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Letterman and Varsity Culture in Universities

The student fashion game has always been strong. And while summers are when people can really flaunt their physiques, it is the fall and winter when chic jackets and overcoats make their presence known. Of the numerous types of jackets common these days, varsity and letterman jackets are two types that refuse to go out of fashion for athletes and students in particular. 

So, what is it about these jackets that prevents them from going out of fashion? Well, it has a lot to do with the appeal and relevance attached to them. The words varsity and letterman are often used interchangeably, but in fact, both these varieties are unique in their own respect. Here, we dive into some of the details about these jackets and why they are popular. 

Letterman vs. Varsity Jackets

Let’s start off by outlining how these two types of jackets are different from one another:


Tracing their origin back to 1865, both varsity and letterman jackets have evolved from the same concept. However, today, there are numerous differences between each. While certain design elements are still shared by both types, letterman jackets are characterized by badges and patches that are customized for every individual. 

These patches are personalized in a wide variety of ways. For instance, there are custom chenille patches available that can be adorned with a person’s name, initials, or any other significant achievement that they want to display. It is this distinctive touch that sets a letterman jacket apart from varsity jackets in particular. 

Over the years, since letterman jackets carry personalized patches on their sleeves, a variety of iterations for the trendy apparel choice have been introduced. These transformations include printed designs, metallic patches, and even leather sleeves, each of which adds a more contemporary and stylish vibe to the jacket that has been popular for more than a century. 


Varsity jackets, also known as college jackets, have identical origins to the letterman. In fact, back then, this piece of clothing was known exclusively as the varsity jacket. They are frequently made of leather, wool, or a combination of the two. They have a collar, knit cuffs, and snap-front fastening as part of their standard design. 

Additionally, a prominent number, letter, symbol, or other noticeable emblem that denotes the team or institution the wearer is affiliated with is typically sewn on the front or back of the jacket. It is important to note that the letters and numbers mentioned above are frequently created using felt or chenille and are painstakingly stitched into the jacket in order to give the item a personalized touch.

History and evolution

The first “varsity” jacket worn in recorded history was back in 1865 when the Harvard baseball team adorned them featuring the letter “H” sewn on the chest. Since the letter was sewn and not a patch, the jacket is still regarded as a varsity one. However, by the early 1900s, these two distinct apparel choices had begun to differentiate themselves. 

Both jackets still share a lot of features like the snap-front closure, the materials they are made of (wool, leather, or a combination of these two), ban collars, and knitted cuffs. They are differentiated by the way they are customized, though, mainly by the patches that letterman jackets have on their sleeves. This tradition became popular during the 1950s and has continued since. 

Today, letterman jackets are taken as more than just a winter apparel choice, and they are not just limited to athletes. Several modern universities award customized letterman jackets to significant achievers in fields like academics, art, and music, to name a few. They have become memorabilia of sorts that proudly remind the wearer of what they’ve accomplished through life. 

Reasons why they are popular

Despite the fact that there is only a subtle difference between them, varsity and letterman jackets alike continue to retain their popularity amongst students and athletes. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Varsity and letterman jackets have evolved in style and design to keep up with modern times. They don’t look outdated or vintage in any way,
  • Varsity jackets are popular among students, especially those who are part of student bodies or sports teams during their college or high school years. These jackets serve as a reminder for them both during student life and beyond,
  • Varsity jackets also act as symbols of support and embodying a certain message. Instead of carrying placards or banners to showcase the message for a cause or the tagline of your team, a customized jacket can do the trick just as well,
  • Letterman jackets are much more personal, and that is the reason behind their continued popularity. The patches that adorn their sleeves are not general messages of support or indication of team membership, but they signify individual achievements,
  • People tend to cherish their letterman jackets throughout their lives because they are a reminder of achievements that came from extensive passion, dedication, and hard work,
  • Letterman jackets are also not just restricted to school years because any other achievement at any point in your life, like winning a shooting competition or participating in a unique rally, can also become a patch to go on your jacket,
  • Varsity and letterman jackets both have become popular beyond athletics and academics. Today, they are more of a fashion statement that may not have anything to do with these two fields. It’s just that they are cool and stylish to wear. 

Letterman and Varsity jackets in modern fashion

Whoever said letterman and varsity jackets were limited to school students and college athletes? Well, that might have been the case during the 1900s but not anymore. In fact, last year, Louis Vuitton had a lot of their male models inspire a trend that made these jackets a popular street style. Want to see how they were paired with modern apparel choices? You can check out this article in the Vogue

More commonly, varsity jackets are seen as part of modern street culture because they have personalization elements integrated into the fabric. Letterman jackets take a back seat because the patches and symbols they adorn don’t settle well into the vibe you would want to carry to a concert or a party. 


Letterman and varsity jackets in universities are still a mainstream fashion trend. And they are much more than just a style statement. For many, they are proud symbols of achievements and treasured mementos from some of the best times in their lives. They are iconic and timeless, a fact that is supported by the popularity that has held strong for almost two centuries now.