Hats off

In today’s Sunday Tribune, Isabel Hayes reports on the wearing of mortarboard hats by women on graduation from Irish universities. While female graduands wear hats, male students don’t. Nobody seems to know for sure why.

When I graduated from UCD three years ago, I looked into this without much success. Despite much research by Isobel, she too failed to discover a definitive explanation.

However, the reason that cropped up again and again in both our investigations was that the tradition goes back to when women wore hats on graduation to signify the capping of their education. They had reached their ceiling whereas men were free to go on to greater things!

It all sounds so silly, yet I fear that this explanation is offered too often to be a myth. Needless to say, I am not impressed by this thought. While there is still much doubt surrounding why women don’t wear hats, I decided not to take any chances on my own graduation. If there was any truth in the capping theory, I was not going to go along with that tradition!

So I turned up on a cold afternoon in December with no hat. I feared a little opposition from college officials but none of them even remarked on it. Surprisingly, fellow students and their families displayed far more conservative attitudes. I lost count of the number of times I was asked about it. I had not taken any notice, but I was even informed that I had been the only one out of hundreds of female students who had not worn a hat.

I know of several girls in the last few years who knew of the capping theory prior to graduation. However, they either decided to go along with it just to fit in, were not bothered or looked forward to wearing the mortarboard for once. Each to their own, I say. You will never catch me wearing one though! 🙂


  1. This pissed me off at graduation. Although I see the woman’s point of view on it, I think it’s a bit rich to assume that guys will be going on to more education. Why would they? Is it a prerequisite? If I want to do a masters I will but only if I feel the need. Not because I’d like to wear a hat at the end of it. I should have hired a hat for the day. 🙂

  2. I wore a hat for mine, but I don’t remember even noticing that the fella’s didn’t. Since then I have heard the same reason why the male students didn’t.

  3. Whats the situation in England?? And don’t you get to throw your hat in the air?? That could be your rebellion against the myth. I usually strive to side for female empowerment but sadly I’ve been looking forward to this hat wearing lark for years, if I go, the hat goes! ;o)

  4. never really thought about it like that anthony – thanks for the male viewpoint!

    sorry to disappoint you caoimhe, but there was no big hat throwing moment like there is in American films and sitcoms at my grad in UCD, but maybe that ain’t the norm??

    glad to hear you’re looking forward to the big day anyway. i have to say i was tempted to go for the old in absentia option myself – i dread occasions! 🙂

  5. When I graduated from UCC we all wore mortar boards (the girls that is). People didn’t throw them in the air. I think the reasons are simple 1) people have been graduating for much longer than they have been watching American films (about graduating from high school mostly!!) and 2) if you damage a mortar board or lose it, you have to pay for a new one / lose your deposit with the graduation cap and gown rental people!

    Some men do wear silly hats at graduation, like the president of the college etc. Honary doctorates nearly always warrant silly hats for men also.

  6. The reason I’ve heard is that men used to wear hats when graduating yonks ago but when women were allowed into universities, men refused to wear the hats at graduation out of protest and that’s why men don’t wear hats anymore. Could be rubbish but sounds more plausible than the ‘capping’ theory.

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