In general, the materials used for academic dress are heavily influenced by the climate where the academic institution is located, or the climate where the graduate will usually be wearing the costume (as a faculty member at another institution, for example). In either case, the American Council of Education (ACE) allows for the comfort of the wearer, and concedes that lighter materials be used in tropical climates, and heavier materials elsewhere. In addition, it acknowledges cotton poplin, broadcloth, rayon, or silk as appropriate.
The materials used for academic dress varies and range from the extremely economical to the very expensive. In the United States, most Bachelor and Master degree candidates are often only presented the "souvenir" version of regalia by their institutions or authorized vendor, which are generally intended for very few wearings and are comparatively very inexpensive. For some doctoral graduates commencement will be the only time they wear academic regalia, and so they rent their gowns instead of buying them. These rented (or hired) gowns are often made of inexpensive polyester or other man-made synthetic fibre. In Britain, rented gowns are almost always polyester while Russell cord, silk or artificial silk gowns are only available when bought. Undergraduate gowns are usually made from cotton or cotton and polyester mix and are relatively inexpensive to encourage students to own them.
People who choose to buy their dress may opt for finer fabrics, such as princetta, poplin, grosgrain, Percale, cotton, wool, cassimere, broadcloth, bengaline, Russell cord or corded/ribbed material. For silk, there are a range of types including artificial silk/rayon, ottoman (i.e. ribbed or corded silk), taffeta, satin, alpaca, true silk, shot silk or a mixture. Pure ottoman silk is rarely used except for official gowns as it is very expensive. Some gowns may be trimmed with gimp lace, cords, buttons or other forms of decoration.
In the past, fur has been used to line certain hoods (especially those of the UK) which range from rabbit to ermine. In the past, sheepskin was widely used. Most now use imitation fur instead, mainly because of cost and animal rights concerns. Some robemakers will use fur if the customer requests and pays for it, as some feel that the quality and feel of artificial fur has yet to match that of real fur.
Doctor's robes usually use wool flannel, panama (worsted), superfine cloth, damask or brocade and are brightly coloured (or black, but faced with a bright colour) to distinguish them from lower degrees. They tend to be the most expensive because they must be dyed in a specific colour and/or be trimmed in coloured silks. Many doctoral gowns have a special undress version so adding to the cost of a full set.
A full set may cost about $360 (£180) for cheap materials to as much as $5800 (£2900) for high quality materials. Usually, ex-hire gowns are available for purchase at cheaper prices though the quality may be lower.
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