The Origin of Mortarboard Hats and Tassels

Kaminski Wool Beret - The PagliniAccording to The Answer Man, graduates “still sport outfits that represent centuries of pomp and circumstance”, robes which date back 800 years when universities were closely tied to the church.

Continuing with his findings The Answer Man says that the

“strange-looking hat has an even longer and more colorful evolution with roots in ancient Rome and, perhaps, the Middle East.

According to Philip Goff’s “University of London Academic Dress,” the mortarboard developed from the biretta, a similar-looking hat worn by the Roman Catholic clergy. It also may have been influenced by garments from the Islamic madrassas, or schools. But its popularity apparently didn’t take off until it hit the fashion capital of the world — Paris.

Traditionally, university students wore a round hat based on the Roman “pileus rotundus.” It looked something like a beret with a stalk or tab in the center. Then, in the early 1500s, graduates at the University of Paris started wearing a square pileus, according to the Encyclopedia of World Costume. It soon became the rage across Europe.

At first, the headgear consisted of a soft, flat square cap on top of a skull cap, but in the 1600s, the two were incorporated into a single hat.

For comfort, a flat, hard square was added in the 17th century to stiffen the hat so that the corners wouldn’t flop into the face while some long-winded commencement speaker droned on. The tassel apparently came along in the 18th century.

From everything I can find, switching that tassel from right to left to signify graduation is a modern, American custom, but just when and where it started seems to be lost in history.”

I’m sorry to say I got lost after the word biretta. For some odd reason, all I could think of was that old cop show from the 70s with Robert Blake in it, called Baretta, the one where the detective wears a newsboy on his head and a cockatoo on his shoulder.

Thanks for reading,
Steve Singer, The Memory Man
and CEO Hartford York

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Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 1:16 am  Leave a Comment  

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