Letter Perfect: The History of Varsity Jackets

By | June 28, 2019

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Richie Cunningham wearing an iconic varsity jacket in a scene from TV's "Happy Days". (filmaffinity.com)

If you played a sport in high school, you probably couldn’t wait to get your Varsity letter. That meant you could officially have a varsity jacket, or letterman jacket, and proudly strut the school hallways showing off the fashion that designated you as an athlete. Letterman jackets remain one of the biggest traditions in high school’s today. The jackets themselves have not changed much—still a woolen coat with leather arms. Have you ever stopped to think about this high school athletic tradition and how it originated? 

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Harvard baseball team--the first to wear varsity letters. (diplomaframe.com)

Harvard Baseball, circa 1865

In 1865, the coaches of Harvard’s baseball team wanted a way to distinguish the best players and to reward them for their athletic prowess. They decided on a wearable. They had thick, wool sweaters made and embellished them with an over-sized H. The coaches dubbed the recipients of these sweaters as “the Letterman.” Players vied for the coveted sweaters and, therefore, upped their game.