The History of the Letterman sweater started in 1865 at Harvard University.
That year, the Harvard baseball team added an ‘H’ to their gray flannel shirts in an Old English font. These became known as lettermans.
In 1875, the Harvard football team began to use the ‘H’ as well.
Back then, the team captain could allow a player to keep the shirts if that player played in an important game, typically Princeton or Yale. If a player didn’t play in those important games, he’d have to give the jersey back. This is thought to be the precursor for varsity letter awards and how getting “lettered” became prestigious.
It wasn’t until around 1891 that the letterman sweater came about. It was worn by the Harvard baseball players. Originally, it was a pullover black sweater with a Crimson ‘H’ on the left breast area. This branched out into cardigan letterman sweaters. Nowadays, if worn as a pullover, the letter is usually centered on the chest. If a cardigan, the letter is typically placed on the left.
By the early part of the 20th century, the varsity letter on a jacket gained popularity. By 1930, those jackets were wool with leather sleeves.
Since then, letterman jackets and sweaters have made their way into the major leagues, street fashion and sorta kinda into high fashion.
During my first year in high school, we received letters during our first year of achievement, but it wasn’t until the latter part of Junior year that a jacket was given out. I have two letters that survive in the pages of a photo album, always waiting and waiting for me to get off my bum and find the right sweater to attach them to, but possibly the reason that never happened was because our school colors changed during my first two years. My first letter became out dated as the school decided to change to Bright Gold and “New” Blue.” The old letter was considered “old gold” and “old blue.” I had a hard time with this change. It seems silly to say that out loud, but that doesn’t make it any less true. My dad graduated from the same high school and his class had used the “old gold” and “old blue” colors. My heart sank with each thing that got changed – the letters, the uniforms…even the curtains over the stage in the cafeterias at all the schools. Maybe no one else noticed it or cared, but I mourned it.
I didn’t take to the new colors well, so I rejected placing those on a sweater. I sincerely wanted to use the old letter, but in defiance I chose not to do that either. So for all these years, those letters have stayed right where they landed after I earned them.
Lettering also changed during the course of my going to high school. At some point, they stopped handing out letters the first year and eventually, only seniors got letters and jackets. By then, letters on the jacket included all manner of things (pins of all different sorts) and a jacket also included other patches (such as year of graduation, a championship if there was one).
A part of me missed out on the experience of wearing my letters because of my stubbornness, so when I saw this sweater, I knew I wanted it. This one has a ‘B’ on it with three slash marks. During my graduation year this would mean that you had played for three years and lettered in your fourth.
Now I’m curious, how was lettering done at your high school?
PS: For the record, I lettered in marching band (flute) and softball. I didn’t march or play senior year, so no jacket.
PPS: You can see Diesel here.