A long, loose-fitting garment that is distinctive for students, graduates, or officers of a university or college. It is an academic insignia. The wearer's academic degree may be indicated by the trim material or the cut of the gown. Gowns are typically black, but some schools use a distinctive color. Use of the gown in academic dress dates from the middle ages. The term has been used to refer in a collective way to an academic community or its members as distinguished from the nonacademic community or other people in an area. This distinction has been referred to as "town and gown."
The gown has also been used in the liturgy. It was worn with bands. Anglican preachers have worn the gown with hood and scarf for the sermon. This use could be seen as a display of academic credentials by the preacher. Some members of the clergy (especially with a low-church piety) wore the gown throughout the service, following the Genevan practice. Liturgical use of the gown continued into the late nineteenth century. E. Clowes Chorley credited the influence of the catholic movement in the Episcopal Church with the gradual substitution of the surplice for the black preaching gown during the nineteenth century.