They tell a story and are an interesting landscape on an otherwise inconsequential article of clothing. Hard earned and symbolic, the patches that are placed on a letterman jacket or sweater carry with them significance for the wearer as well as the observer. Knowing where to place each patch a player scores throughout his academic career is a matter of understanding the origins and significance of the longstanding symbol of success, the letterman jacket.

Letterman Jacket History

The origin of today’s version of colorful letterman jackets had a simple beginning. The Harvard University sports teams had an “H” embroidered on their gray flannel shirts to distinguish them during official games in the late 1800s. As a nod to a player’s prowess, they were allowed to keep the shirts after important games as a badge of honor. This morphed into sweaters and then leather baseball jackets, becoming a commemoration of students' athletic, academic, musical or other significant gains and activities during their high school or college career.

How Letterman Jackets are Earned

Also called varsity jackets, a letterman jacket is earned once a school decides that the student has earned her first letter in a subject or sport. Varsity letters are an honor to receive and should be worn with reverence for the subject and the school. The letters stand for hard work and dedication by the students toward their goal in a subject. They have proven they have the fortitude to strive to be a standout and assist others in being their best selves. They have proven to be a positive contributor to the stellar reputation of the institution they attend.

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Letter Jacket Patch Placement

Most letterman jackets are two-toned with a collared band showing off both colors. The colors are typically those of the school. The main panels of the jacket have the school’s official colors. Letterman jacket patches placement is no small thing. Each patch was earned and deserves its place on the meaningful piece of clothing. Letter jacket patch placement is usually decided by the institution that is giving the meritorious achievement letter. However, aside from the embroidered name of the student, school name and subject or sport that the jacket is honoring, students are allowed to place patches where they think they will have the most impact and effect. The year of graduation is nearly always placed on the upper arm of the jacket or just below the front pocket of the jacket if it has one.

The style of the varsity or letterman jacket has bled into everyday fashion for everyone. Letterman jacket examples in subculture include those designed and worn by celebrity fashionistas.

About the Author

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.