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What is a Letterman Jacket?

D Frank
D Frank

Seen especially on high school campuses across the United States, a letterman jacket is a heavy, winter-style coat that typically is in the school's colors and has a school letter sewn onto the front of it and other decorative trim. At most U.S. high schools, students who participate in varsity sports and certain other school-sponsored extracurricular activities are awarded a letter for successfully completing a season. This large, cloth letter — the first letter of the school's name, or sometimes the first letter of each word in the school's name — is then sewn onto the front left part of the letterman jacket. Students who already have received a cloth letter often receive a much smaller cloth letter or a small, metal pin for each additional letter that is earned, and these can be added to the jacket. Other items the might be sewn onto or attached to the jacket include things such as the student's first name, his or her graduation class year, a school logo, symbols representing the student's activities and representations of other awards earned.

Jacket Styles

High school students are awarded a patch with their school's first letter when they join a club or sport.
High school students are awarded a patch with their school's first letter when they join a club or sport.

Letterman jackets come in a variety of styles, but they usually have a few things in common. For instance, many of these jackets have leather or imitation leather covering part or all of the sleeves. At the top and bottom of a letterman jacket, and at the ends of the sleeves, there usually are stripes in the school's colors. The jacket also usually has two small pockets on the bottom of the front side. Some letterman jackets have built-in hoods, but most have only small, striped collars.


A letterman jacket is usually a heavy, winter-style coat typically in the colors of person's high school.
A letterman jacket is usually a heavy, winter-style coat typically in the colors of person's high school.

The name or nickname of the school and the school logo usually appear somewhere on the letterman jacket, such as across the back of the coat. The student's name might be sewn in cloth letters across the back, stitched onto the right front or added elsewhere on the jacket. The student's graduation year — usually represented by the last two numbers of the year — are most commonly added near the top of one sleeve or at the bottom of the front of the jacket, under one of the pockets.

High school athletes may choose to have the symbol for their sport stitched into their class letterman jackets.
High school athletes may choose to have the symbol for their sport stitched into their class letterman jackets.

Other decorative or commemorative items are added according to the student's preferences or the school's traditions. For example, certain patches might be sewn onto the sleeves for various reasons. Metals, awards and pins might also be added, usually on the letter or elsewhere on the front of the jacket.

As a Fashion Statement

These jackets are most common at U.S. high schools, but they also can be found outside of the U.S. and at some colleges. There also are letterman-style jackets that do not represent an actual school but are simply a fashion statement. These types of letterman jackets might include the name or letter of a fictional school, the jacket's manufacturer or designer or even another company.

Discussion Comments


Seriously guys, stop bashing each other. The letterman jacket represents the high school you went to, so just leave it up to the high school you go to to decide whether or not student can letter in other things.

Unless you get to make those decisions, it's not really up to you to decide if students can or can't letter in academics or what requirements they should have met to letter in sports. Seriously.


As a varsity jock myself, I completely support the hard work that we put into being the best that we can be. The point of the game is to win, right? But I didn't letter in athletics, I lettered in academics. Yup. I go to a super tiny high school and I was actually the very first person in our entire school to get an official jacket. So that really says something.

I don't wear my jacket just as a fashion statement. I wear my jacket and pins with pride because it's evidence of all the hard work and staying up till the wee hours of the morning trying to get all my homework done, only to receive a good grade that nobody else knows I worked really hard for. So, yes. I am a jock. And I work really, really hard. But there is not one thought that's crossing my constantly working mind saying that I don't deserve the letter that I wear proudly on my chest and that I should have worked harder, competed for it, or shouldn't get the same type of reward. No way.

I have the right to what I earned. Both ways, I earned it! I won! I defeated that extremely hard test, got an A and I won! No matter what you end up getting a letter for, you have to work hard, and I mean hard, to earn it. Any person who has a letter has won, in my mind. So if they have it, they earned it and I'm not going to go around sticking my nose in their face and ripping that tiny bit of pride that they are wearing because I am not a poor sport.

Jocks, girls and guys, you've won, so don't go complaining about other people who want to win or have won. If you haven't won, don't beat up on others, like me, who have earned what little we do have. That's poor sportsmanship, and that will earn you one big flag. Show the world what kind of good sportsmanship you have and don't complain.


Whoever said swimming and water polo aren't that hard have obviously never done it.

Anyway, I do sports year round and I've gotten a letter. My school doesn't award letters for academics or art or anything like that. I'm not a jock at all, seriously. I have a 4.2 or something GPA and I got a science scholar award and I've been on the highest honor roll for several years. I was in orchestra for several years and I played violin for nine and piano for seven. I have been in acting, art, dance, and a bunch of other fine arts classes, and I understand the hard work and dedication that you have to put in for all of that. But sports also takes all of that and on top of that it puts a lot of stain on you physically.

