it’s all about the gown

In a way, this was all about the gown. I fell in love with doctoral gowns a long time ago. Academic regalia is one of our last vestiges of a society that honored education. Once a year everyone involved puts on these outfits that denote their educational achievements and honor the new achievements of others. I have said I was doing this for the right to wear the gown, and there is some truth in that. I just wish we still wore them daily in academia rather than yearly. I’m sure it would be totally annoying (as Dorothy Sayers describes in Gaudy Night where the gowns the alumnae wear on campus become part of the plot), but still…

[I know this is totally hierarchical (I respond to hierarchies even as I may abhor them), but there is something egalitarian (or at least meritocratic) in the notion that anyone can go to school and earn a gown, especially–until recently–in the state of California with the amazing public education system. I do understand that there are a million reasons people may or may not be able to get an education and many of them are class/culture-based. While I didn’t really think about it growing up, I always had in the back of my mind that I could be a doctor if I wanted to be. Not everyone has that as an intrinsic part of their existence. This is one of the reasons I am so appalled at the education cuts in California. Our school that formerly offered education to everyone (and UCR has served a lot of first-generation college students) are becoming less and less able to do so. ::sigh::]

Well, that was a painful interlude. Let’s get back to the lifelong dream of the robes…

So imagine my surprise and delight to discover that Presbyterians (and other reformed churches) still honor that tradition. They wear academic robes to preach and preside. (In my low church experience, we knew vaguely about collars and maybe joked about them, but not really about preaching robes. Maybe because one doesn’t see them on TV and pastors don’t wear them outside service times.) And, as I was explaining on Sunday to anyone who would listen, originally in the reformation the academic gown was a sign that the pastor was NOT set above the parishioners. It was the “everyday” dress. Kind of like “thou” is the familiar form in English. Since we know longer use those terms or wear those robes, they have become formalized. Coffee Pastor, a UCC pastor, has recently been thinking and blogging about vestments and meaning in the 21st century over at his place (Vestments part I, part II, part III).

The RevDoc celebrating MY robe

Along with all the other reasons I want a job, I want a job in academia so I can wear my robe to graduation. I’d wear it every day if I could–maybe not to the grocery store, but certainly to teach. So it makes me a wee bit crazy that the RevDoc wears her doctoral gown only about twice a year. She has other robes she prefers and she says it’s too hot and it’s more meaningful if she wears it less often. Probably. And I’ve watched. It is very intentional and purposeful when she does wear it. But still. If I’d earned it, I’d be wearing it. I’m just saying. 🙂

I’m laughing at myself as I write this. I do know I’m a little ridiculous in a nice, nerdy sort of way.

My Canadian Friend. He wore the very robe last year.

The line that did keep going through my head during graduation was from Macbeth: “Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?” (I.iii). I don’t know why that was the line for me for the day except I was in a robe, and it wasn’t borrowed, but it was passed on to me by my Canadian friend who graduated last year. And he came down for the celebration! But I’m not sure it’s really sunk in yet. That’s my gown and I earned the right to wear it, even if I never have another opportunity to do so (but I hope I do.)

I may yet wear it to the grocery store.

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4 Responses to it’s all about the gown

  1. Terri says:

    that’s how I feel about wearing the white alb and stole, the typical vestments of an Episcopal priest, under the chasuable that some of us wear. I have worked in church that preferred their ordained clergy wear cassock and surplice – but I could wear those vestments as a lay person – the alb and stole said, ordained! hard work has earned this! of course, I also wear a collar, most every day when I am working – so that too is a give away, and hard earned, and well, a daily visible testimony to who I am.

  2. quackademic says:

    I have a totally different view of of the gown–probably because I haven’t really thought about its significance, but rather about the expense on top of expenses on top of expenses, which is why I don’t own one yet. That said, if you want to wear it to the grocery store, the gym, the playground–you should SO do it! That would be totally and completely awesome. Maybe every May 12th that could be your gift to yourself. 🙂

  3. Rev Dr Andrew says:

    So is this gown available on line? If so where? Having just got my doctorate I would much prefer the blue to preach in rather than the red we wore for congregation.

  4. At Rim, where all teachers must participate in graduation, a group of us used to go out to dinner after graduation still wearing our academic regalia, and it was really fun. If we wore robes to teach in, it would certainly simplify getting dressed in the morning. I also think it would lend authority to teachers in the eyes of students, wouldn’t it?

    Traditional magician clothes, top hat, evening clothes, were also meant to make the magician look like an ordinary person, back when ordinary people dressed for dinner at the club. It was meant to introduce realism to the performance, and was a step away from hackneyed wizard robes and turbans. But, of course, now, to look like a regular person, the magician has to wear jeans and a T-shirt.

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