Jock Envy: A Roundup Of Varsity Sweaters

There’s just something about this time of year — the fact that school’s back in session, the way the leaves are changing, all the football that’s being played — that makes autumn feel very collegiate.

The varsity sweater channels this state of mind. It evokes memories, whether real or idealized, of strolls across leaf-strewn quads and afternoons at the football stadium. It keeps you as warm as a light jacket would, but let’s you play around a little more with color and design.

Above is future Nobel-prize winner Ralph Bunche (right) at Harvard; the C is no doubt from his earlier scholastic career, and could stand for the California in UCLA, his undergraduate school.

This fall there are plenty of varsity and collegiate sweaters to choose from. They’re fantasy clothes for sure, and are best admired for their nostalgic design.

Given that these are fantasy clothes, it’s not surprising that dream-weaver Ralph Lauren is a big exponent. Here’s a shawl pullover from Rugby:

And here’s a shawl cardigan:

At, you can also make your own cardigan, adding a patch with any letter of the alphabet, a bulldog face, football, or even skull & bones.

On the more subdued side is this pullover from Polo Ralph Lauren:

Rather tame compared to this from a few seasons ago, perhaps Polo’s most spectacular:

Looks straight out of a JC Leyendecker illustration:

There’s also lots of collegiate stuff at Tommy Hilfiger, such as this one:

And this:

You’ll also find these looks at places like Faconnable and Abercrombie & Fitch, proving there are a lot of guys in the bleachers who wish they were on the field — MATTHEW BENZ

13 Comments on "Jock Envy: A Roundup Of Varsity Sweaters"

  1. I really like the sweatshirt variety with the shawl collar. I have one that makes an excellent addition to my my workout gear. However, I feel uncomfortable wearing numbers, letters, insignias that have no connection to me. So, I pass on these and go for the plain ones. I actually don’t even wear clothing with icons on them.

  2. Tattersall Guy | November 7, 2011 at 7:46 am |

    I can’t into the fantasy stuff. Letters with no true meaning, faux crests,…etc. I don’t think any adult should wear them. I am interested in trying one of the shawl collar cardigans in a solid color though.

  3. I’ve been on the fence for a few years about ordering a letter sweater from my alma mater. I did play a varsity sport (you can’t order one if you didn’t), so I do “qualify” for one. The sweater they make hasn’t changed in – from what I can tell – over a hundred years, so in that respect I wouldn’t call it trendy.

    I think perhaps this season I’ll cut the check and order one.

  4. t e whalen above beat me to it, but here’s a pic of Chicago street gang sweaters (therse were very common in the 1970s, but disappeared in the 80s.) The place that made ’em is still open, though, so it looks like aging gang members can relive their youth.

  5. Gang members used to be so much more civilized.

  6. I’d like a letterless letter sweater in my alma mater colors. I did not earn a letter so I have not earned the right to wear the real thing, but I don’t see anything wrong with boosting my school by wearing its colors. It’d be just the thing to wear when watching a game, I think.

    I still have my letterman’s jacket from high school, but I like my collegiate colors better.

  7. I earned a letterman’s jacket from Cal State Mediocrity in fencing. We had crossed swords embroidered on the back. I still wear it now and then, though not since I moved to the Effete East.

    Actually, it’s a chilly night and I’m thinking of biking to the golf range. Considering today’s post, seems the proper time to dust it off.

  8. Those ersatz letterman’s sweaters are laughable. I can’t imagine the sort of people who wear them.

    FWIW: I don’t know what the C on Ralph Bunche’s sweater stands for, but it’s not for UCLA. It’s never called “California”; UC Berkeley is also known as “Cal.”

  9. I remember buying a long sleeve tan pullover sweater with my college logo when I was in my junior year. It must have been around $ 15 at the time. I asked the lady at the college bookstore if she could order a long. She looked at me like I was nuts and told me no.

    I wore that sweater like crazy until I graduated, then cut off the worn part of the sleeves, and wore it occasionally for golf like a short sleeve sweater over a shirt. It was in tatters when I finally cut it up for rags around 20 years ago. It also didn’t fit any more.

    Great at the time, but I really don’t want another. Cheers!

  10. My father graduated from UCLA before he entered WWll. I never heard him rever to it as anything other than UCLA.

  11. The sweaters are nice stylistically, but they are getting really fetishy with the crests and logos.

  12. michael hamilton | November 27, 2011 at 6:35 pm |

    i am an old gang member from chicago 45 yrs old now.
    i have many memories of the days i ran the strets wit my friends we often fought other gangs for sweaters, these sweater wars no longer exist niether do the sweaters. is there any way you can rer-make me an old sweater if given all the details? its all white with black trimmings so the sleeves cuffs are black and the middle where the butttons would be is also black the little trim on the top of the pocket is also black.
    please let me know .of course its just for memories and to hang omn my wall. to us the gang wasnt a gang but a famil.y odf misfits. thankyou for your hwelp and understanding. michael hamilton,

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