Smart Dressing

Why you should own a varsity jacket

This new crop is sophisticated, tailored and most certainly not for jocks

I know, I was a little sceptical, too. I’m a suit and rollneck devotee; slouching about in a letterman jacket and sweatpants isn’t my idea of looking good. But bear with me, because the varsity jacket – so synonymous with preppy Ivy League style – is having a moment. Dozens of designers have created their own take on the look for Spring/Summer ’18, and not just Americans, either. Gucci’s created a varsity bomber in sharp burgundy tartan and Saint Laurent’s gone to town with a sleek charcoal melton design. Even some Japanese cult brands have got the memo.

The style’s in because heritage design touches, formerly the preserve of formalwear and tailoring, are filtering into casualwear, too. The varsity jacket – love it or hate it – has been around since the ‘40s, so it ticks the retro trend box perfectly. Even so, this season’s offering isn’t juvenile; brands are redesigning the varsity jacket using luxurious materials and clean lines, creating jackets that are sophisticated and easy to wear in equal measure.

So, here are four examples that prove the varsity jacket’s grown up, complete with some thoughts on how to style them. Channel two or three of these tips in your new look, and it’ll carry you right through to autumn.

Kent & Curwen varsity jacket1. Get into earthy colours

I’m going to keep saying it, earthy colours are in. Forest green and khaki, chocolate, tan and taupe – even burnt orange. Kent & Curwen’s got the memo and in its latest collection of ‘reimagined British classics’ has cut a number of chic varsity jackets, in both burgundy and this handsome forest green. If you’re going to experiment with the style, make it this piece – it’s clean cut, well made and comfortable to wear.

The key is to dress it with like colours (note the orange rollneck layered beneath the jacket) and keep the lines of your outfit trim – think tapered jeans or pleated navy cotton chinos. Finish with either chunky chocolate brown brogues or simple suede sneakers for a sophisticated, yet relaxed spring look.

£995, shop now via Mr Porter

Valstar varsity jacket2. Don’t be afraid of stripes

The varsity jacket offers you the chance to play with classic college stripes. This piece from Milanese outerwear maker Valstar hits the nail on the head. In steely blue suede and soft white calf, it’s understated and easy to pair with like colours (stick with navy, charcoal and earthy tones) but the striped hem, collar and cuffs lend it just a dash of Ivy League chic.

Embrace your inner Softmore and throw this over a classic Oxford button-down in plain blue, or be a little braver and try a classic bengal striped shirt. Layer over a merino rollneck on cool days, or swap out for a breton striped tee (again, navy and white will never fail you) when it heats up.

Note also, trim grey trousers and simple white sneakers are all that’s required to set this look off a treat.

£850, shop now via Mr Porter

Golden Bear, Varsity Jacket3. Wear monochrome

If in doubt, resort to black, white and grey. This slick design from streetwear brand Golden Bear is perfect, with its fun panelled shoulders and striped trim. In heavy woollen melton it’s warming and durable, and it’s finished with an insulating quilted lining, too.

The joy of this jacket is the way you can do absolutely anything with it; throw over an earthy donegal knit in brick red or emerald green, wear with a simple charcoal crewneck and slim flannel trousers, or dress it as seen here with dark jeans and a boxy casual shirt.

Golden Bear’s the real deal, by the way – it’s almost 100 years old and began life making heavy utility jackets for San Fransisco longshoremen in 1922. So, if you’re after a varsity jacket that’s affordable, hard-wearing and true to the original, this is it.

£475, shop now via Mr Porter

Gant varsity jacket4. Join the club

Branded sportswear is back, as evidenced by Ralph Lauren’s new Snow Beach capsule and the growth of logo-printed luxe streetwear designs from the likes of Vetements, Tommy Hilfiger and Gucci. It turns out that it’s cool to belong to a club again. Better still, the varsity jacket lends itself to a sporty logo or two, thanks to its collegiate origins.

The key with this look is to choose a jacket with a proper pedigree, and Gant Rugger’s letterman jacket is a modern American classic. It’s got all the bells and whistles; a bold college-inspired chest patch, side welt pockets, press-stud closure, and a varsity striped collar and cuffs. The jacket’s woollen body is satisfyingly tactile, and the leather sleeves are weighty, too.

It’s a confident piece of design, so let it do the talking – slip it on over a simple navy camp collar shirt (we’re fans of Sunspel’s) and wear with classic tan chinos. Roll up the hems and finish with either deck shoes, off-white sneakers or chunky brogues. Job done.

£495, shop now