Law’s Purple Majesty
Along with colleagues and students at Temple’s Beasley School of Law, I’ll be marching in tomorrow’s graduation ceremony. As a lawyer, I’ll be trimmed in purple, which otherwise symbolizes: royalty, over-writing, wisdom, indecision, insanity, equality and the Minnesota Vikings. Sounds about right. But what was the genesis of associating purple with law?
Interestingly, the dominant theory seems to be that academic dress recalls an era where laws flowed from the King: purple symbolizes lawyer’s roots as agents of the sovereign. And it is true that of the professions, the one with the closest tie with the institutions of state sanctioned force remains law. But you’ve got to wonder why the folks who codified academic dress in the U.S. decided to tie themselves to an idea of legal rules that evoked royalty, instead of, say, the brittle yellow of the constitution. Perhaps it is just a case of American professors admiring the pretty dresses worn in the old world?