Varsity Jacket History – Its Origin and Pop Culture importance through the years

Varsity Jacket History – Its Origin and Pop Culture importance through the years

Varsity Jacket history is very rich because this garment is classy. In fact, it carries with it entire American sports imagery. But why are these jackets called letterman jackets and what is the story behind their evolution. After all, these jackets must have something important that made them the iconic garment they are. In this blog, we will explore the rich history of letterman jackets and will also discuss the events – the facts – that have made them so popular among students and everyone really. So, if you want to know about the history of high school letterman jackets, you should read till the very end. Here we go!

Varsity Jacket History: Evolution through the years!

As aforementioned, varsity jacket history is very rich – and diverse. Originally, this jacket was made from wool only and had leather sleeves and pockets. Moreover, on the chest of these jackets you could have a large letter. And as you might have guessed, this letter on the chest is the reason everyone started calling it “Letterman Jacket.” Today, you can customize your letterman jackets in so many ways. In fact, you can make these jackets from a wide range of materials as well. But how did this happen? That is something worth a read. let’s begin:

Origin of the Varsity Jacket

The first step in Varsity Jacket history is its origin. After all, almost everyone knows that it is worn by the likes of Elvis Presley, James Dean and Michael Jackson. But does anyone know how it was made? Like, who started this trend of varsity jackets in high schools especially?

Harvard University Baseball team wore the first ever varsity jacket

Though it was different from the jackets of today, the first ever varsity jacket was worn by the baseball team of Harvard university in 1865. It was very distinctive and instantly became everyone’s favorite. As aforementioned, it was made from wool and had leather sleeves and pockets with a big Letter – H, for Harvard – on the chest.
 "The varsity jacket has a rich history dating back to early 1865 when it was first worn by student athletes at Harvard University. Over time, it evolved from a symbol of athletic achievement to a fashion statement embraced by youth culture worldwide." - Fashion Historian, Smithsonian Magazine



Did you Know?

The players of the Harvard University Baseball team came up with the idea to embroider “H” on the chest of varsity jackets – or so the rumor says.
According to the Varsity jacket history, the letterman jackets were a garment of enormous value. After all, athletes were wearing it – and sports were the talk of the town. In fact, you should also know that wearing this jacket was a trophy in itself. Anyone who had it was nothing short of an ELITE. What’s more, every member of the team had it – wore it. But only top athletes could keep it. For example, if the players did not play much and only sat on the bench, then they had to return their jackets at the end of the match/season.

How did Varsity Jackets become a trend?

Well, according to the varsity jacket history, the athletes made these jackets a trend. How? Well, their fans and supporters tried to copy their look and started wearing the same jackets. In fact, the athletes themselves started to wear jerseys with letterman – if not the jacket itself – off the field to show their pride. Clearly, the best aspect of letterman jackets is that it helps you show pride and gives you a sense of belonging. So, this aspect was true back in 1891 as well. This aspect is the reason as to why these jackets are such an amazingly trendy garment.

Early 1900s of Varsity Jacket History

When the football team realized what the baseball team was doing, they started doing the same: wearing varsity jackets. Moreover, the rule was the same for them as well. The athletes were allowed to wear the jacket while playing, but they must return these if their performance was bad. And you should know that their rival teams were from Yale and Princeton. So, the trend and idea were catching. Clearly, it spread like wildfire. In fact, soon enough, all the university teams and rival university teams were wearing Varsity Jackets with huge letter of their university’s initials stitched on the chest.

"My varsity jacket is more than just a piece of clothing; it represents years of hard work, dedication, and unforgettable memories on the field. It's a symbol of pride and accomplishment that I wear with honor." – Harvard University Athlete.

Addition of Ranking star on Varsity Jackets

When the idea of varsity jackets was normalized by the athletes and students, everyone decided to introduce a ranking system. For example, now that everyone was wearing letterman jackets, then there had to be a system to identify the best performers. So, this system was to embroider stars on the jacket. If you had a star or two on your jacket, then you were the captain or main player of the team.

Ivy League Universities with Varsity Jacket Trend for Athletes

College Cornell
In 1930, the varsity jacket of today – a near match – was born. Because the athletes started demanding heavy clothes to combat the winter chill, the manufacturers of the universities doubled the wool thickness and leather sleeves.

Fun Fact:

Not every student was allowed to embroider letters on their jackets. That’s right! Even though everyone was allowed to wear them, only the high-performance students could keep the letter. So, the jackets of top athletes and academically gifted students were the only ones embroidered with university letters – as the Varsity jacket history narrates. 

1980s – explosion in Varsity Jacket popularity

According to the varsity jacket history, popularity peaked in the 1980s. How? Well, the professional franchises of American Sports started taking interest in these jackets as well. In fact, the suppliers, every varsity jacket builder, also started making satin versions of these jackets. After all, it helped them contain the costs and expand the catchment area. Here are the professional teams that made their own versions of the Varsity Jackets:
  • Los Angeles Raiders
  • New York Knicks
  • Boston Celtics
When professional athletes started wearing these jackets, these became an instant pop culture – a hot topic for everyone and fashion enthusiasts. The people who supported these teams also started wearing their own varsity jackets to show that they supported these teams and professional athletes with pride. What’s more, mainstream culture also loved these jackets. In fact, Michael Jackson wore a red and gold varsity jacket with an “M” on the chest in the video for “Thriller”. When the fans saw this, they raved and raved and raved. Suddenly, everyone HAD to have a varsity jacket. Clearly, Michael Jackson was – and is – an idol. He was – and is – the heart throb of so many people. So, it was natural that people would want to adapt to his sense of fashion and style when he wore a varsity jacket in his music video.

