The History of the Letterman Jacket

h varsity letterHave you ever wondered how the wide receiver back in high school scored his varsity jacket? Do you know how the tradition began? With school starting again, we at PinProsPlus wanted to get behind our desk and teach you a quick lesson about this wonderful practice. Sit down and get ready for a dose of knowledge (note-taking optional!).


Humble Beginnings at Harvard

Athletes have been wearing letterman jackets – at least its equivalent – since the founding of this Ivy League school. The first incarnation was not a jacket or a special privilege received for a display of greatness or consistency on field. Back in 1865 the original uniforms for Harvard sports were simply thick knit sweaters. Then their baseball team sewed the letter H on their chests in the center of the uniform. The intention was to designate their school. What they did not intend was to become the original letterman and set the example for other schools. It set the precedent of being an honor to receive because those who did not play or perform well would have to return the letter at the end of the season. The players who earned the letter were those who deserved to keep it.


From Sweater to Jacket: Earning a Letter through Learning

As time passes everything changes and the letterman jacket is no different.  Players started keeping their jackets instead of returning them upon graduation and wearing them more frequently. Due to that, the fabric needed to be more resilient than those typically used for sweaters. So tradition changed to employ a jacketed style of clothing to display the school varsity letters. The criteria to earn a letter changed as well. Before the player had to be on the team, and then they had to perform well or play in at least half of the games for the season. Many schools today still hold students to the requirement of being on field for half of the quarters per season. Others want to ensure that their students are well-rounded young adults. To be able to play on varsity, the athlete needs to maintain a certain GPA, thus raising the importance of academics. Contemporary letterman are more than skilled athletes, they display prowess in all areas of life.


Letterman Patches and Jacket Pins: a Player’s Prideviking enamel pin

Letters are not the only symbol of pride showcased on varsity jackets. To show their achievements, athletes wear stripes or customized pins to tell the world about their team or what they have done. Patches signify how many years they were on varsity while pins may say what division tournament they have won. They combine to be a beacon of success in any athlete’s life.


Now you know a little more about the history of the letterman jacket and can be a teacher yourself when someone asks you why people wear them!  If you’re interested in creating Letterman jacket pins or custom Letterman patches for your team or specific player, feel free to reach out to us at PinProsPlus!