The concept of the varsity letter was first introduced in 1865, when the Harvard baseball team added an old English ‘H’ embroidered on their gray flannel shirt. Approximately ten years later, their football team followed and used the ‘H’ in 1875. For 25 years following the introduction of the varsity letter, it was the practice for the team captain to allow certain players who played in the most important games (Yale or Princeton) to keep the ‘H’ jerseys as an award. This may be the first record of the birth of the varsity letter as an award. The letterman sweater was first regularly used by the 1891 “Nine”Harvard baseball team. Their sweater was black with a crimson ‘H’ on the left chest. Letterman sweaters were the predecessor to letterman jackets. The letter was usually quite large and centered if the sweater was a pullover. If it was a cardigan style sweater, the letter was normally placed on the left side. The stripes on one sleeve designated the number of letters won; a star indicated the team captain. It is not known when the letterman sweater was introduced to high schools. The earliest photo that can be found is from a 1911 Phoenix Union High School yearbook. A student is pictured in a group photo wearing a v-neck sweater with the letter ‘P’ on the left chest.
The letter patch primarily consists of chenille and felt materials. The ground– or base- is felt, and the raised embroidery threads that create a chenille look are called a moss stitch. The outlining sew down stitch around the border of the chenille is a chain stitch. In the 1930s, the chenille letter award starting appearing on wool –bodied varsity jackets with leather sleeves. In addition to the large letter appliqué, players’ names and year of graduation would be added to the jacket. In addition, medals and team championship patches that the player would acquire through his school years would adorn the jackets.