I still think that letterman jackets should only be for athletes because that's who they were made for. That's how they get rewarded. Artsy and musical people can get different rewards but it doesn't have to be letters.


For all those who say that letters are only for athletes because they were designed for athletes, that's a very circular way of thinking.

if the people who work hard and excel in academics or band or choir want a letter jacket, you give them a letter jacket.

You don't give jocks badges with A+ on it because it's not cool. The main point is this: you give a reward tantamount to the effort exerted.

You don't want to be sold something you didn't want to buy!


I'm a sophomore in high school, I'm the starting fullback, I'm also on the wrestling team, and I have a 4.0 GPA. I hate when people say that jocks are dumb, and that we have the easy way out of everything. It's the complete opposite, trust me. All my teammates and I work our butts off


At my school, no one really makes a big deal out of letterman jackets. They are offered for varsity sports, academics and arts (band, debate). They do distinguish the actual letters though, by changing the design. The thing is, that although anyone can letter, it is only the best of the best who care enough to buy a jacket! And usually they earn additional medals to distinguish themselves.

Although in my school everyone letters for band, I have tripled or doubled the necessary requirements every year to letter and earned numerous awards for competitions that I proudly show.


Since the letterman jacket was originally created to honor sports, I think that's where it should stay. However, if it were to be changed, I think you should actually have to participate in some sort of competition to earn it. Be it a sports game, an art or band competition or a debate or math bee, you should have to compete against others, not just earn a certain grade point average.

Most can earn a certain grade point average, but not everyone has the talent for an extracurricular activity. And speaking of the girl with a physical disability, there are others without disabilities who don't have the coordination or focus to play sports. I don't think the point is for everyone in the high school to letter, because it really would make it less of an honor. We're are entering the age of coddling and being force fed the mantra that everyone is a winner, when truthfully, not everyone is.


A letterman jacket was made for athletes, and that's just the way it is. And to say that band/chorus/art is harder than athletics is just ridiculous. The people who do other things can get recognition in other ways.

And for all the people implying that athletes don't work hard in school, that's crap. In a lot of cases, athletes work just as hard or harder than everybody else because if they don't keep their grades up they can't play.

To be good at a sport it takes hours of practice, lifting, conditioning and studying the sport, being an athlete is unmatched by anything else with the amount of dedication physically and mentally it takes.


As an art teacher myself, I personally see the talent and effort of some of my students. They work 50 hours on a painting to get it just right, they spend hours researching and testing new ceramic glazes, they work hours at home practicing sketching. My dedicated art students work just as hard as the athletes. We have our own competitions and shows some of my students have competed in national shows which is more than any of the athletes have done, so why should they not be recognized?

My art students will go on to be advertising and design agents, animators, video game designers, photographers, web designers, etc. And what of the football players? Maybe one in 300 will play pro ball for maybe three years then have nothing to fall back on because they figured football would be their life.

I've got news for all the jocks. The artists outnumber them ten to one. So to say that lettering in the arts will cheapen the honor for the athletics is just plain ignorant.


Letters should be given to students who participate in a sanctioned sport. Don't get ridiculous. That's what they're meant for. I agree band/choir/arts people may work hard (as hard as athletes) but letters are intended for sports.


I am a year round runner for my school and I also maintain a gpa that puts me in the top ten of my class. I don't study for my grades. In fact, I don't work at all and I'm sitting here with a strained hamstring due to the effort that I put into track. And I will go out tomorrow for my run. It's that devotion that you need to be good at sport, while many put nothing into academics.


Honestly, whether you should get a letterman or not depends on where you go. I've attended two high schools, and the first one was really athletic. However, all you had to do to get an academic letter was to have a 3.5 (good school so that was more than a third of everyone), and academic games, chess, etc. offered letters as low as freshman year. Also, to get a varsity letter, you just had to participate in a varsity competition once, meaning if you were third string on the football team you got one. Almost everyone had a jacket by senior year. At the school I go to now, no one gives a crap about lettermen. They are not offered for anything but sports, and no one has any commitment to athletics because they are so worried about staying up an extra hour and a half on weekdays.

That said, I think that the individual perspective of each school determines who deserves a letterman, and besides, you won't be wearing it much after high school anyway.


What about a letterman jacket for chess?


In my school you can get a letterman jacket at any age but you have to be in a varsity sport or academic to get the letters. You can even get letters for student council and other things like knowledge bowl.

