Fur flies in unholy row over dress code

January 12, 1996

Academics from Cambridge University's four theological colleges have succeeded in winning enthusiastic support from on high for a new vocational degree called the bachelor of theology for ministry. But they had to back down on one crucial point: the colour scheme of the academic dress.

So while those for and against Cambridge's new education studies degree (THES, January 5) have been conducting a slanging match over the academic merits of education as a degree subject, theologians have been diverted by an altogether more gentlemanly discussion about whether the hood worn at the graduation ceremony should be dove-grey silk or black fur.

John Horton, a computer scientist from Northampton, said that while the design for the gown was "appropriate", the hood left "something to be desired". "The proposed design breaks the pattern of the Cambridge bachelors' hoods and the use of black fur is clearly anomalous."

Dr Horton suggested dove grey instead because it is the divinity colour. He was backed by Nicholas Bell, a graduate student, who said that "the use of black fur in academical dress is unheard of", and cited a classic text. He added that the question of the hood was no trifling matter: "It may well form part of the ecclesiastical, as well as academical, dress of the degree's holders, and is therefore one which will be seen more frequently than most other Cambridge hoods."

The university's council rejected the idea that black fur would be "an unacceptable innovation" and quibbled over the description of the divinity colour as dove grey, pointing out that it is officially described as "turquoise blue shot with rose pink". They also rejected the use of the divinity colour - reserved for the exclusive doctor of divinity hood - because it would be confused with the science colour, described as "pink shot with light blue".

But, according to the Cambridge University Reporter, the council did accept that, instead of black fur, the BTh hood should be of "black stuff (as for the BA), lined with black silk (as for the BD), the tippet edged with white fur (as for the BA)".

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