The Cool Comeback of the Varsity Jacket

Last Updated: June 12, 2024By

The Cool Comeback of the Varsity Jacket

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There are a few pieces of clothing as iconic – or as purely American – as the classic varsity jacket. Lately, it’s been making a major comeback, thanks to some big names in fashion. Prada showed off an all-leather version at Milan Fashion Week. Then, there were some hyped-up collabs between Gap and Palace, and Supreme and MM6 Maison Margiela. Even in the digital world, Louis Vuitton is selling an NFT version of a varsity jacket designed by Pharrell for around £7,000. Crazy, right?

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The varsity jacket is instantly recognizable with its two-tone leather sleeves and wool body. It’s been a symbol of jock culture in classic movies like “Teen Wolf” and “The Breakfast Club.” Michael Jackson rocked it on stage, and today, stars like Rihanna and Bella Hadid are sporting it.

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So, why is this all-American style making a global comeback?

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A Blast from the Past

The varsity jacket is “an odd bird in the world of fashion,” says Deirdre Clemente, a historian and curator of 20th-century American material culture. It’s stayed trendy for over a century while keeping its original vibe. The jacket started as a “letterman” sweater in the late 1800s at Ivy League schools, where only top athletes got to wear it.

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By the 1940s, the sweater turned into the jacket we know today, popping up on high school campuses. By the 50s and 60s, manufacturing advances meant anyone could get one, not just star athletes. By the 60s and 70s, it became a retro fashion statement, and by the 80s, with the rise of sportswear, companies were making varsity jackets with all sorts of designs and patches.

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Breaking Boundaries

For much of its history, the varsity jacket was mostly worn by white males. “Who wasn’t going to Harvard and lettering in golf? The Hispanic kid, the Black kid, the Asian kid,” says Clemente. But by the 90s, everyone was wearing them, especially in hip-hop culture. Artists like Diddy and Salt-N-Pepa made them super cool.

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Marissa Pelly, a New York stylist, says she always links varsity jackets with hip-hop. “I always saw cool rappers and artists rocking varsity jackets. It was like, anyone cool was wearing one.”

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A Symbol of Self-Expression

Brands get the varsity jacket’s appeal. Louis Vuitton’s digital version is as recognizable as their famous bags. Pelly thinks the jacket’s comeback is because it’s a great form of self-expression. Cult brands like Aimé Leon Dore are pushing this revival, selling a lifestyle and community, not just a jacket.

More Than Just Fashion

Some brands are digging deeper with their designs. Wales Bonner’s jackets pay tribute to historically Black universities and significant cultural events. Meanwhile, collaborations like Gap x Palace find the varsity jacket easy to work with – just add a patch, and you’re done.

Forever Cool

The varsity jacket keeps coming back because it was born cool, says Clemente. The Ivy League guys set the trends for American menswear for the first 50 years of fashion. So, it’s no wonder the varsity jacket is still a staple in American style.

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