Entry into Hip-hop Culture

This is the turning point in the Varsity Jacket history, but in a good way. Because these jackets were instantly popular – well-loved by everyone, hip-hop culture also welcomes these with open arms. In fact, some artists made it a point to often wear one and made their signature looks with these jackets. Namely, Run-D.M.C. and N.W.A. How was this the turning point? Well, it was so because the varsity jackets then became streetwear. The sports had swayed over these jackets for too long, but now anyone and everyone could wear it. It was a sense of style – it was fashion. As is the way with fashion, the varsity jacket faced many alterations till an extremely cool model with highly customizable options came to being. People were now placing Group Order for jackets that were differently customized and available in so many different colors.

1987 – 1989, Varsity Jacket History

Most people loved the classy – the traditional – style of varsity jackets. So, they ordered these jackets with wool bodies and leather sleeves. In fact, even Stüssy made varsity jackets using old production methods and traditional materials (wool and leather). This was around 1987. But again, most people also loved to have a bit of variety in their jacket. So, they went along with the reinterpretations. For example, the jackets that Homeboy Jacket and One Love designed in 1989. Undoubtedly, whichever option people preferred, it still added to the demand of these jackets. Even today, students love to have highly customizable options when they place orders for varsity jackets on Varsity Made. And whether they want traditional material or any other option, our Varsity Bomber jacket builder gives them the options that they desire. And now that you are aware of the varsity jacket history, you should take a look at the customizable options you have today for creating your own varsity jacket. Undoubtedly, it will help you understand how much the jackets have evolved over time – through the years. Additionally, it will show you the impact of different trends and cultures on these jackets. So, here we begin.

Customization Options in Varsity Jackets Today

All of the varsity jacket history has led to the customization options of today. So, let’s see what the available options are if you are planning to buy a jacket for yourself – made per your needs and preference.

Material and Style Customization:

You can create – customize – your varsity jacket with the following materials for the body:
  • Cotton Fleece
  • Cotton Twill
  • Cowhide Leather
  • Sheep Leather
  • Polyester Satin
  • Melton Wool

As for the style option, these are the available varieties:

Element Style Options
Front Closure Buttons or Zip
Sleeves Set-in or Raglan
Knitting Trendy Variety
Inside Choice of Lining
Hoodie Add or eliminate

Color Customization

Even in the varsity jacket history, two is the most that most letterman jackets have – 2 colors! But if you want to have a more trendy and catchy design, you can use 3 as well. The color selection depends on your preference. However, you should know that most people like to use the colors of their high school or organization. After all, it brings them a better sense of belonging and makes them stand out even when the colors are blending in with the organization or school uniforms. What’s more, the sleeves are mostly white on these jackets. You can have them in any color you want. But like 90% of the people keep them white for a better and trendy look. Here are the elements with customizable color options:
  • Buttons
  • Inside Lining
  • Knit Base
  • Pockets
  • Knit Lines
  • Zippers
  • Knit Border
  • Hood
If you keep varsity jacket history in mind, the most iconic jackets had a blend of colors that complement each other. So, try not to use colors that clash. Instead, use soft colors with vibrant ones. After all, it will give your varsity jacket the right color dimension and look.

Overall Design Customization

You must know from reading the varsity jacket history that there were not many design options initially. But today, there are as many design options as you want. In fact, this is the part where you truly showcase your creativity and customize a jacket that shows your personality and sense of style. Undoubtedly, this is the most important aspect of customizing a varsity jacket. Here are the varsity jacket elements and what options you have for designing/customizing them:

Front Center

You can use this area to write the name of your college or organization. Moreover, you should know that you have the option to choose any font you want.


Here, you can add commemorative, sports, and academic patches that reflect your performance and set you apart. What’s more, you can also use the pockets to add letters. And if you do add letters here, then you have the option to use any font that you like. Oh, and the emerging trend is to use this area for placing symbols or logos.


Clearly, throughout the varsity jacket history, the trend for sleeves has mostly remained the same. You can either have them plain, white. Or you can add the logo of your organization here. In fact, some people even use the sleeves for adding to the graduation year. Moreover, you can also use the sleeves to add symbols and badges – if you need or want to.

Back Center

This is the part of your varsity jacket that can truly make you stand out. If you are part of a team or something, you can use this area for the team mascot. Or you can use this area for your name – full or just the initial. Most students even use this area for their lucky or team numbers. Clearly, you can design it with anything you want. Just try not to overdo it – that will destroy the appeal of your jacket.

Conclusion on Varsity Jacket History

Varsity jacket history is very rich and diverse. From the idea behind these jackets to the trendy turning and finally cultural acceptance, these jackets are heart winners. The initial push in the popularity of these jackets from athletes – both professional and local. But the true push came from the artists who made it a pop culture identity and fashion wear that you can even wear on the streets. Today, there are so many customizable options available. And thanks to these customizable options, the history of varsity jackets is only going to grow with every coming year. This is the garment that is sure to stay a trend and make its way into every emerging decade as a popular option to show pride and a sense of belonging.
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