Ivy League Syle has long-served as one of the most storied influences of American, and now global fashion. For a century, schools in the Northeastern United States have donned athletic and academic rivalries that have spilled into other facets of daily life. Preparatory, or Prep for short, attire has been the longstanding theme of Ivy League style. Rowing blazers, button down oxfords, letterman sweaters, khaki chinos, rugby jerseys, penny loafers, wayfarer sunglasses, top-sider deck sneakers, cable knit sweaters, and pique polo shirts transcended scholarly attire and became daily wear staples across the globe.
One of the articles that we have found most intriguing is the reunion jacket, sometimes referred to as an autograph jacket or a beer drinking jacket. First seen in 1921, the reunion jacket at Princeton University has since become an icon for their graduates. In the decades to follow, colleges and prep schools across the country would adopt similar garments. The Princetoniana Museum has done a magnificent job of archiving and documenting 100+ years of reunion coat and beer jacket designs, which like everything good, starts with a good story.
So, as the story goes, according to the 2012 Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW) Reunions Guide:
“One spring day, a group of seniors from the Class of 1912 were drinking beers around a table at the old Nassau Inn. The more they drank, the more foam spilled out of the sides of their mugs — and the more stains they got on their clothes. One member of the tipsy crew had a novel idea: What if they could design something to wear that was expressly for drinking beer? And with this idea, the beer jacket was born.
The beer jacket celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, though in fact it didn’t start out as just a jacket. The 1912 crew decided to don full suits — denim overalls with a workman’s jacket — when it came time to guzzle their favorite brews. Denim was phased out in 1914 when members of the senior class decided to make their suits in white canvas instead, which would remain the fabric of choice until recent years. After World War II, the beer suit was downsized to just a jacket, without overalls, to accommodate the seniors who still were wearing military attire.
When the Class of 2012 debuts its jackets at the P-rade this year, it will join 100 years of Princeton alumni who have worn their jackets not only as a way to protect their clothes from spills, but as a means of identifying and uniting the senior class. As Michael Jimenez ’12, the designer of this year’s jacket, puts it: “The jackets add a resounding sense of camaraderie.”
The jacket of each class carries a distinctive logo, which comes to serve as the unofficial emblem of the class. The designs, which originally were stenciled on the back shoulder of the jacket, often reference events from campus or national news that affects the graduating class. The black armbands on the Class of 1920 jacket, for instance, mourned the disappearance of beer drinking due to Prohibition, while the ’26 jacket celebrated the class’s narrow escape from the University ban of automobiles on campus. Other designs have featured beer mugs, drunken tigers, and women: The Class of 1968 jacket design displays an unconscious tiger splayed out on top of an hourglass, accidentally pouring beer out of the mug he still holds in his hand. The Class of 1970, the first to graduate women, chose a design of a male tiger passionately kissing a woman. The next year’s logo displayed a more domestic scene, showing a male and female tiger with their arms around each other lovingly.” -Princeton Alumni Weekly
Princeton was a unique school to specifically start annually creating beer drinking jackets, as their school is conveniently located just 13 miles from the former H.D. Lee overall factory in Trenton, New Jersey, where their famous Union-Alls, Jackets, Overalls, Shop Coats, and Carpenter Jeans were produced from 1917 until the factory’s closure in 1967.
The influence of Ivy Leagues and their 25th reunion jackets (blazers with crest and c/o year on chest) and beer drinking senior jackets likely influenced others, however the concept of reunion or graduation/senior jackets was something that likely had a different origin.
Signature quilts began gaining popularity shortly after 1840. During the middle of the 19th century, communication was almost entirely in-person or by correspondence, and embroidering the signatures of friends from school, neighbors, family members, etc. became great, cherished ways to create gifts. As people grew up, and families and friends moved away to other parts of the country, students graduated and went on with their lives, these autographed quilts became sentimental.
Sometimes these types of quilts were made in panels, and then pieced together, while others were autographed and hand-sewn to bind the front and backs together. Others used the name signatures to emulate historically popular quilt patterns.
Progressing into the 20th century, autograph jackets became popular garments for seniors in high school and college. White drill or canvas jackets were commonly made by factories across the nation, often marketed as painters’ overalls, economy-priced clothing articles that could be easily saved up for and afforded for a momentous occasion such as a graduation.
In recent years, given the rise in popularity of the vintage clothing market, examples of the garments have emerged and their desirability remains, obvious to the prices they fetch at their sale. The notion that someone took the time to draw and then hand cut a stencil, or better yet had their friends sign their John Hancock to the garment, then took the time or had their family member hand sew each signature in a different color of thread is something bygone and from the vanished past.
These garments came from a time, like Tom Brokaw mentions in his book The Greatest Generation, where the neighborly way triumphed and people’s intrapersonal relationships were at an all-time analog high.
These types of stories speak to us on a deep, emotional level. Our store has been centered on building community, not profits. Yes, we have to sell goods to stay open, but the comradery we have amassed through a decade of operation has been the best part of our endeavor as Hudson’s Hill. We know people by name, we remember repairing customer’s jeans, what they like, and know them as neighbors and not by mere sales figures. Engaging with everyone who walks into our store and educating them on what we sell and why is evermore important than getting them to leave with something more than simply good conversation. We support our friends who are makers, when and how we can.
It was a desire for several years to release a product that carried with it a story this deep, and accompanied by the membership into a club of like-minded people. We will work to grow this annual event, create new and inspiring artwork to capture each year that comes, and hope that this can result, years down the road, in something that furthers our efforts to build community.
So, when we were up at L.C. King in Bristol, TN in the Summer, we were able to grab a dozen painter drill chore jackets. Jack hasn’t yet opened back up wholesale, but we’ve been friends for nearly a decade, and he made an exception for us.
Then, we worked with our newest staff member, Andrew Duke, to create this year's stencil. Click here to read the story of how we came up with the design. The part of the design concept that most inspires me is that each year integrates the numerical year, accompanied by a feature that describes the year. We took this a third step and integrated the store's initials into this year's design, quite a task for Mr. Duke.
Trust me, I know a dozen jackets isn’t nearly enough, but we had to start somewhere and it was also in that moment that we decided entry shouldn’t be just the expensive jacket option. So, we ordered some classic USA-made ringspun cotton t-shirts, and screenprinted the same prints onto them to create an economy, entry-level priced item that offers the same membership invitation.
Bottom line: Inclusion
The outcome: A great, storied series of garments that will each come with a membership card (signed and laminated like old NC licenses), and an invitation to attend to our 1st annual Hudson Overall Company Beer Drinking Club reunion party this Winter.
Do you want to be a part of the HHBDC?
We plan to host the event on an evening in Mid-December at a local watering hole in Greensboro (to be included on the invitation to keep confidential), where we will offer card and board games, music or classic movies, and complimentary beer with the purchase of either of the garments. In addition, we will have some stencils, stamps, markers, and a few artists to help add designs to make yours both custom and sentimental!
’22 Jackets and shirts will be for sale from 11/22 until they sell out. If you miss out, there's always next year!