Rooted in university sports, varsity jackets encapsulate the aesthetic of American college life, associated with teamwork, youth, and campus living. Dating back to 1865, the Varsity Jacket, or Letterman Jacket, is reintroduced annually by fashion designers and brands, especially in streetwear. Its “customizable” nature with letter-shaped patches (hence the name “Letterman”) representing college affiliation contributes to its enduring popularity.
We’ve seen the jacket on the runway in Nigo‘s debut collection for Kenzo and recently worn in Pharrell Williams’ Louis Vuitton Menswear models. Brands like OFF-White have adopted it as a style manifesto, while designers like Yoshij Yamamoto add their minimalistic signature to essential models in a pure Japanese style. Acne Studio offers a version without excessive ornamentation but with vibrant colors like emerald green and magenta. Philipp Plein merges it with oriental culture, adding patches inspired by Chinese tradition. Each brand creates its interpretation of the Varsity, prompting the question: which one to choose?
The Varsity was created to demonstrate athletic prowess, not just academic achievement. Letters, pins, and patches were a display of merits in sports and extracurricular activities, akin to military ranks. The concept encouraged students to excel but could disadvantage those who couldn’t, for various reasons.
Today, the Varsity Jacket has replaced school decorations with those of renowned streetwear brands, featuring patches and pins inspired by sports, punk aesthetics, or symbols associated with peace and fashion. While the tradition has faded in current American colleges, some rare examples persist. One college in Tigard, Oregon, allows students to customize Letterman jackets, keeping them at the end of their studies, a departure from the original requirement to return them.
Among the offerings for the Holiday 2023/24 season are brands like LMC (Lost Management Cities) with the Classic Wool Varsity Jacket in warm bottle green. It features a stylized cursive LMC patch on the front, tonal collar, snap buttons, and striped cuffs. Patta x Tommy presents a Varsity mix of mustard and black leather and wool, with a large Hilfiger ‘H’ on the front and overlapping Patta logo. Tommy Hilfiger offers a Varsity jacket in black and gray, staying true to its IVY Style origins, with leather sleeves and inserts, embroidered Tommy logo, and Tommy Jeans lettering on the back.
One reason for the enduring popularity of varsity jackets is their versatility. They can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion, adding a preppy touch to casual wear or a street-style edge to formal attire.
With the rise of “Old Money” and “Prep Revival” trends in 2023, the Varsity jacket has made a strong comeback, playing a crucial role. Modernized fabrics and fits suited to contemporary lifestyles have also contributed to its adaptability across seasons and weather conditions.