The varsity jacket comes of age

Refined new takes on the classic varsity jacket are taking the field this season, says Tom Stubbs

Ralph Lauren Purple Label suede bomber, £4,630
Ralph Lauren Purple Label suede bomber, £4,630

Varsity jackets could be considered a young man’s game, but this season designers have taken the classic style and refined its features, which is exciting for middle-aged prep fans like me. Rendered in leather and suede, some of these jackets are splendidly luxurious, while others exhibit sporty, low-key cool.

Rob Lowe in Oxford Blues (1984) wearing a letterman jacket
Rob Lowe in Oxford Blues (1984) wearing a letterman jacket | Image: Alamy

The varsity style – or letterman, as it’s also known – is thought to have originated at Harvard, first worn by the university’s baseball team of 1865. Typically, the jackets have a boiled-wool body, contrasting leather sleeves and striped, knitted collar, cuffs and hem, and are bestowed on students who’ve earned a place on a team, with a crest, emblem or large letter denoting the affiliation. But it’s also been purloined for wider casualwear, typifying Ivy League style to notable effect.

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Approachable hits of off-duty style, Billionaire’s leather varsity jackets (£1,950) bear a discreet crest and are designed in single or subtly contrasting tones such as deep burgundy, blue and black. The black suede version (£1,840) is a more subdued take, while the knitted sleeves nod to the style’s heritage. Coach’s leather varsity jacket (£595) in chocolate and black is tonally harmonious, but I particularly like the souvenir slate-grey and black leather (£795), which shows off the popper detailing of the original baseball style.

From left: Berluti suede flight jacket, £5,150. Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello wool and leather jacket, £1,450. Louis Vuitton cotton and leather jacket, £2,910
From left: Berluti suede flight jacket, £5,150. Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello wool and leather jacket, £1,450. Louis Vuitton cotton and leather jacket, £2,910

A graphic, sporty leather version (£790) comes from Iceberg, where black leather is emblazoned with a red knitted logo on the sleeve. Similarly sporty, albeit with a distinctive ’80s look, is Gucci’s multicolour nappa bomber (£5,250) with knit details – effectively a bold hybrid tracksuit top. The Italian house also has a black leather version (£2,900) with green and red collar and cuffs inspired by its signature webbing.

From left: Iceberg leather jacket, £790. Celine by Hedi Slimane wool and leather jacket, £2,700
From left: Iceberg leather jacket, £790. Celine by Hedi Slimane wool and leather jacket, £2,700

While Italian leather heritage brand Valstar has a scarlet suede varsity jacket (£1,100) with super-soft nappa sleeves in its ready-to-wear line, it also offers a made-to-measure version in different hides and colours. “This is our varsity take on the classic A1 flying jacket,” says CEO Matteo Bozzalla. “As well as different leather outers, customers can choose cashmere, Casentino wool and printed-viscose linings.” Specifying which letter in which style appears on the chest can even facilitate new sporting-collegiate affiliations.

From left: Valstar suede and nappa jacket, £1,100. Gucci leather jacket, £2,900. Billionaire leather jacket, £1,950
From left: Valstar suede and nappa jacket, £1,100. Gucci leather jacket, £2,900. Billionaire leather jacket, £1,950

Other spirited versions include Louis Vuitton’s black cashmere/wool varsity jacket (£3,850), with an oversized L at the front and contrasting white leather details. There’s also a pared-down take in leather and cotton with front embroidery (£2,910). In a similar vein, Saint Laurent’s varsity jacket (£1,450) has white leather details around the shoulders, with a classic striped ribbed collar, cuff and waistband. It comes in red or black with a white trim. Balmain has worked exotic skins into the mix with a black leather varsity jacket with python sleeves (£3,800), making for a slick eveningwear rendition.

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Some of this season’s leather and suede bomber styles are more like vintage flying jackets, with conventional tailored collars but varsity-inspired detailing. Berluti’s navy suede flight jacket (£5,150) is sumptuous yet subtle, with a capital B and 1895 PARIS on the chest. Celine’s grey wool jacket (£2,700) has a classic collar and black leather detailing at the shoulders, snap buttons and striped knitted cuffs and waist. And Ralph Lauren Purple Label’s suede bomber (£4,630, main picture) channels the brand’s equestrian heritage – bridlework along the trim, graphic decoration on the sleeve. It’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and surprisingly lightweight.

These new varsity jackets are a more traditional alternative to the luxury sportswear that’s dominated menswear in recent years – retro, fun, a badge of honour to aim for this season.

@styleanderror

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