Vintage Campus, Upgrading American Colleges One Sweater At A Time

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Of the infinite cultural things that could stand as shorthand for the victory of the lowest-common-denominator across middle-class American culture, one of my favorites is the attire worn for the “Jeopardy!” college tournament.

Whether from the most elite and expensive college or a big state school (yes, I’m a living example that sometimes smart guys, through some character flaw, end up at mediocre schools), they all wear the same thing: an oversized, ill-fitting hooded sweatshirt, as if it may start snowing in the television studio at any moment.

As a follow-up to our recent post about The Hardy North, we’d like to introduce Vintage Campus, which is also trying to give students and alumni better school-clothing options than the lowest common denominator. The brand’s first sweater was for the University of Chicago.

“We decided to start Vintage Campus because we noticed that the vast majority of American college bookstores sell terrible collegiate clothing,” says cofounder Chris Stavitsky. “By this I mean that bookstore clothing is garish, of poor quality, and lacking school specificity.”

While similar brands are targeting just the Ivies, Vintage Campus in thinking more broadly. Writes Stavitsky in an email:

Ivy League schools have had a leg up. Yale has collaborated with J. Press, and Harvard has done something similar. And a couple of new companies, like us, have noticed the gap in the market. They have come out of Cornell (The Hardy North) and Dartmouth (Hillflint). But these are still brands coming out of the Ivy League and selling exclusively to Ivy League schools. There’s nothing for the rest of us.

As we grow, Vintage Campus would like to become a style touchpoint for schools of all types, not just elite institutions. Hundreds of colleges in the US have incredible histories that span centuries, and we want to help alumni and students recognize their own place in these unique stories through our sweaters.

If you’d like to get your school or alma mater involved, Stavitsky says please feel free to send him an email. — CC

32 Comments on "Vintage Campus, Upgrading American Colleges One Sweater At A Time"

  1. Count Texas A&M in! Mays Business School in particular.

  2. Ironchefsakai | December 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm |

    It’s so funny you should post this–I was just looking at the site yesterday.

    There was a similar venture (or maybe an earlier incarnation of the same) that almost won funding from a UChicago pot called “The Uncommon Fund.” It gives money to different unique projects each year. This one sadly didn’t actually win, but I’d thought then that it was a great idea. Not sure if it’s the same–the other stuff looked higher-end and was more expensive, but it was also years ago, so maybe memory betrays me.

    I wish they had a cream-colored crewneck with our maroon “C.”

  3. Ironchefsakai | December 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm |

    I’ll also note that the U of C has, for some time, prided itself on being a non-Ivy, but having enough intellectual gusto to outclass the ancients.

    With that being said, the school’s fashion is sorely lacking, and as they say, the squirrels are cuter than the girls and more aggressive than the boys.

  4. Georgetown!

  5. Oh I know somebody who needs U of C socks for Xmas. Thank you.

  6. Come on, Christian: You don’t need to buy into the silly notion that colleges and universities with a great amount of inherited prestige are naturally “better” than others. There are fine faculty members at all sorts of institutions across the nation. And there are many brilliant people who do not attend the fanciest schools (or do not attend college at all)–with or without any character flaws. These days, curricula are so lax and grade inflation so rampant that you can get a great education at almost any school, and a lousy education at pretty much all of them.

  7. “and as they say, the squirrels are cuter than the girls and more aggressive than the boys.”

    That saying made me chuckle. Thank you.

  8. At my prep school (I’m a college student so this was only a couple years ago), they still had a huge stock of vintage sweaters with a big “A” knit in. You needed to earn five varsity letters to get the sweater, so there were only a couple dozen kids with them at any given time on campus. They were a kind of niche item–people respected the accomplishments behind the sweater more than they liked the aesthetics themselves. They weren’t so much of a style statement as they were a power statement (even at prep school, it was pretty pretentious to wear them). I assume this is how they always were–even in the heyday–seeing as they were then, too, only for varsity athletes.

    They certainly have a vintage vibe but they were baggy, ill-fitting, thick and made of 100% rayon (If I remember correctly). I know mine is just sitting in my closet back at home collecting dust–hard to find an occasion where an bulky letterman sweater doesn’t come off as pretentious.

    I’m curious as to what caused this honorific, pretentious and, in many ways, unstylish minutiae of ivy/prep style to become the this hot trend right now (I’d say three start-up companies counts as a hot trend in the ivy/prep/trad world). I have some pretty serious doubts this look will be a mainstream or even neo-prep hit.

