A graduation stole is part of the regalia often worn by academic graduates from high schools, universities, or colleges. It is worn over a graduate's robes around their neck and hanging down the front of their shoulders. A stole looks a little like two neckties sewn together. So, where do stoles come from, and why do people wear them to graduations?
Origin of the Word Stole
The word stole is from the Greek word stolē which means clothing. From Greek, the word traveled into Latin and eventually into Old English where it came to mean a long robe.
In the Roman Empire, scarves draped over the shoulder were sometimes used to show class distinction and rank. As Constantine mixed Christianity with the remnants of the Roman Empire, the tradition of scarves denoting position morphed to become part of religious observance.
Religious scarves narrowed and grew longer, and the meaning of stole continued to evolve until, in the 1100's, it referred to the stoles that priests wore over their robes. These stoles looked very similar to modern day stoles, but they were longer, trailing around the priests ankles. They were usually richly embroidered with intricate scrolling or crosses. A stole was often made of silk or another expensive fabric to show dignity and state. Stoles could come in a variety of colors such as red, maroon, purple, or cream.
Academia adopted the stole when universities and academic institutions were forming across England. Universities required certain dress standards which included caps, gowns, and stoles. The idea of the stole traveled to North America, and when universities were founded in the US and Canada, similar dress codes existed. Eventually, caps, gowns, and stoles were only worn on formal occasions like graduation.
Later, universities started to separate colleges and faculty with different colored stoles to show which subject they belonged to. Eventually, stoles were also worn by high school graduates at graduation.
Today, stoles are usually an optional piece of a graduation outfit. The color of stole might be decided by the institution or the degree that the graduate is getting. For example, someone in the humanities might have a white stole, while someone in the sciences may have a yellow stole.
A stole signifies the achievement and dignity of a graduate and has a long history throughout the world. If you need a graduation stole, look online or visit a store near you.