Don't say it's not as special when the academic kids get letters. It is because they worked just as hard as all of the jocks -- not physically, but mentally. I play tenor saxophone and its not a walk in the park.

All you jocks try band, choir or any of the arts. It's not as easy as you think.

Don't get me wrong: I play JV tennis and am on the dance line and track team. Don't waltz in here and tell us how easy what we do is and how hard what you do is. Get over yourselves. In life, it's usually only going to matter what you learned and how you applied it to life.


I am fine with academics getting a letter for a good GPA since I received one, being number two in my class and a varsity athlete for volleyball, basketball, and softball.

I agree that band and choir should also receive letters. My sisters (both of mine are in my grade since we're triplets) is a higher level singer in my school's choir. They put in five-hour nights the weeks before a concert! All in all, they work just as hard to meet their goal as we do. They compete for state titles just as we do. They bust their butts year round just as we do. They earn scholarships just as we do. So, they should earn letters, just as we do.


is it lame to have a marching band letterman jacket?


I'm a teacher and all I can say is that everyone thinks their sport is the hardest. I don't think any of them are easy. They all take dedication and a lot of effort.


Swimming and water polo are not the hardest sports.

Wrestling by far is the hardest sport. let's leave it at that.


listen, I understand all of you who think that academics should get rewarded with letterman's. The letterman was made for athletes. That's just how it is. I can understand getting a letterman for marching band because that also requires a lot of hardwork and dedication.

What i think my school has done well is giving academic kids sweaters. That way, they are still recognized for their outstanding achievements but in a different way than athletes are.


at my school whoever wants a jacket just gets one. its just a school spirit thing and it looks cool i guess. varsity athletes get a big letter and JV small letter which they can put on their jacket and then they get a tiny football/ball/volleyball, etc. patch that they put on either letter depending on if they did varsity or jv. all varsity athletes have both because they started out (with maybe one or two exceptions) jv their freshmen year. then you can also sew your medals on the jacket so the 'fuller' your jacket gets the better.


seriously, swimming and water polo players work the hardest. during swim season, four mornings a week i wake up 5:30 to leave my house and swim for and hour and a half before school. then i go the pool everyday after school for another two hour practice.

i come home and do my homework with enough time to go to the weight room three nights a week. we have to keep ourselves in top physical condition and maintain a 3.7 GPA. we have two meets a week in addition to all this. in order to be a state competitor, or even varsity depending on how good your school is, you need to do this three months prior to season and maybe even over the summer.

so to all you football players, soccer stars, bandies and singers, remember that hard work pays off, but harder work is what takes you the extra mile.


You can letter in pretty much anything nowadays. I am lettering in Fine Arts. So, anyone who believes that only people who play sports are dedicated enough to earn a letterman jacket is ignorant and has probably gotten hit in the head too many times. I personally know someone who is on our high school varsity football team and has not played in a single game this year and he is a letterman. So, get over yourself.


I just got my letterman jacket this year (Junior year) and I got it for playing varsity soccer. Once I got my letter, I went to my athletic director and asked for a jacket ($175) then I took it to a store that sewed my letter on the front left side, right side said my name and underneath that with a panther mascot. Right sleeve says (12) back has my name and underneath that it says soccer. I also have pins on my letter that says (Varsity, JV, captain, soccer ball, track foot and a service bar). Next year I'm getting a patch to put on my left sleeve that has my number jersey with a soccer ball in the middle of the numbers, along with another service bar.


At my high school we don't get them for academics. We only get them for sports, which means I will never get one. I want one but I don't play sports. It is really unfair because I work so hard to maintain my grades and don't get rewarded for it.


1. Three people passed out in one day at practice, but we never stopped practice. Someone carted them off to the nurse.

2. Our band has won national awards.

3. Our band and color guard are the big "men" on campus, not the athletes, because we rock the state of Texas.


Well here at my high school, you only earn one letter, and it comes in different colors: either light blue for academic, dark blue for fine arts, or columbia blue for sports).

Then you get a pin for whatever you were in. So say if I got an academic letter and I played tennis, I'd get a pin for that. Then comes all the bars, stars, chevrons, etc. It's really simple and it's meant for everyone.


Hey, we should award letters and what not to kids that gulp down food -- I mean lots of food! The whole idea was to reward Varsity Athletes for their efforts and that's it!

My kids have worked hard in sports and have maintained a 3.8 gpa, but with hard work most kids can get 3.8 gpa but no amount of hard work is going to make little Tommy into an "outstanding" linebacker!

