The letterman jacket has become an American staple. High school students across the country strive to achieve the honor of a Letterman jacket. So, how did this tried and true honor come to be?
Letterman jackets first appeared on Harvard baseball players in 1865. Legend says that all team members of the 1865 baseball team were given red knitted sweaters to keep warm during chilly morning practices. The boys decided to sew large fabric H’s on the front so you could tell which team they were a part of. The coaches took a liking to these new looking sweaters but said that only those who played in the years most momentous games would be allowed to keep them at the end of the season. These lucky few were dubbed the Letterman Team.
Ten years later in 1875, the Harvard football team adopted the letterman jacket. They kept the same principle, everyone received the sweater but only those who played in the most important games were allowed to keep it. Many of these players were are part of both the football and baseball program. They thought that instead of having two separate sweaters, it would be better to add something showing that they had received both merits. It was decided upon that for each letterman team you made, you would receive an extra stripe on the sleeves of your original sweater.
It wasn’t until 1931 that the letter jacket we know and love came to be. The new letterman jackets sported leather sleeves with a large emblem on the left side to show what organization you belonged to. This style was based on bomber jackets that came into fashion twenty years prior.
Ninety years after its creation the letter jacket became one of the best-known fashion trends of all time. The classic American look was a teenage boy wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and of course his letterman. It became customary the girls would sport their boyfriend's letterman jackets at his sporting events. Letterman jackets also took on a new meaning. They dawned a new name the Varsity jacket, now only those who made varsity teams would be allowed to wear them.
In 1972 the Title XI law was passed. This law stated, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” That’s a long way of saying when it comes to athletics men and women should be considered equal. Shortly after girls teams were formed for every sport with a male counterpart. One inconsistency many of the girls noticed was they were not receiving letterman awards. Girls began to demand that they receive the same athletic honors as fellow male students. So roughly ten years after Title XI was passed the first female letterman jacket was created.
In the late 1980’s letterman jackets became a major part of pop culture. Due too many hip hop artist such as Run DMC and Dr. Dre sporting their own idea of letterman jackets in many of their music videos. At this point letterman jackets no longer became a symbol of athletic achievement but of how in tune you were with pop culture. Every one and their dog owned some form of letter jacket and multiple companies were made specifically for their manufacturing.
156 years after the letter jackets creation it has become a classic American staple. It has also become as symbol of American history and struggles. It shows how America values athletics above academics. It shows how women have to fight for equal rights even after it should’ve been given to them. It shows how forever and always there will be a class system even amongst children. So, I implore you the next time you see a letterman jacket, think deeper about what it actually symbolizes.