Lettermen / Athletes
Star athletes were town heroes, representing all-American good looks, team community and school spirit, as well as the ability to kick major butt on the field, court, or diamond. A fuzzy capital letter of the high school name, proudly placed onto a cardigan sweater or leather-sleeved jacket, signified the true hero of suburban America, the letterman.
In the 50’s, athleticism separated the men from the boys (so did leather jackets and switchblades, but not everyone wanted to be a ruffian). Small towns were setting up across the nation in the wake of the new suburban lifestyle, and there was nothing like a good old-fashioned rivalry to induce cult-like status for high school superstars.
The varsity letter was a badge of pride to be worn on the letterman sweater or varsity jacket. Track star, quarterback of the football team, or super shooter on the courts, it didn’t really matter. The reward was the same: a letter-adorned sweater or jacket that could be slipped around the shoulders of your sweetheart. A bejeweled class ring, hopefully etched with tales of district championships and other honors, completed the look.
Even through decades of social change and fashion metamorphosis, the tradition-bound letterman style remained largely the same. Sweaters mostly gave way to more rugged, tough-guy-looking jackets with wool torsos and leather sleeves, but the honor remained the same. High school boys still passed their sweat-earned bounty on to their girlfriends, but thanks to gender-equity laws in school sports, many of those girls were earning letters of their own, thank you very much.