Unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably familiar with the classic Letterman Jacket worn by some of the greatest athletes and rappers throughout the past few decades. Now, with the recent launch of the Cherry Fukuoka x Saint Michael x Takashipom x Ready Made Official collab we thought it was time to take a deep-dive into the history of this iconic garment.
This trend which may appear new for some can actually be traced back to 1865 where the baseball players at Harvard University would wear a “letterman sweater”. This was a sleeveless thick knitted pullover, and it soon became a sign of prestige – if you played well you were allowed to keep the sweater after the season ended. And if you didn’t, well, your letterman privileges were taken away and you were no longer able to be the owner of one.
By 1930, the tradition had gained popularity with other universities, trickling down from Ivy Leagues to high schools, and the garment had evolved into the classic Varsity which we are all familiar with today incorporating the collared wool jacket and leather sleeves. The jacket derived its name from the varsity letter chenille patch emblazoned on its left breast, hence the alternative (arguably more common title) ‘Varsity Jacket’. But how did it shift from sports to streetwear you ask?
Well, it wasn’t long before the trend infiltrated other American sports such as basketball, and caught the eyes of merchandising manufacturers who replaced the leather sleeves with satin to keep the price down for the public. Since basketball was a sport with a large fan base, it was imperative to cater to all.
In 1983, the former staple of ‘preppy’ fashion crossed into popular culture when Michael Jackson debuted the music video for his hit song Thriller, and was seen by millions wearing a custom-made red Varsity jacket with the letter “M” on the chest. After that, you couldn’t get away from the jacket even if you tried.
Hip-hop groups such as Run DMC and NWA helped to make the Varsity a staple on the streets, and this was further cemented in 1987 when the legendary streetwear label Stüssy began producing their own… Fast forward to 1994 and even Princess Diana was seen sporting a custom-made Philadelphia Eagles’ Varsity!
The classic jackets have gone through the cycles of fashion trends, and we are currently living in the age of resurgence. In the space of the last 3 years we’ve seen releases from Supreme x New Era, OVO x BAPE and even Hello Kitty.
It is undeniable that Varsity’s are making a comeback, and unlike before they are no longer hard to find. Depending on your taste you can acquire one from the brands mentioned, your local vintage store and even any fast-fashion brand.
Today the Varsity is no longer a symbol of prestige, it is a defining feature of cool.
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