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Mortarboard caps weren’t always used as 9-inch billboards. There isn’t an exact date of when people began decorating their caps, but mortarboards have a unique way of fitting in, no matter the era. The first iteration of a graduation cap was worn in the 12th century when students typically wore clothing inspired by those of religious clergy members. This evolved into today’s square style at Oxford University, where the caps were designed to signify a book in recognition of academic achievement and named for their similarity to the flat boards used by bricklayers. Most graduation regalia remained formal in style and were made with black or gray fabric until the rise of color photography popularized using school colors for robes and mortarboards. Decorating caps for graduation rose in frequency in the 1960s, when student activism was at an all-time high, as students used them to display their political positions. In the decades since, Badgers have often used their mortarboards to show school spirit, celebrate their identities, and even humorously comment on their employment prospects. Social media has also increased the popularity of mortarboard decorations, and campus events like Memorial Union’s “Cappy Hour” provide soon-to-be grads the opportunity to decorate their caps with elements inspired by their personalities, majors, and even recent events. (Taylor Swift grad cap, anyone?) Photo by Bryce Richter, University Communications.

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