Varsity Jackets – A style icon
To Americans, no jacket has been more important in their culture than the varsity jacket. Still today, they are popular worldwide, regardless of the weather and temperature. There are different kinds of varsity jacket available these days, but why the continued love affair with this iconic style statement? Perhaps it’s because they have always given comfort and combine this element with an iconic, inherently ‘cool’ look to the people who wear them.
Mass media has played a major role in making varsity jackets an integral part of school and college athlete clothing in the US and beyond, including the UK market. Its trend started from one of the world’s foremost universities, Harvard, in the mid of nineteenth century. In that time they used to call it a Letterman jacket.
In 1865, the baseball team of Harvard University was considering making the best players of the team look more prominent. One of the players had an idea according to which the letter ‘H’ representing Harvard be sewed onto the flannel uniforms of all the players. These new uniforms were given the name of ‘Lettermans’ and the players who participated in the most significant matches were only the ones who would be given the new uniform to wear continuously. The players who were not a part of important games would be asked to return their Lettermans when the season came to an end.
After ten years, the players of Harvard baseball team also started wearing a uniform with the letter ‘H’ sewn on it. In baseball teams also, only the players who played the major matches, like those against Princeton and Yale, were allowed to keep the jerseys with letter ‘H’ on them. As a result, the Letterman shirt became a symbol of awesomeness and respect.
In 1891, the baseball team of Harvard started wearing black sweaters as their uniforms in which you could see the crimson coloured ‘H’ above their hearts. After this, many sweaters and jerseys with the same ‘H’ on them came into the market in different style. Some put the H in the centre and others kept it on the side. With the passage of time, the fashion of the Letterman jackets kept evolving and people began to go crazy for them.
Nobody knows when it happened, but the fashion did not stay exclusively in the colleges and spread into the American high schools too. If you look at Phoenix Union High School’s 1911 yearbook, you will see pictures of students wearing such jackets. There is a photo in which a student is seen in a v-neck sweater which has ‘P’ sewn on the left top of it. After just a few years, in 1930, wool jackets with leather sleeves entered the market on which you would see letters and signatures of famous sports celebrities. Trends kept changing, new jackets kept coming with new styles. Letters written on the jackets were now more visible and had embroidery on them too. As these jackets were associated with varsity teams, people started referring to them as varsity jackets also.
The new style of these varsity jackets became so popular and strong that even the world class teams started wearing similar uniforms. The uniform manufacturers for baseball teams started making shirts with team logos and mascots on them for all kinds of matches and for the public as well. Baseball jackets were not only made of wool and leather but they also started coming in satin in the 1980’s. Just like American football and baseball, which are hugely popular, other sports team’s uniforms also started appearing in similar styles in 1980’s and 1990’s. Varsity jackets were everywhere.
New York Knicks, Los Angeles (and Oakland) Raiders were the most famous teams and when they started wearing the new varsity jackets, demand increased, and everybody out of the Ivy League started to have access to them. The famous bands like Run-D.M.C and N.W.A also adopted them. It was at this point in the 1980’s that Varsity jackets entered the conscience of the UK market and it was music and celebrity that drove sales.
The varsity jacket was as popular as it was affordable and that is why it was seen in both elite and urban street gatherings. The brand Stussy is still loved by the people as a premium varsity jacket maker. It has introduced a great variety of products which have also been produced in collaboration with Nike and Bape.
These days, luxury sweat-wear has been on the rise and that has put varsity jackets in the fuzzy grey area between street and high fashion. Paul Smith has been over the market recently and so too Lavenham x H by Harris products are getting widespread.
Nobody knows where the trend is going to go but new releases show that there are no signs of its appeal diminishing.