History of Academic Regalia
The academic costume worn now originated in the Middle Ages when a warm gown and hood were practical garb for scholars studying in unheated buildings. The distinctive gown set the student apart from his fellow citizens, hence the perennial controversy between "town and gown." Until after the American Civil War, Columbia students wore caps and gowns daily while in residence at the College.
In 1894, an American Intercollegiate Commission met at Columbia for the purpose of standardizing the style and color for robes and hoods. It was decided that all robes would be black; bachelors' gowns to be made of worsted wool with pointed sleeves; masters' gowns of silk with long closed sleeves; doctors' gowns faced with black velvet with three bars across the sleeves. Hoods were made of the same materials as the gowns, the length varying with the degree. Only the lining of the hood indicated the university--for Columbia, light blue with a white chevron. The border color indicated the academic discipline in which the degree was earned. In the late twentieth century, universities in America began to adopt more colorful robes. The Columbia gown is now slate blue.