History of Harvard Academic Regalia

The emblems on the gowns' lapels are called crows' feet. They originated in the early 1800s when the coat sleeves of Harvard undergraduates had crows' feet on the lower portion. The number of crows' "toes" denoted rank. Seniors wore three, juniors, two, and sophomores, one. In the late 1800s, when Harvard was deciding on academic dress for Commencement Exercises and wanted a distinctive feature incorporated, a committee appointed by President Eliot elected to include the crows' feet. A different color emblem is used for each of the various faculties, with scarlet indicating the Divinity School. Today, two crows' feet indicate an earned degree, while three indicate an honorary degree.