All academic regalia have their roots in the first universities in Europe in the 12th century, when the ordinary dress of the scholar was the dress of the cleric. The costume bestowed honor, but it also served the functional purpose of keeping medieval scholars warm in unheated buildings.
Presidential regalia are unique among academic vestments in that they symbolize the president's rank and authority as the chief official of the institution rather than reflecting an individual's academic credentials. There are four velvet bars known as "chevrons" on the sleeves of presidential regalia. Standard doctor's robes feature only three. University presidents wear their distinctive regalia when participating in official university ceremonies and convocations. The regalia are also worn when representing the institution in official academic occasions at other universities.
The University of Texas at Austin presidential regalia were first worn by President Larry R. Faulkner, at the 118th Spring Commencement Ceremony in May 2001. It was designed by award-winning costume designer Susan Tsu, then the David Bruton Jr. Regents Professor of Fine Arts, in the Department of Theatre and Dance. The body of the hand-crafted gown is made of custom-dyed silk bordered by rayon velvet with gold bullion trim and twisted braid. The hood contains rayon velvet, silk satin and faille, as well as twisted braid. The tam is made of rayon velvet with a gold bullion tassel and twisted braid. The fabric was custom dyed at the New York firm of Gene Mignola by Kenneth Chu, a former UT graduate student. The garment was fabricated by Kathryn Lang who was working at the time as a draper for the Performing Arts Center. Former UT undergraduate student Marit Aagaard was the milliner who constructed the tam.
One of the most obvious details of the regalia is its color. The warm tone is a variation of burnt orange, a rich russet that blends well with the more traditional orange and white.
“There is a great deal of pride and identity associated with our university colors, and it was important to me that we choose a color that evokes both the history and the dignity of our university,” said Tsu. “The color of the regalia is one that will celebrate our colors from head to toe with taste and elegance.”
The presidential regalia were the prototype for the new custom doctor's regalia which was premiered at the 122nd Spring Commencement exercises in May 2005.The richly combined colors and texture of the fabrics distinguish the presidential regalia of The University of Texas at Austin.
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