Menswear tends to adhere to tried and true silhouettes, tweaked here and there but essentially familiar, slowly evolving like a turning wheel. Especially with outerwear. One season, it’s blazers, another it’s pea coats or anoraks. This winter, as nostalgia continues to weave itself into the various designer’s collections, collegiate symbol par excellence the varsity jacket has become the must-have piece for men.

Tommy Hilfiger Prep varsity jacket. Image: Tommy Hilfiger

For their Fall Menswear 2021 collection, the late Virgil Abloh gave the jacket the Louis Vuitton touch – a verdant green blend of wool and cowskin, with patchwork detailing the front. Americana par excellence, Tommy Hilfiger has also drawn on their preppy roots with the release of a sustainable classic in cream and navy while Saint Laurent’s Teddy Jacket has been in non-stop rotation since Hedi Slimane released it to the masses in 2013.

To get a better understanding of why this classic jacket is catching a second wind amongst the world ICON spoke to Ollie Arnold, Style Director at MR PORTER to find out who are doing it the best and when, and how, to wear one.

ICON: What was it about varsity jackets that have caught the eye of designers?

Ollie Arnold: Simply put, the varsity jacket is comfortable, classic, casual, and fun. Its origins from Ivy League sports teams defined its representation of relaxed confidence, something everyone looks for. The fact that it is still around in schools shows that the jacket never goes out of style and that it serves its function of being a warm and comfortable jacket.

Off-White leather varsity jacket. Image: MR PORTER.

ICON: Which brands are doing them well at the moment?

OA: The late Mr. Virgil Abloh’s final few Off-White collections featured the preppy varsity jacket, and he had kept the essence – oversized with contrasting-coloured sleeves and emblem patches. This varsity jacket from Off-White trades in the athletic-inspired patches for an abstract alien motif and lyrics from Ghostface Killah’s song ‘Iron Maiden’, infusing the brand’s DNA with the classic style.

Japanese brand Wacko Maria also has a range of varsity jackets. Their creation from SS22 was made in Japan from wool-blend felt and has contrasting leather sleeves with dropped shoulder seams. The chest is embroidered with the brand’s name. ADD in the latest jackets we have from designers brands and Golden Bear.

Celine embroidered varsity jacket. Image: MR PORTER

ICON: What is the difference between a varsity jacket and a bomber?

OA: Varsity jackets were first worn by Harvard’s baseball team as a symbol of achievement in the sport. Only the members who contributed to the team’s success could own one, thus it was designed for the student who wears it to stand out from the crowd. The initial design has a wool body and contrasting coloured sleeves, embroidered with patches such as team logos and letters. The fit is designed to be worn oversized and has a button closure.

On the other hand, bomber jackets have a more practical origin – to provide warmth to military aviators. The most common style we see today is the MA-1 style, which is sometimes confused with a varsity jacket. The bomber jacket instead has a slim fit, and is usually made from polyester or nylon with padding. Classic bombers also have a more muted and humble design and a zipper closure.

ICON: Is there anyone you’ve seen wearing them that has nailed the style?

OA: Euphoria actor Jacob Elordi wore a varsity jacket with checkered chinos and black loafers, which is a perfect example of a modern interpretation of the classic jacket. He wore a varsity jacket with a simple design, with only a one-alphabet emblem. Dressing up a jacket with a simple design is a great idea because a loud design may appear to be too much.