth II meets trainee firefighters as she tours the new London Fire Brigade Headquarters at Southwark in February 2008.
Queen Elizabeth II meets trainee firefighters as she tours the new London Fire Brigade Headquarters at Southwark in February 2008.
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Sure, they're fashionable. But gloves are also a safety measure favored by the Queen when attending an official engagement that requires her to shake hands with a lot of people. The accessory—which the royal glove maker says are almost always either black or white and made out of cotton and nylon—prevents the spread of germs.

One notable exception to the rule was Princess Diana, who preferred to actually hold the hands of those she met during public visits. She wasn't dubbed the people's princess for nothing!

6. ALWAYS HAVE A BLACK ENSEMBLE ON-HAND.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, leaving their airplane as they return from Kenya following the death of King George VI in February 1952.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, leaving their airplane as they return from Kenya following the death of King George VI in February 1952.
Keystone, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You'll rarely see a royal wearing black, but while traveling outside the country, they are required to pack a full black outfit in case of emergency. This is so that, if a family member dies, they'll arrive back in England dressed appropriately, since they will certainly be photographed when departing the plane.

Queen Elizabeth learned this lesson from experience. In 1952, then just a princess, she and her husband, then the Duke of Edinburgh, were in Kenya when she learned her father had passed. When she arrived back in Britain without appropriate clothing, she was forced to stay on the plane until a black outfit was delivered to her.

Still, outside of mourning, black is considered a major faux pas. You'll only see the hue worn on Remembrance Day, a memorial observed for those who have died in battle.

7. COATS MUST STAY ON.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge keeps her coat on while visiting Waikato Hospice Rainbow Place in Cambridge, New Zealand in 2014.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge keeps her coat on while visiting Waikato Hospice Rainbow Place in Cambridge, New Zealand in 2014.
Peter Drury, Getty Images

Etiquette bars female members of the family from removing their outermost layer in public, viewing it as an "unladylike action." So, unfortunately, if the temperature suddenly spikes, Duchess Kate just has to sweat it out.

8. NAILS ARE TO BE KEPT SUBTLE.

A close-up of Kate Middleton's manicure.
A close-up of Kate Middleton's manicure.
Andrew Chin, Getty Images

Bright colors are saved only for the Queen's wardrobe. The rules state that fingernails must be a practical and natural shade, meaning the royal manicurists favor pale pinks and clear polishes. In fact, since 1989, the Queen has been faithfully using the Essie shade Ballet Slippers.

Kate Middleton, however, has found a loophole: The Duchess dares to wear red on her toes.

9. HANDBAGS AREN'T JUST FOR BELONGINGS.

Queen Elizabeth II holds her black Launer handbag during a reception in 2017.
Queen Elizabeth II holds her black Launer handbag during a reception in 2017.
Hannah McKay, WPA Pool/Getty Images

It's not like she needs house keys! While the Queen is known to pack lipstick and reading glasses in her purse, she also uses her iconic Launer bags to send signals to her staff. For example, when she wants to leave a dinner, she sets the purse on top of the table, letting her aides know to wrap up in five minutes. Or, if she's in the middle of a dull conversation, she'll place her bag on the floor, giving a cue to her lady-in-waiting that she'd like to be rescued.

10. CLUTCHES ARE GOOD IN A BIND.

Princess Diana stepping out of a car.
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

To avoid an embarrassing slip up, Princess Diana relied on her custom clutches to shield her chest while stepping out of cars, thus keeping paparazzi from getting their money shot.

"We used to laugh when we designed what she called her 'cleavage bags,'" Anya Hindmarch told The Telegraph of when Diana would buy her clutches. "[They were] little satin clutches which she would cover her cleavage with when she stepped out of cars."

Duchess Kate uses hers as a safety net. If she does not want to shake hands while on a visit, she will hold her bag in front of her with both hands, appearing too occupied to reach out. (The public is not allowed to touch a royal family member unless they make the first move.)

11. WEDGES ARE LOOKED DOWN ON.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge wears wedges while on a tour in Singapore in 2012.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge wears wedges while on a tour in Singapore in 2012.
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

At least, in the Queen's mind. They're not completely banned, but one palace insider told Vanity Fair wedged heels are not favored by the Queen and that "it's well known among the women in the family." Kate would often wear her beloved Stuart Weitzmans when her grandmother-in-law wasn't present, but it's been a few years since she's been out in a pair.