  9. ironchefsakai | December 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm |

    @Sir Cingle,

    I can assure you that UChicago has neither a lax curriculum nor particularly problematic grade inflation.

    Incidentally, my favorite self-deprecating University of Chicago T-shirt is “If I wanted A’s, I would’ve gone to Harvard.”

    @oxford cloth button down

    Glad I supplied a chuckle. There are plenty more where that came from…The classic is “The University of Chicago: Where fun comes to die.” There’s “The University of Chicago: Hell does freeze over.” The typical favorite is “The University of Chicago: Where the only thing that goes down on you is your GPA.” There’s a more-inappropriate-but-similar saying that I won’t share here (but I’ll give the hint that MIT apparently has the same saying––not sure which came first).

  10. I quick look at my U of C transcripts should convince anyone that there is no such thing as grade inflation there! I wouldn’t say the students there are unattractive or poorly dressed. I would say that the students are somewhat solitary and socially awkward though.

  11. I recall the hullabaloo in the late 1990s when the administration of the University of Chicago aimed to alter (i.e., make easier) its storied Great Books curriculum, because it was not attracting the sorts of students who would go into business, make a fortune, and then give money back to the University. At the time, a number of promoters of the Great Books bemoaned the fact that this would mean the dumbing down of Hutchins’ and Adler’s storied Western civilization sequence. Although still more hardcore than most places, then, even the University of Chicago has seen fit to water down its curriculum.

    Here’s *The New Criterion* on the changes:

  12. ironchefsakai | December 14, 2013 at 9:21 pm |

    @Sir Cingle,

    I’ve spoken to many professors about these suggestions that the undergraduate population is diminishing in quality and depth of intellectual rigor alongside a depreciating curriculum. None of them thinks that this is actually the case. Quite the opposite, they’ve told me that the students are getting smarter and smarter, year after year. With that being said, they’re becoming less representative of the awkward kids Gabe describes.

    The quality of the University of Chicago is not defined by the Western Civ. sequence. You’ll probably be horrified to know that I did not take it, but instead opted to take East Asian Civ. with some of the most famed professors in the field, including Bruce Cumings, who assigned more reading in a week than I’ve had in several graduate seminars at another prestigious research university. To be sure, there are plenty of pre-professional students at the school who do not exactly gel with the “Life of the Mind” mystique of the Hutchins transformation. However, the breadth and depth study, and the expansion of funding and research opportunities in any one field offered at UChicago has increased and given rise to new avenues toward furthering human knowledge. I stand by that.

  13. @ironchefsakai

    My point wasn’t–and isn’t–to dump on the University of Chicago, which is certainly a fine institution. Rather, I don’t think it is proper to denigrate other colleges and universities merely because they have less inherited prestige. There are lots of great educators at an array of institutions–and just because a given faculty member is well known because of his/her research, this does not mean that s/he is an excellent teacher too. (Most prestigious research universities do not privilege undergraduate teaching.)

    As I said, there are lots of great faculty members at many places–and that includes Christian’s alma mater. Since so much of today’s collegiate curriculum depends on student choice (except, perhaps, at a countercultural place like St. John’s), the decision to become an educated person or not is almost entirely up to the undergraduate in question, no matter what college s/he attends.

  14. @Sir Cingle

    I agree…and disagree. You can get a fantastic educational at a far wider range of universities today than ever before. The discrepancy between the “elite” schools and the rest in terms educational quality has also narrowed recently. The fact remains, however, that regardless of how irrational or unjustified prestige may be, it is still worth a lot today. Prestige is generally appealing to students, employers, and society as a whole (at least until they are denied it). It’s the reason why so many high school applicants would rather go to Harvard than anywhere else, despite being unable to apprehend any substantial differences between Harvard and close competitors like Princeton or Chicago. It’s a disappointing testimony to our base vanity, but its also reality.

  15. @ Henry

    I completely agree with what you’ve written, although I’m not sure that the quality gap has narrowed only recently. Before the GI Bill, it wasn’t as difficult to get into any college (provided you came from a certain sort of background and had a certain sort of secondary education), since comparatively so few Americans applied to them. But, yes, as you say, the perception of these elite institutions is still very important in our society, even though it does not make a great deal of sense. As Russell Jacoby once wrote: “The reason to attend a selective university is not to receive a superior education, but to receive a superior diploma.”

