Education: The Proper Cut & Color

The American professor seldom unpacks his academic robes for anything except founders' days and commencement, but the Oxford don swathes himself in proper hues for every day, is well aware when he is within nodding distance of such colleagues in full dress as a doctor of philosophy (scarlet and navy blue) or a doctor of music (cream silk with apple-blossom embroidery and sleeves of cherry crimson).

For years Oxford scholars have been uneasy about certain mutations in academic plumage. Shortly after World War II, hard-pressed tailors took to making gowns of nylon instead of silk, even trimmed the hoods of bachelors of...

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