History Of The Varsity Jacket – Where Did The Trend Begin?


What makes varsity jackets a well-loved fashion piece?

When, where, and how the trend began?

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and discover the long history of this timeless wardrobe piece.


Origins of the varsity jacket

Also known as letterman or letter jacket, the varsity jackets that we know now didn’t exist until the 1900s.

Before varsity jackets, were letterman sweaters which originated around 1865 and were worn by Harvard University’s baseball team. The original design looked entirely different from the modern style. They were not jackets but were a thick knit sweater that bear a bold letter ‘H’ on the left chest part. These letterman pullovers or cardigans were exclusively worn as a uniform by the baseball varsity of the Ivy League school.

Back in those days, wearing this apparel came with strict rules. Only the best athletes get to wear them. If you’ve shown good performance, you’ll be able to keep the jersey throughout the season. However, if you’ve been ‘benched’ for the season, be ready to return your uniform. This sense of elitism added to the competitive allure of the lettered cardigan. This tough requirement made letterman jersey equated to excellence and athleticism.

Soon after, Harvard’s football team followed suit and adapted lettered sweater. As years pass by, more athletic teams and schools started creating and wearing their unique version of the lettered uniform. Each team tweaked the sweater’s details to make them unique such as using a different letter, changing the font style and size, and moving around its placement. The style has likewise changed veering towards the side of the sweater.

Early years of the varsity jacket

By the early twentieth century, lettermen cardigans have become a staple in many high schools. Evidence of its popularity is a 1911 photograph showing a student from Phoenix Union High School sporting a lettered sweater.

With the growing popularity of the clothing style, athletes have been looking for something versatile and comfy. It was in the thirties when the varsity jackets were introduced. The new sportswear was made up of a wool body contrasted by leather sleeves and accented by a bold letter on the side. The prominent letter signified the respective school; hence, the varsity jacket became a symbol of authority.

To receive a letter, an athlete needs to showcase his prowess. It was a badge of honor that proves your athleticism. Wearing a varsity jacket with your school’s iconic symbol is a source of pride.

Modern-day varsity jackets

In the mid-1900s,, the popularity of the varsity jacket has spread across the world of athletics. Major athletic teams and famous sports celebrities have started wearing these versatile pieces. Commercial manufacturers of sporting apparels, initially with baseball and football teams, began mass producing this type of jacket with the team’s logo or icon. Sports fans wore the jackets at games – and even outside of it.

By 1980’s the material used also changed – from wool to satin. In the next decade, the varsity jacket has been adopted in many other major sporting teams. As famous teams started wearing this apparel, everybody wanted a piece of it.

Given its popularity, it’s not surprising how the letterman jackets have easily crossed-over from the world of sports to the world of fashion. Aside from sports celebrities, Hollywood celebs have also shown affection to the varsity jacket.

Today, modern varsity jackets come in all styles, designs, materials, and colors. Some manufacturers like Varsity Base even let you customize your own varsity jacket. Despite a tremendous transformation, lettered jackets remain very popular and trendy – and that’s not surprising considering the versatility and stylishness of this timeless wardrobe piece!