    (How did I manage to hijack the thread?!?)

  16. @delta

    I’m in agreement with you. This seems a bit like wearing a letterman jacket and not playing any sports. Having that gigantic logo reminds me of the large pony ralph lauren stuff. I honestly don’t see anything wrong with the crew neck sweatshirt with you’re school’s name on it if you really want to show your spirit. Wasn’t there an article on here not too long ago about the crew neck sweatshirt?

    Although I will admit that finding those with just your school’s name in collegiate lettering has been difficult and that most of the clothing at school bookstores is ridiculous there’s enough stuff out there to show your pride in a tasteful-ish manner if you are so inclined.

  17. ironchefsakai | December 15, 2013 at 3:36 pm |

    @Sir Cingle,

    I agree that denigrating other colleges is ludicrous. An institution itself can only do so much to foster an individual’s performance. I have many family and friends who teach at and attend or have attended lower-tier institutions. They’re all extremely intelligent, and for the instructors, they always have students who are just as intelligent as kids at, for instance, the Ivies (if not more so).

  18. You needed to earn five varsity letters to get the sweater, so there were only a couple dozen kids with them at any given time on campus.
    This is the ‘problem’ everyone sports ‘the look’ without earning the stripes…then it becomes meaningless. On the other hand, there are stripped patterns of ties i geniuley like – i have a rule – i will wear, say a british regemintal stripe in the US – because i am american – or the some defunct tie but i would never try to wear a fake letter sweater or fake a fake club tie (fake in the sense I didn’t earn it or were a member)
    But i agree with the gist of this artcle – the clubs, universities etc that i did go/belong to have crappy ‘attire’.

  19. “You needed to earn five varsity letters to get the sweater,”

    There are Heisman Trophy winners that never would have lettered by those standards, FIVE ? 😉

  20. sneakerheadette | December 15, 2013 at 9:54 pm |

    “You needed to earn five varsity letters to get the sweater, so there were only a couple dozen kids with them at any given time on campus.”

    I understand the sentiment here, but I think it’s important to point out that the sweater featured here is _not_ the same kind of letter sweater that varsity athletes necessarily wore. Football players used to wear the kind of sweater pictured here to practice (seems so very uncomfortable compared to the Nike and Under Armour performance gear of today), and though it’s true that these sweaters were exclusive to star athletes, sweaters like these don’t exactly have the same cachet/serve the same purpose in athletics today.

    I would borrow @just me’s sentiment that wearing this sweater would be like wearing a now “defunct” piece of history. It’s more paying homage to a school’s heritage rather than unfairly appropriating and elite honor.

  21. the issue is that at many school’s its not a “defunct” piece of history. at delta’s prep school they still give these out to athletes. At many east coast colleges these sweaters are still only given out to athletes, members of the marching band, high academic achievers, student government members etc.. Maybe this is no longer the case at uchicago but at other schools this would basically allow people to buy a varsity letter that other people earn. Seems like the antithesis of trad to me. I do like the socks on the website though.

    then again, I feel like wearing your schools logo is really only appropriate on campus, at alumni or sporting events, or using a few beater items on weekends to do something outdoors.

  22. Not quite ancient history yet. Dartmouth still only gives out the green sweaters with a “D” to the varsity athletes, but the class sweater (which used to be for freshman sports or JV I believe) has long been available at the Coop.

    A picture from this year’s homecoming showing varsity sweaters:

    College president wearing his class sweater:

  23. To chime in on the debate about letter sweaters, I agree that they are not “defunct.” Getting a collegiate letter sweater is typically an award for playing a varsity sport, and many Ivies still carry on this tradition. Offering a likeness of the varsity sweater to the general public will inevitably cheapen the symbolism behind it.

    Check out Hobey Baker’s photo that appears on his Wikipedia page for an example. Badass dude, by the way.

    Finally, it is not that hard to earn five varsity letters in high school (the commenter above specifically stated that this was the custom at his “prep school”). Note that you can earn multiple letters in a single sport – if I play varsity baseball for two seasons, that will garner two varsity letters.

  24. Dear Turd,

    If you went to a mediocre school, there’s probably a reason. No one is really “bad at taking tests,” they’re just stupid.