Maybe we should award kids for being "Hard" or "Best Bully." I don't believe in hollow rewards. Rewards are earned by outstanding achievements! A letter jacket is for varsity accomplishments.


i play football, and do wrestling and track and i did marching band. i was second chair tuba for the east tennessee band and although i agree that band and choir and academics should earn a letter, i disagree that it takes more skill. Sports are by far much harder although they take around same amount of time to do. The reason being is in sports you physically break down all your muscles and in band and choir you only use one muscle.


My daughter's school letterman jackets are all black. She would like to get a black one with white sleeves. Can someone give me any thoughts on that.


For those of you who don't think academics, band, and choir students should get letters, you are just ignorant. Let's see you spend hours doing homework. And hours checking and correcting it. And hours studying. And hours on the field sweating in marching band practice.

And hours in uniforms in 100 degree weather. And hours practicing a wind instrument until you want to pass out. And hours practicing choir pieces until you can't feel your throat. And hours practicing sight reading. All of which is on your own time. Not to mention getting up at 3 a.m. for band contests on Saturdays! You may think an athlete is the only one who works and spends countless hours practicing but I assure you that you are wrong!

Anyone can throw a ball into a hoop but it takes real skill to play an instrument and sing!


i love my letterman. i was a four year varsity track runner. at my school it was pretty hard to get one. mainly football players had them. but i work hard for that jacket. I'm out of high school and still proud of my jacket. and it still gets worn from time to time.


Well at my high school, its rare to see someone with a letterman jacket. It's that exclusive here. I mean you have to do something dramatic to get one.

Like in my case, I became drumline captain, color guard captain and marching band president all in one year (sophomore year).

I've got to say, it's going to be *sweet* to bang my jacket next month.


As for you all that think there should not be a letter awarded to academics, what about the boy/girl that is in a wheelchair who gets straight A's? This kid cannot do sports because of a physical disability and because of this cannot even try to letter in sports. In my opinion, the brain gets you farther in life than any sport.


anyone can wear a varsity jacket. it's pride in your school and an accomplishment of your hard work in any sport or activity.


anon31955: I don't care that you "work hard" in band. I'm sure you do, but a letterman jacket is for varsity level athletes. If you are a varsity level athlete and a band member, more power to you. The only people who deserve a varsity letter jacket are athletes.


A Letterman Jacket is for athletics. Only varsity athletes should receive this honor. I believe you can letter in academics and all that but you should not wear a jacket. People will mock you for wearing a letterman jacket for academics.


wow. i don't know where you guys are from but the varsity letterman jackets in california east bay are totally different.

the block letter is sewn on the front left side if the jacket with the first name of the student on top of it. the last name of the student is placed on the back top and the graduation year is sewn on the left shoulder.

the school's logo can be sewn on the right shoulder and patches of the sport/award patches like NCS and STATE can be sewn on the arms also. Chevrons are given to students who participate one year in varsity. there are also written lines that go on the right front of the jacket, saying which varsity sports you did and what year.

The name of the school and grad year is also hand sewn on top of the lines.


All right, everyone. we get that letters can be awarded to everyone, and that's a good thought. (just last week, i lettered in academics, and I'm only a sophomore). and for the confusion over the minor letter and junior varsity stuff, most schools nowadays keep it simple: for sports, you need to spend a number of years (if you don't do anything at all) on a team or meet one of the requirements set up by the school (a number of games played, certain time for track or swimming, or some other degree of success).

for the arts, you also have to win some kind of competition or spend the correct number of years in the class/involved. for academics, you have to have a certain GPA or be within a certain percentage of class rank.

for any of these, the school will buy you the basic letter that everyone else gets, present it to you at an awards night, and you have to buy the jacket which is around $200, and the school often has flyers on that.


In high school I was a brilliant musician (all-city, all-county, all-district, all-state), a member of National Honor Society, and a mediocre athlete (track and xc).

I would have been appalled to have worn a letter jacket for band or academics. A letter jacket is for athletics. Same deal for all of the non-academic "honor" societies. The more of these hollow awards that are given, the less value they have.

Save the money for the art society letter jacket for psych counseling - for the parents.


I agree that every body should get one if they compete in a sport, academic or fine arts. My school does it and they only allow seniors or juniors to get one. We just buy patches and sew them onto it and we are happy.


When ordering a custom varsity jacket: You can pick any color any style any letter or number or emblem. Usually made from a thick chenille. These add interest to your school or team jacket. You can add your name or even a company logo. These jackets are used as awards and company recognition.

A Varsity and a Letterman jacket are the same thing: Most kids choose a letter or number or emblem. Or school mascot. These can be Chenille or done in embroidery. Most student will have there name as well. There are many styles from the classic to the Retro to the new Hoodie. Even the sailor style. All parts can be customized on your varsity or letter jacket.


