CLIQUE WEAR: Varsity furious, Varsity beaten, but Varsity free!
Man has sported emblems in the name of survival for centuries. These tags displayed their family’s identity, stopped them getting roughed up in the woods, or simply avoided a stray blow from an axe during melees on the battlefield.
The knights and musketeers have long since faded away, taking with them their blazers and doublets. But the American Ivy League universities have reclaimed the trend with the letter sweater and the varsity jacket, now worn by their athletes for inter-campus competitions and embellished with insignia for each victory.
While these clothes were traditionally won through sporting triumph, they quickly spread to less energetic students and finally to local rockers. Perhaps in the hope of chatting up high-class chicks?
It’s interesting to see that the pioneers of these clothes are once again at the two extremes of the food chain: students from wealthy families, and American and English kids from the working classes.
This double fashion passion can be observed several times over during the 20th century. But the arrival of the Internet enabled the popularisation of the smallest trend by making it available to all, squashing the concept of “true fans in the know.”
For example, for thirty years Lacoste polo shirts only appealed to dentists in the south and guys from the projects. Then the wave of raw denim, beards and Stan Smith came and changed the game.
Now, a neurotic fashion sense shared by these two social classes could mean they are able to predict and adopt nascent trends together and meet halfway, but I digress.
Varsity clothing was worn non-stop from the fifties until the eighties, sported by Europe’s brand of rockabillies, tying in with fifties trends, batcave fashion and even the Parisian counterparts of punks and panthers.
Surprisingly, when the trend arrived in Europe it bypassed the uniforms of the wealthier areas, giving its wearers both a certain credibility and the risk of losing their new threads in altercations in the metro.
These rock-born trends started fading, and slipped out of the spotlight at the same time as the varsity jacket when electro and hip hop started striking chords with the younger generations. But legends never really die, and the varsity jacket made a comeback in the early 90s with a ghastly new look, revamped by the biggest US street-wear brands such as Pelle Pelle, Mark Echo and Walter Davucci.
The immortal varsity jacket is still here today. It’s not in a great way, its original meaning is a distant memory, and the new black-on-black version has been mangled ad nauseam by both designers and high-street brands.
But we haven’t heard the last of the varsity jacket. There will always be a Golden Bear waiting for its chance to shine.