Graduation Hats – 5 Intriguing Facts

Everybody is familiar with graduation hats. However, there are a few intriguing facts that are not widely known. 

Graduation hats first emerged in the 16th century, and the clergy soon adopted the style. Until the 17th century, undergrads wore smaller, round caps. 

Even though they may not seem like the most exciting item in the world, graduation hats have an interesting history. This article will cover five intriguing facts about graduation hats, and discuss how it came to be and who sported the hat first. Let’s dive into it.

Graduation Hats Are Also Called Mortarboard Hats

Millions of people have worn the hat, but many don’t know its actual name. The graduation hat’s true title is the mortarboard hat. This academic icon got its name from its resemblance to the mortarboard that brick masons used to hold mortar with, a type of building material. Historical mortarboards were three-foot platforms that were square-shaped. 

Graduation hat

The Graduation Hat Emerged in the 16th Century

A hat called the pileus quadratus (now known as our modern grad cap) appeared in the 16th century. It grew in popularity since it required less fabric to construct than other hats during that time. Shortly after its first appearance, the clergy adopted the style, and the academic world also started to use the cap. 

The Square Grad Cap Used To Be a Symbol of Higher Prestige

As early as the 11th century, academics wore caps. However, the popular cap for the longest time was called the pileus, which was a smaller, round, and brimless cap. When the square hat came along, only those with higher degrees could wear it. Until the 17th century, undergraduates were only allowed to wear the older round caps and not the square caps. 

Recipients of Masters and Doctorates Wear the Graduation Tam

Even though the round caps used to be symbols of lower academic levels in the 17th century, the opposite is now true. Nowadays, students graduating with a master’s or doctorate wear the graduation tam or Tudor bonnet. Read more about Tudor hats here.

Graduation tams look similar to mortarboards in the way they sit on the head. However, the main headpiece is smaller and more round than the rigid square of normal grad hats. 

Tudor bonnet
CharlieHuang at English Tudor bonnet -Wikipedia., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Tassels Positioning Is Symbolic in Some Ceremonies

While the tassel holds no importance in some countries, other countries like the United States use the tassel to symbolize different things in the graduation ceremony. 

Some ceremonies have all of the undergrad students wearing the tassel on the right. In contrast, the graduate students wear them on the left. There is also a tradition where students keep the tassel on one side for the beginning of the ceremony. After they receive their diploma, they move it to the other side. 

If you are graduating this year, check out the GraduationMall Unisex Adult Matte Graduation Cap. 


Graduation hats have come a long way since the 16th century. Typical academic hats used to be round hats, resembling what is now called a graduation tam. Only masters and doctorate students had the right to wear the new style when the square hat emerged. Until the 17th century, undergrads wore the old caps. 

However, the styles of graduation hats have now switched places. Nowadays, it is common for undergrads and high school graduates to wear square graduation hats. Masters and doctorate graduates wear the round cap called the Tudor bonnet, or graduation tam. 

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