  25. The Nation
    “Are students getting smarter or is college just getting easier–even at Ivy League heavyweight Harvard?
    That’s the question on the minds of Harvard professors today after the school announced that the most frequently awarded grade is an A.
    Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris told the Harvard Crimson this week A is the most frequent grade and A- is the median grade. Harvard released the grades in response to a question by professor Harvey C. Mansfield, who has long disparaged “grade inflation.” The professor was quoted in the Crimson as saying the high grades are “indefensible” and represent “a failure on the part of this faculty and its leadership to maintain our academic standards.”

  26. Austin
    Letters are earned, but not the sweater or jacket. I don’t believe anyone will confuse these with actual honor letters which are sewn on.

  27. 😉

    — The Boston Globe, Dec. 4

    From: The Dean of Harvard College

    To: The Faculty

    In light of the controversy regarding so-called grade inflation, please take a moment to review the grading guidelines rubric, reproduced below:

    ¶ The A+ grade is used only in very rare instances for the recognition of truly exceptional achievement.

    For example: A term paper receiving the A+ is virtually indistinguishable from the work of a professional, both in its choice of paper stock and its font. The student’s command of the topic is expert, or at the very least intermediate, or beginner. Nearly every single word in the paper is spelled correctly; those that are not can be reasoned out phonetically within minutes. Content from Wikipedia is integrated with precision. The paper contains few, if any, death threats.

    A few things can disqualify an otherwise worthy paper from this exceptional honor: 1) Plagiarism, unless committed with extraordinary reluctance. 2) The paper has been doused in blood or another liquid, unless dousing was requested by the instructor. 3) The paper was submitted late (with reasonable leeway — but certainly by no more than one or two years).

    An overall course grade of A+ is reserved for those students who have not only demonstrated outstanding achievement in coursework but have also asked very nicely.

    Finally, the A+ grade is awarded to all collages, dioramas and other art projects.

    ¶ The instructor may at her discretion supplement the A+ with one or two additional pluses (A++ or A+++). This grade is known as the A+ with garlands. Garlands are generally awarded for no reason.

    ¶ The A grade, still exceptional, is reserved for work that is nearly as excellent as that receiving the A+ and that would receive the higher grade if not for some minor and easily excused flaw, such as that the student is not enrolled at Harvard.

    ¶ The A– grade is awarded to work that, while very good, is nevertheless diminished by a significant flaw that cannot be completely overlooked. For example, a final examination receiving the A– might be impeccable, except for having been left blank. Or the student filled in the test, but did so according to no discernible pattern, while screaming like a maniac. An A– term paper might offer an original analysis of a complex topic, but exist only within the imagination of the instructor or the student, or, in some rare instances, both.

    In cases where an assignment falls precisely on the border between A and A–, the instructor should err on the side of awarding an A+ with garlands.

    ¶ The B+ grade is reserved for students who have committed assault.

    ¶ The B grade may be awarded as a joke, before being replaced with a higher grade, so long as the instructor has checked with the registrar that the student’s psychological profile permits practical jokes of a cruel nature.

    ¶ Contrary to “urban legend,” grades lower than B do exist, and should be awarded without hesitation to any and all work submitted by farm animals.

    As practice, try giving this memo a grade! (The correct grade is A+ with garlands.)

    Nathaniel Stein is a writer for magazines and television.

  28. @MAC,

    That definitely brightened up my finals week. Love it.

    As a student who attends the school with the worst grade DEFLATION in the country (as reported by CBS news, New York Times, etc.), I can’t say I sympathize with my friends at Harvard when they talk about their grades, exams, or anything else related to academics.

  29. Finally, it is not that hard to earn five varsity letters in high school
    all depends- my (public) high school ‘s AD was very stingy about them you only got a varisty football letter if you :
    a. played football all four seasons
    b. started or played over 8 quarters on the field.

    for track you could be on the varisty but only get a JV letter if you were junior unless you:
    placed in conference or broke a school record.

    in my conference, other high schools gave out letters like candy.. always irked us..

  30. by all four seasons – i meant freshman -senior, not winter spring, summer fall 🙂

  31. My Dad and Grandfather both lettered in several sports at Fairfield Prep and Trinity. I discovered a drawer full of these vintage letters my Grandmother had preserved one day and started sewing them on sweatshirts in college. Everyone wanted one when I wore them. It’s a terrific concept and we here at Chatham Ivy wish the best of luck to these entrepreneurs. We will be carrying something vintage in honor of our family when Chatham Ivy:A New England Lifestyle Company launches this year.
    Discover us at or
    Thanks for the great post Christian!

  32. chicago, i suspect, has more intellectual gusto than all the ancients combined

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