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Published: August 8, 2011


Colloquial name for the square, flat-topped caps worn by most students at school and college graduation ceremonies. Their use dates back to the Middle Ages and the guild of masons who, like other guilds, sent representatives to march in festive ceremonies, including those relating to the local college. Their hats, like those of other guilds, represented some aspect of their trade—in this case, the boards on which they mixed their mortar. Today’s ubiquitous mortarboard is more a product of low cost and manufacturing convenience for makers of ceremonial dress. There is, however, no universal rule for academic dress. Throughout history, different colleges and universities and even different academic and scientific departments within those institutions have developed distinctive caps and gowns, of which the mortarboard is but one.