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The History of Varsity Jackets

A warm, smoke-scented jacket on a crisp fall night. Big felt letters with your graduation year that draw smiles and high-fives from your classmates. Varsity jackets evoke a sense of being young and becoming a fully-formed teenage gladiator. Receiving one was a right of passage for every player that wanted to make “the big leagues.” A simple garment represented a blend of team spirit and personal achievement. For others, it was a way to promote their team and a sense of belonging–whether it was with a school or an entire city. No other piece of outerwear can talk such a big game.

In the heat of summer, it’s hard to imagine that football games and bonfires are right around the corner. However, as I reach into my closet and see my old varsity jacket hanging up, the temptation to throw it on over my favorite graphic tee returns.


A 1950s-era Rich-Knit varsity jacket for sale on Grailed. Image via garagesalevip/Grailed.

Waist-length and sporty, this garment is built for athletes. They feature minimalist collars, from knitted mandarin-styles to point collars. The body of the jacket is typically assembled with melton or boiled wool — as the name implies, this fabric is treated in hot water which makes it dense and durable while also giving it a felted texture. Sleeves are crafted from leather or faux leather with ribbed cuffs, and a ribbed waistband ensures the waist fits closely.

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