At high schools, colleges, and universities across the nation the fall semester is rapidly winding down to an end. Finals week is approaching and students are feeling the pressure. Some students are looking forward to finishing finals and returning home for winter break to spend time with family. Winter break is also the best time to re-charge for the upcoming spring semester. On the other hand, there are students who are excited to get through finals so that they can graduate! That’s right! December graduates at Iowa State University will be walking the stage on December 14th & 15th at Hilton Coliseum to receive their hard-earned degrees.
Deciding what to wear on graduation day is something that students often see as important. Looking presentable on graduation day has been a long-standing tradition as graduation is an important accomplishment; whether it be for high school or college. Here at the Textiles and Clothing Museum (TCM), we have a number of graduation day ensembles that represent the insuppressible excitement of graduation day.
Everyone knows that on graduation day students wear a cap and gown, formally known as academic dress. McCallum states,
The most common styles [of academic dress] emulate the everyday clothing worn by scholars at the first universities in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Typically, this included a flowing gown, a hood or cape, and some sort of head wear; the contemporary form of this ensemble depends of the rules dictated by the institution with which the student or official is associated (p. 1)
As a part of our collection at the TCM we have a number of graduation ensembles that would traditionally be worn be a student receiving a master’s degree from a college or university. The ensemble photographed below includes a master’s robe, hood, and mortarboard. Each individual object within this ensemble serves a specific purpose of representation of a historical context. Master’s robes are identifiable by their unique sleeves, as they are made to almost reach the hem of the robe. A master’s hood is representative of the level of degree being earned, furthermore, the college or university providing the degree is identifiable by the colors in the lining of the hood worn with the robe (Sheard, 1962).
This master’s graduation ensemble was donated to the TCM by Harriett M. Meek-Lyon in 1989. Meek-Lyon earned her M.S. in Textiles and Clothing from Iowa State University in 1957.
Here at the TCM we also have this 1936 high school graduation dress worn for graduation portraits by Dorothy Marie Messer Carpenter, mother of the donor, Carol Carpenter Hanson. The special occasion dress is made of blue velvet and is sleeveless. The round neckline of the dress is pleated with an attached shoulder cape that drapes to about shoulder length. According to information provided by Hanson,
Born on November 13, 1918, Carpenter was the granddaughter of Swiss immigrants on her father’s side. She was raised on a depression-poor farm near Guernsey, IA. She was also the salutatorian of her high school class, graduating from Guernsey High School on May 28, 1936. Carpenter was an extraordinary seamstress, perhaps learning skills from two Iowa aunts who were professional seamstresses (Hanson, 2016).
Also as part of our collection, we have the actual senior portrait of Carpenter wearing the dress photographed below.
The TCM would like to congratulate December 2018 graduates from all over. As you wear your carefully chosen outfits that will go under your academic dress, remember that what you are wearing has history and meaning. Wear it with pride as you have accomplished something great!
By Dyese Matthews
Hanson, C. C. (2016, October 31). Dorothy Marie Messer Carpenter. [Document on the life of Dorothy Marie Carpenter]. Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Museum (2016.17.1). Ames, IA
McCallum, J. (2010). Academic dress. In V. Steele (Ed.). The Berg Companion to Fashion. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved from https://www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com
Sheard, K. (1962). Academic heraldry in America. Marquette, MI: Northern Michigan College Press