For graduates of the University of Cambridge
The BA gown is made of black "stuff" (ie black fabric other than silk) and has long, wide open sleeves like a wizard's robe. These sleeves are slit vertically from the shoulders and caught together at the bottom of the slit.
BA gowns also have "strings", which are black ribbons attached inside the shoulders. These are vestigial and barely decorative as they are not normally visible, although they can be tied into a pretty bow across the chest if desired. The Proctors may not approve.
The BA gown is longer than undergraduate gowns, but shorter than an MA gown, falling just below the knees.
The MA gown may either be made of black "stuff" or black silk. Like the BA gown, it has strings.
The primary difference between the MA and BA gown is in the sleeves: the MA gown has long sleeves which reach far past the length of the arm and are sealed at the end. This is majestic, but impractical: there are therefore slits in the sleeves through which you stick your arms get the use of your hands back. The ends of the sleeves have a semi-circle of cloth cut away to form a hook-shape, and are an excellent place to keep your sandwiches.
The MA gown is longer than the BA gown, reaching to the mid-calf.
MEng, MMath and MSci gowns
The MEng/MMath/MSci gown is the same as the MA gown, with the addition of a circle of cord with a button in the centre on the sleeve above the arm slit. This embellishment is fondly known as the "wheel of science".
The MPhil gown is the same as the MA gown, with the addition of a button on the shoulder, a button just above the arm slit, and cord connecting the two.
The PhD gown is the same as the MA gown, with the addition of "Doctors’ lace, four inches (10 cm) in length" (Doctors' lace is a pattern resembling a row of lacy squares) just above the arm slit.
On Scarlet Days, PhDs wear a festal gown, which is either the MA or the PhD gown but with facings of scarlet cloth all the way down the front lapels.
The GU does not deal in PhD gowns, because by the time they require one most people will no longer be members!
Authoritative descriptions of all the University's gowns, including the less common gowns not described above, is given by Chapter 2 § 14 of the University's Ordinances.
Graduates with multiple degrees do not (usually) wear multiple gowns. Instead, they wear the gown of their highest degree. From lowest to highest, the order of seniority for common degrees is:
The comprehensive order of seniority is given by Chapter II § 13 of the University's Ordinances.
For graduates of other universities
BA status gown
BA status is held by graduate students at the University who do not already possess a Cambridge degree and are under the age of 24.
The BA status gown is identical to the BA gown, except that it does not have the strings. A BA gown can easily pass as a BA status gown by tucking the strings in to the shoulder yoke. No-one will ever know...
MA status gown
MA status is held by graduate students at the University who do not already possess a Cambridge degree and are 24 or older.
Like the BA equivalent, the MA status gown an MA gown without the strings – an MA gown can likewise pass as an MA gown by tucking in the strings.
Each college choses its own undergraduate gown. The "standard" undergraduate gown is like a BA gown, but shorter. Colleges may then prescribe various alterations and embellishments to differentiate their own undergraduates' gowns.
For example, the undergraduate gown at mature/graduate colleges is the standard gown with a blue cord and button hitching up the sleeves; and the undergraduate gowns for colleges that were founded as women-only institutions do not have the arm slit (the better to preserve their undergraduates' modesty).
Undergraduate gowns usually come in one size only, and are meant to reach to the knees. Descriptions of each college's undergraduate gown are given in the CUH&GS Gown Guide.
NB in practice, specifying a gown size to the inch is unnecessarily precise; not only are gowns are specified to reach a certain part of the leg (requiring a length which varies from person to person), but an inch or two in either direction isn't noticeable in any case.
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