12. DON'T FORGET PANTYHOSE.

Sophie Rhys-Jones, Countess of Wessex, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall watch the Order of the Garter procession at Windsor Castle in June 2011.
Sophie Rhys-Jones, Countess of Wessex, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall watch the Order of the Garter procession at Windsor Castle in June 2011.
Paul Edwards, WPA Pool/Getty Images

No bylaw explicitly states pantyhose are a must. But, it's an unspoken rule that the Queen expects—and enforces—female family members and their guests to wear tights to all public outings.

That being said, newcomer and resident rule breaker Meghan Markle skipped nude stockings during her November engagement photo call. She quickly learned her lesson, though. At Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey in March, the Suits actress slipped on a pair.

13. WEIGH DOWN HEMLINES.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge speaks to soldiers as she arrives at Calgary Airport on July 7, 2011 in Calgary, Canada.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, speaks to soldiers in 2011 in Calgary, Canada.
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Otherwise suffer a Marilyn moment. In her custom dresses, the Queen has small, lead curtain weights sewn inside her hemlines. Though they weigh less than an ounce each, they keep her skirts from flying up if there were to be a sudden gust of wind.

As a fan of billowy dresses, Kate Middleton has taken note of this tailored trick after several stiff breezes have threatened to show London (and likely France) a glimpse of her underpants.

14. MILITARY UNIFORMS ARE TO BE WORN AT THE MOST FORMAL EVENTS.

Princess Anne, Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Prince Philip all wear their military uniforms during 2015's Trooping the Colour.
Princess Anne, Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Prince Philip all wear their military uniforms during 2015's Trooping the Colour.
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Since the 19th century, it has been customary for royals who have served in the armed forces or hold honorary military titles to wear their ceremonial uniforms at special, formal events, such as Remembrance Day, the Trooping the Colour, or any service honoring the British troops. The Queen's daughter, Princess Anne, who has 24 honorary military appointments, has been notable in wearing a military uniform to these formal events. According to Slate, it's thought that she may be the first royal woman to dress in military attire publicly since Elizabeth I in 1588.

At his 2011 vows, Prince William donned his red Colonel, Irish Guards uniform because he had recently been appointed to the position. After the ceremony, however, he changed into a double-breasted tuxedo for the reception.

Will Harry follow suit on his big day? Because he is no longer a serving officer, it's not required for him to wear his uniform. So he can choose between that or the slightly less formal morning dress, much like his father did—Prince Charles wore his naval commander uniform for his 1981 wedding at St. Paul's Cathedral, but chose morning dress for his 2005 civic ceremony with Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall.

15. USE FASHION TO COMPLIMENT HOSTS WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD.

The Duchess of Cambridge wore a maple leaf brooch and her hat featured a maple leaf design while on a trip to Canada in September 2016.
The Duchess of Cambridge wore a maple leaf brooch and her hat featured a maple leaf design while on a trip to Canada in September 2016.
Dominic Lipinski-Pool, Getty Images

While traveling, the family will pay tribute to a country they are visiting by sporting the national color or by incorporating a meaningful emblem into their outfits. For example, the Queen has worn jade green while visiting Ireland, while Kate has worn a maple leaf brooch and hat on trips to Canada. During a trip to India, Kate sported a piece by a local designer, bringing them so much attention their website crashed hours later.

16. DENIM ISN'T FORBIDDEN, BUT IT'S NOT PREFERRED.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attend a Wheelchair Tennis match during the Invictus Games 2017 in Toronto, Canada.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attend a Wheelchair Tennis match during the Invictus Games 2017 in Toronto, Canada.
Vaughn Ridley, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

It's certainly not a go-to item in any royal closet. For more casual outings, women in the family tend to favor trousers, cardigans, and blazers, while men take to polo or button-down shirts and khaki pants. But the BBC interviewed an etiquette expert who explained that most of the time jeans are a no-go, "but if the duchess is outside walking the dogs for example, then jeans are fine."

Essentially, it's better to be overdressed than underdressed, so denim tends to be for private life only.

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