Academic dress design

Registrar’s correspondence, January-June 1965.
Registrar’s correspondence, January-June 1965.

Alumnus and gown enthusiast Edward Ripley shares his expertise on the history of University of Bath academic dress.

For a short period of time between 1966 and 1997 the University of Bath had its own specific design of bachelors and masters gowns. These have been categorised as the bachelors [b7] and the masters [m16] gown using the Grove’s classification for academic dress; no other University uses these. The gowns were designed by the Academic Dress scholar Dr George Shaw who was in correspondence with Dr A. M. Hardie, the Vice Principal of Bristol College of Science and Technology, the University’s forerunner, in 1965. Fortunately, the letters and outline designs for the gowns survive in the University Archives.

Bachelors - Oxford BA gown [b8] of back stuff but with a 6” slit at the top of the arm and a button with matching material at the top.

Masters - Cambridge MA gown [m2] of black stuff but with a 6” slit in the middle of the arm hole and a button with matching material at the top. Doctors undress gowns were to be the same but with Cambridge lace around the arm hole.

Rather surprisingly the plans were to use the same gown over all bachelors, masters and doctoral undress, with the only different gowns being used for PhD’s and higher doctorates. Dr Hardie explained that ‘the uniform undress was suggested because of the limited occasions when undress is required; and without fairly close scrutiny of a black gown the distinctions are by no means obvious’. This caused some surprise to both Dr Shaw and the University’s official robe maker Messer’s Ede and Ravenscroft.

Dr Shaw further mentions that he has prototypes of the gowns already made up for inspection by the University (Academic Dress and Ceremonies Committee) who were impressed with the designs and submitted them for comment by Ede and Ravenscroft. The gown makers were also in agreement and updated their records accordingly.

At this point Dr Shaw suggested a Bath specific undergraduate gown, being the Oxford Scholar [u2] but with a 6” slit and a button, in similar fashion to the bachelors. However, the University didn’t seem to adopt this and there are no records remaining.

The use of these gowns can be traced through the University Regulations until 1997 at which point, they were replaced with the current specifications of a basic or standard bachelors gown [b1] and a Cambridge masters gown [b2]. Curiously, the doctors undress gown remains in the Regulations, though this can be assumed to be defunct given the rarity of the occasions when it is needed. Quite why the Bath specific gowns were dropped is unknown; perhaps economy of scale in that multiple universities use the b2 and m2 gowns, paired with increasing student numbers. It is interesting to note that all those who were awarded degrees between 1966 and 1997 would still be allowed to wear these earlier designs.

Edward photographing a University of Bath gown

About this story

Registrar’s correspondence, January-June 1965.
University Archives
Catalogue Reference:
Archival document