Currently, our nation is witnessing an existential contest between two adversaries for primacy. Neither side is universally liked but what fans they do have are ardent. No, for once we’re not talking about the election. It’s the World Series of baseball, which is taking place this week. Everyone loves an underdog and the Chicago Cubs are the Ur-curs in that regard though their opposing team has just emerged from that particular doghouse with the ascendency of Cleveland, whose own Cavaliers recently completed their own championship run.
But instead of wading into the relative merits and demerits of each of those narratives, let us instead turn to what we can all agree is the clear winner: baseball fashion. There is perhaps no American sport that has exercised as dramatic or as long-lasting an influence on menswear as baseball. From baseball jackets to baseball caps to the jerseys themselves, what happens on the diamond is replicated by millions of men across the country.
Why? One reason might be that menswear draws its currency from three major sources: athletics, institutes of higher education, and the military. Baseball hits two of those, a solid double ain’t bad. The first baseball jackets, or what we know now as the baseball jackets but are also called varsity jackets or letterman jackets, were borne on the backs of Harvard’s baseball team back in 1865. Originally sweaters, through the years they became more substantial, gradually assuming the genotypic characteristics we now associate with the modern racket: contrasting leather sleeves, ribbed cuffs, button closures along the front and, of course, a letter or logo.
The reasons why this design has been replicated and reproduced is hard to attribute to a single source. But I have a few theories. One is that the overall ubiquity of baseball in American popular culture all but assured the jacket would be incorporated into our national sartorial psyche. Another contributing factor is that the jacket, like the best memes (i.e. Thanks Obama! And Get You A Man Who Can Do Both) is both instantly recognizable and thoroughly malleable. It is ripe for appropriation. Thus though traditionally the letters and logos referred to sports teams, the language of the varsity jacket could and has been used for everything from Chance the Rapper to Keith Haring. Third is the simple fact that all fashion in some way is meant to denote membership in some group. Whether it is the league of dapper gentlemen or the shadow army of minimalist streetwear, menswear is a signifier. The baseball jacket just does this openly. Wearing a baseball jacket doesn’t just imply one is on—or loyal to—a team, it explicitly states the fact. So strong is this connection that even when there isn’t a specific team, group, or entity manifest, the idea of a team is itself the idea to which one belongs. The team of teams, as it were.
So as the Manichean battle unfolds in these next few days, as we are asked to choose a side and stick with it, don a baseball jacket. Snap it against the cold winds of partisanship and remember: we’re all on the same team.