A Brief History of the Varsity Jacket


Synonymous with success and excellence, the iconic Varsity Jacket has stood the test of time.

As part of HÖRFA’s Summer 2020 Collection, our brand-new Varsity jackets have been added to this new season’s range.

Quintessentially American, if you played a sport in a US high school then you just couldn’t wait to get your Varsity letter. That meant you could officially have a varsity jacket and proudly strut your stuff in the school hallways showing off the fashion that signified you as an athlete.

Varsity jackets remain one of the biggest traditions in high schools in the US today. The jackets themselves have not changed much, keeping their tradition alive.

This custom can be traced back over 150 years when, in 1865, the coaches of Harvard’s baseball team wanted a way to distinguish their best players and to reward them for their athletic prowess. They decided on a wearable identification, so they had thick, wool sweaters made and embellished them with an oversized H. The coaches dubbed the recipients of these sweaters as “The Letterman”. Players vied for the coveted sports jerseys and upped their game to achieve one.

 

A decade later, in 1875, the football team at Harvard also adopted the Letterman program for their team; again, in a way to acknowledge the hard work and athletic ability of the key players on the team.

By making the Letterman an exclusive club, other players worked hard to join and soon everyone wanted to be seen walking around campus in a Letterman sweater.

In the early 1900s, the prestige of the Letterman sweaters remained as strong as ever, but it was time for an upgrade. Instead of a wool sweater, the Letterman became a jacket. The wool jacket with leather sleeves was more substantial than a sweater and still distinguished the outstanding players on the team. For more than half a century the Letterman sweater existed alongside the Letterman, now commonly known as the varsity jacket.

Throughout the first half of the 1900s, Letterman sweaters and jackets were popular among the male athletes that wore them, but, in the 1950s, they became a fashion trend, which historically happens often with uniforms. The Letterman sweaters were a classic and iconic fifties teen trend for both boys and girls. Girls wore them over their pedal pushers or poodle skirts. Boys wore them with their blue jeans to show their school spirit.

It then became a symbol of love, loyalty, and faithfulness, as a high school or college boy often loaned his sweater or jacket to his girlfriend as a symbol of his affection and commitment. And the girl proudly wore it as a public display of her relationship. The jacket showed the whole school that she belonged to her boyfriend.

In 1972, Congress passed Title IX, a law that bans discrimination against female athletes and sports. With that, more and more female high school and college athletes demanded that their performances be recognised with symbols of achievement, such as varsity letters. Female basketball, volleyball, softball, and field hockey players, as well as cheerleaders and track stars, were presented with varsity letters to wear on their own Letterman jackets. 

The Letterman tradition is strong in high schools and colleges across the States, but the varsity letter is no longer strictly reserved for athletic achievements. It is possible to earn a varsity letter in band, choir, robotics, academic excellence, sports, debates, arts and more.

The exclusiveness of the varsity jacket may have expanded to wider groups, but the motivation behind it – achieving excellence – remains the same.

What can you pair Varsity jackets with?

  • Jeans
  • Chinos
  • Shorts
  • Cargo trousers
  • Joggers

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