It’s a classic image: graduates at the end of their high school, college, or graduate school days, tossing their graduation caps in the air and posing with family and friends in regal, flowing academic gowns. Behind them, the professors they’ve worked with for years, in gowns that reflect their own educational journey with colors, appliqués, and satin hoods. Believe it or not, this universal tradition is still evolving and gaining nuance and details in modern times — and with Oak Hall Cap & Gown, many of these new traditions and styles are being crafted right here in Salem, Virginia.
Innovation in Regalia
With roots going back to the early religious centers of higher education in medieval Europe, modern “pomp and circumstance” of academic robes really took off as America grew as a nation and began to develop a thriving middle class, hungering for education. When Oak Hall Cap & Gown was founded in 1889, more and more of the nation’s men — and women! — were going to newly-founded institutions that wanted to mirror the tradition and regal notes of the famous English schools.
As so often happens in academia, imitation became innovation. When America grew more educated, its demand for the uniquely cut and colored gowns of education grew, too, with the new universities claiming new colors and rituals for their students and faculty.
Oak Hall is the only manufacturer remaining in America from that original boom of cap-and-gown-makers. We build on a proud foundation of past innovations that are now industry standard, like matte fabric offerings, custom Ph.D. program regalia, and even souvenir caps and gowns that proud graduates can keep. As always, old-fashioned values were our guide as we negotiated new technologies and economic realities. When many long-time manufacturers moved their workforce offshore to chase lower prices, we doubled down on our Virginian home, investing in larger warehouses and new equipment. We proudly employ over 450 local workers to design, craft, and ship the wardrobe of American higher education, and we’re fiercely proud of the fact we’ve never laid any of them off — even in the recent hard times of 2020.
Standard of Excellence
That commitment to local labor and material helps us create academic regalia that isn’t one-size-fits-all but a globally-recognized standard of excellence. Oak Hall gowns are tailor-made for the institutions, departments, and degrees they represent, passing rigorous quality and color demands of university identities, like the University of North Carolina’s morning-sky true blue or the University of Texas’ fiery burnt orange. And our local presence also allows us to work closely with regional recycling programs, turning plastic bottles into the soft weave of our 100% sustainable NuHorizon and GreenWeaver lines, an innovation that reinvented the “one-use-only” approach to graduation gowns and helps many universities reach their sustainability goals. Whether it’s our commitment to longevity through quality or recyclability, Oak Hall is at the forefront of the American notion that custom regalia should be beautiful, unique, and reusable — whether by one owner or hundreds.
Even after saving over 180,000,000 bottles from the landfill, we’ve not forgotten our original hand-sewn roots. Oak Hall still specializes in the dying art of handcrafted and sewn insignias and designs for specialty custom gowns, like those worn by trustees, presidents, and department chairs. Of course, it’s not just for our customers with letters after their name: every Oak Hall gown is at least cut-and-sewn by hand, right down to our kindergarten gowns.
Show Off Your School Spirit
We’re proud that we’ve been able to incorporate a school’s unique spirit into our regalia, but we’re still innovating. We lead the industry in our wide range of cuts, including our commitment to custom fit robes for physically-challenged individuals; and as a company that gives back, we’re proud of our continued development of new, sustainable fabrics and this year’s pivot to manufacturing facemasks in 2020 with Johns Hopkins, Oak Hall is committed to keeping traditions alive by weaving old with new.