In response to what others have said: Athletes are not the only ones who work hard, so I say others may deserve letters. Take band, for example. During marching band season, we (at least at my school) are out for hours practicing almost every day after school. We work hard, too.

Don't take this as just another post by just another music/fine arts person standing up for their activities. I just received varsity letters for swimming and softball as a freshman. I know both sides. The arts, academics, and sports are all worthy of the same level of respect.


"Sit down and study time" is what school is all about; not athletics, nor any other extracurricular. If all extracurriculars went away, students are still going to be educated, hence the "extra" in the word. In a realistic world, the only honors a school should endorse are academic honors, because those are the only honors within a school's purpose.

That said, jocks aren't the only ones putting "blood, sweat and tears" into their extracurriculars. Bands compete. Drama societies compete. Academic teams compete. If one extracurricular activity deserves letter recognition, they all do.


All students should earn a jacket eventually. The thought that only athletes should get their jackets based on physical strain is close-minded.

Other students work just as hard by studying and keeping grades up. In my school, we have so many students with jackets that lettered in all sorts of activities, whether it's sports, drama, FPS, band and choir.


Honestly, I believe, club, sport, or academic should be awarded a letter. In this generation, students put everything into one main subject and try to succeed as much as possible in that area, whether its football, academics, choir, band, or even FFA. There are high requirements for all these areas in order to receive a letter though. And if someone doesn't believe it doesn't take time and outside of school effort to accomplish goals in band, FFA, or academics, they are sadly mistaken. I am an honor student, varsity basketball player, and successful FFA member and it takes every moment out of my day to receive letters for all three. Sports should not be the only way to receive a letter for your letterman's jacket.


no offense to art people, but letter jackets were made for sports. and i don't think they should go changing the rules so that everyone could get one, because that would lower the honor.


Letter Jackets may be purchased for any sports, academic, intramural, arts, or extracurricular activity, or simply for school spirit.

The letters and awards you earn should be worn proudly in recognition of your time, devotion and sweat you have put into your accomplishments.


how are you supposed to get a jacket once you have the letter????


What year (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) are you supposed to get your letterman jacket?


You can receive a letter for the Art Honor Society and International Thespian Society. For ITS you have to meet "Honor status" at my school. Its definitely not just for sports. Athletes get them because they've worked hard for it, and the same thing goes with Thespian Society. I've got my letter for the ITS and I've put in more hours of actual work, endless nights, tears, and effort than any athlete.


Those who earn their letters through the arts or academics work just as hard for their letters as athletes (if in a different way), they have to achieve at similarly high levels. If it's competitive, there is a way to measure performance and lettering should be possible. It shows that they are the best at what they do, and in no way devalues the athletic letters. That's why the letter usually has some indication of what you won it for.

In my sons' school there are no "club" letters, but there are academic (for a GPA 3.8 and above) and arts (choir, band and theater) letters, along with the traditional athletic letters. You only get ONE actual letter, then pins to indicate what was earned and how many times it was earned. So students may have a letter covered with pins.


Why is it that most schools don't award letter jackets to students that have earned a letter in an academic "sport"? They work just as hard by showing up to varsity events to cheer their school on, they have to practice until they become too frustrated to do it any more, and they currently have better grades than half of the varsity sport players (in my school anyway). If they get good grades, show up to varsity events to support their teams, and earn a letter don't you think that they should be allowed letter jackets as well???????

-concerned for our academics


What about when a freshman plays at the varsity level, and earns his letter? Is he still only eligible for a "minor" letter?


Yes, I have heard of letters for participating in the arts.


Now my response will be a little one-sided because i am a Varsity football player, but i don't really think clubs should get letters. Again, just my personal opinion, but with sports you actually have to suffer for and earn your letter with blood sweat and tears...not just some sit down and study time. So, agree or disagree, i'm just putting it out there...and i'm fairly sure they don't have one for art, that's just an elective.


What about art? Is there a way we can letter in that? Currently at my school we have no art letter set and I would like to know if one existed. My teachers asked me to do some research. If not I will get together with a few seniors and create one.


I agree with the poster above....also many schools have the letter and then many pins that go in it. For example, my school gives a B for the first letter (purple for athletic, gold for band and choir and sort of half-and-half for academic) and then a pin for the second year or time they letter and then a bar after that. So, a four-year starter in football who also sang for the choir for a year would have a B for his freshman year, a football pin for his sophomore, and two bars for junior and senior respectively, and then a gold B with the word "choir" running down the stem for choir, no markings.


You have forgotten to mention the other "letters" that are also placed on the letter jacket. For example the band or choir letter, or the ultimate irony...the academic letter!

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