The Tradition of the Varsity Letter

What?! A Letterman Bag instead of a Letterman Jacket? Isn’t that breaking tradition?

That is the question! There clearly is some confusion on the answer to this question, but a quick look
back through history will clear things right up!

Believe it or not, it all started with a fabric letter worn on the jersey of the top male baseball players at
Harvard University back in 1865. Shortly after, in 1891, the prestigious varsity letter was sewn onto
sweaters of male athletes, which allowed for off-the-field showcasing of accomplishments. Then, in the
early 1920s, parents and grandparents began sewing letters onto blankets. This particular display of the
varsity letter, lasted only a short period as parents, teachers, coaches and athletes desired a more
public, and outward, showcase of dedication and hard work.

The 1930s witnessed the first-ever varsity letterman jacket. With colors of the school prominently
displayed on wool and leather, angled pocket design, and horizontal stripe across the waistline, and
large surface area for additional medals, pins and patches, this design remained popular for almost 100
years (still remains popular in pockets across America). Over time, male and female students began to
be recognized for their excellence in athletics/sports, but also in academics and the arts.
The letterman jacket reached peak popularity beginning the 1970s and 1980s. As time went on,
however, the jackets began their gradual decline on a national level. While the exact causes for the
decline in jackets remains unknown, a number of reasons have been thrown around. Warmer climates,
sizing and wait times for the jacket, and skyrocketing price tags are some possible reasons (jackets today
cost up to $450 after customization).

So now we have varsity letters being handed out for excellence, to all students for sports, arts and the
academics. Parents found themselves asking the question, “What will hard working and dedicated
students do if they’ve earned the varsity letter, but don’t want a jacket?” Should they toss them into
drawers or tape them to their mirrors, where only immediate family might catch a glimpse?

And so the tradition of the varsity letter evolves! Bottom line, throughout the years the story has
continued to change, from WHO can earn a Varsity letter and WHAT it is displayed on. The only part of
this story that has NOT changed is the Achievement of earning a Varsity letter, the Honor in proudly
displaying it for others to see to inspire and carry on the tradition of earning the Varsity letter. Some will
continue to choose the jkt, others, like we’ve seen through history will choose something else – like a
practical Letterman Bag that can showcase their achievements all year long!

So to answer the question, “Isn’t a Letterman Bag breaking tradition?” The answer is no.
The tradition is earning the varsity letter.  The showcase has evolved - from varsity letters showcased on jerseys by male athletes only, to today, where varsity letters are displayed on a practical Letterman Bag.  

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