What is a mortarboard, and how do I properly wear it?

What is a mortarboard, and how do I properly wear it?

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the origins of the mortarboard, explore its significance, discuss its proper wearing technique, and shed light on related headwear such as tams and beefeaters.

What is a Mortarboard?

Foremost, we should address the titular question. What is a mortarboard? The answer is simple: a distinctive headpiece worn by graduates during commencement ceremonies. Its name is derived from its resemblance to a mason’s tool, the flat board used for holding mortar during construction. The design of graduation caps consists of a flat square board, usually made of stiff material such as cardboard or fabric, with a tassel attached to the centre top. The board is typically black, but it can vary in colour depending on the institution or academic discipline.

How to Properly Wear a Mortarboard

Properly wearing a mortarboard is essential to maintaining the elegance and symbolism associated with this iconic headpiece. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you wear a mortarboard correctly:

Step 1: Positioning

Place the mortarboard squarely on your head, ensuring that the front is centred and aligns with your forehead. The front edge of the cap should rest approximately one inch above your eyebrows. Adjust the cap until it feels secure but not overly tight.

Step 2: Tilting the Tassel

Traditionally, the tassel starts on the right side of the mortarboard. After receiving your diploma or when instructed during the ceremony, you will shift the tassel from the right side to the left. This symbolic gesture signifies the transition from candidate to graduate.

Step 3: Adjusting the Tassel

Once the tassel is shifted to the left side, let it hang freely over the left temple. Avoid securing it tightly or pinning it in place. As you participate in the graduation ceremony, remember to keep the tassel on the left side until the designated moment for all graduates to shift it simultaneously.

Step 4: Removing the Mortar Board

Following the ceremony, when it’s time to remove the mortarboard, hold it with both hands at the front and back edges. Gently lift it off your head, being cautious not to disturb the positioning of your hair or any accessories you may be wearing.

Related Headwear: Tams and Beefeaters

While mortarboards are the most commonly recognized graduation caps, there are other headwear options associated with academic regalia. Two notable examples are tams and beefeaters.


Tams are typically worn by graduates in disciplines such as the arts, humanities, and social sciences. These caps have a round shape and are usually made of velvet or plush material. Tams often feature a metallic or fabric button on the centre top, and their size may vary depending on the academic institution or specific degree program.


Beefeaters, also known as Tudor bonnets, are worn by graduates of some British universities and institutions. These caps have a distinctive shape, resembling a soft, brimless hat with a round, puffy crown. Beefeaters are typically made of velvet or plush material and often feature a tassel hanging from the centre.

Looking for graduation caps for yourself or your kids? Be sure to get acquainted with the Ashington Gowns shop and their wide range of products, including academic attire, robes, and mortarboards. Best prices and great materials!