Essential Sports Inspired Jackets: The Coach, Varsity, and Harrington

Coach Jackets Straight Outta Compton

Jackets are the Swiss Army knife of the wardrobe, versatile, practical and cool. It goes without saying that there are as many styles of jacket as there are reasons to wear one so breaking down every possible style is an impossible task. Instead, let’s focus on three that, to a certain extent, have a shared origin on the sports field. So here are three sport-inspired jackets you need in your wardrobe: the Coach Jacket, Varsity Jacket and Harrington Jacket.

The Coach Jacket

Coach Jacket History NWA

The first two styles of sport inspired jackets share plenty of history. Both coach and varsity jackets boast close associations with baseball and American football. Coach jackets were typically worn by the team’s head and assistant coaches, hence the name, and consisted of a few key design traits. Cut with a mid-length that extends just below the hips, coach jackets traditionally come with a snap button front, twin side pockets and a drawstring hem. Made from cotton or a polyester blend, the style was designed to keep the coaching staff warm and dry on the sidelines.

The jackets would feature the team’s insignia and colours, with logos appearing on the chest and back, leaving not so subtle hints as to which team you were repping. The latter is a big part in the coach’s jacket’s broader appeal. The world of hip hop embraced the style in the 1990s, with NWA designing their own uniform consisting of snapback caps, gold chains and black coach jackets with their logo and names on.

Universal Works Porto Jacket

Universal Works Porto Jacket, £89

Coming with a snap front closure, side pockets and a drawstring hem, this looks every bit the classic coach jacket. It’s been updated with a lightweight cotton seersucker fabric however, making it ideal for the summer months.

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YMC Poachers Jacket

YMC Poachers Jacket, £118

A more utilitarian design, this boxy jacket boasts two front flap pockets and side poacher pockets, as well as a drawstring waist and classic collar

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The Varsity Jacket

Varsity Jackets

It was the players of America’s high school and college teams that arguably got the better deal when it came to jackets. Indeed, the varsity jacket is one of the most iconic outerwear styles of all and is certainly the most emblematic of the USA. Its origins began all the way back in 1865, when Harvard University’s baseball team sewed a large H onto the front of their sweatshirts, proudly displaying their allegiance to the Ivy League institution.

Other schools cottoned on and by the turn of the century every major college sports team started giving ‘letterman’ sweaters out to its players. Cardigans began to be de rigueur, which moved the letter to the chest, before button up jackets took a hold. By the 1930s, the style we know today was born, with its short, boxy cut, wool fabric and leather arms making it unique among light outerwear, while its patches, letters and insignias repped the colours of one’s team. The style is among the most replicated of any piece of clothing, with brands like The Golden Bear and Ebbets Field Flannels producing authentic reproduction pieces, and the likes of Burberry and Off White being known for their luxurious takes.

Golden Bear Albany Wool-Blend and Leather Bomber Jacket

Golden Bear Albany Wool-Blend and Leather Bomber Jacket, £565

A muted, minimal take on the varsity jacket, this Golden Bear design comes with a black wool body and cow leather arms for a sleek, refined look.

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END. X A BATHING APE ‘Bowling’ Varsity Jacket

END. X A BATHING APE ‘Bowling’ Varsity Jacket, £959

The varsity is prime collaboration territory, as shown by this END. x A Bathing Ape design. A faithful recreation of mid-century pieces, it comes with a large ‘B’ up front and embroidered bowling pins on the rear.

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Dehen Varsity Jacket

Dehen Varsity Jacket, £695

Made in Portland to the same specifications of the brand’s first varsity jacket in 1951, this Dehen design is made from 24 ounce melton wool and comes with brown leather sleeves that will take on a unique patina with wear.

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Thom Sweeney Wool Varsity Jacket

Thom Sweeney Wool Varsity Jacket, £1,895

For ultimate comfort, try Thom Sweeney’s sporty take. Made from a soft wool and cotton blend, its subtle grey shade and contrasting stripes tap into the style’s retro origins.

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The Harrington Jacket

Elvis Preseley James Dean Harrinton Jacket

Less talked about is the Harrington jacket. It flies more under the radar, given it’s usually made from muted tones of navy, black, or at a push, beige, and it lacks any bold lettering, logos or contrast piping. But this jacket might be the coolest of the lot. Beginning life in the 1930s, it was originally designed by British brand Baracuta as golf wear; its short, boxy design and raglan sleeves allowing for an impressive range of movement. It was waterproof, made from the brand’s light, rain-resistant cotton, and came with a distinctly British tartan lining for a subtle touch of flair. It’s defined by its funnel neck collar, which can be buttoned up for added wind resistance, its slanted side pockets and elasticated cuffs and hem.

Steve McQueen Harrinton Jacket

The Harrington was an instant hit, and upon being exported to the States was worn by none other than Elvis Presley in the 1958 film, King Creole. Two years earlier, James Dean wore a bright red Harrington in Rebel Without a Cause, and although not a Baracuta, displayed the potential of this burgeoning style. It would later be worn by Steve McQueen, who favoured a stone Baracuta, before it starred in the 1960s TV show Peyton Place, where character Rodney Harrington wore it throughout, giving the jacket its name.

The Harrington has never lost its mid-century appeal. As far as an easy, comfortable and practical jacket you can just throw on at a moment’s notice, it’s hard to beat. But then that’s true of all of these sportswear staples. Once niche products designed for a specific few, these classic pieces combine perfectly with denim jeans, T-shirts and polos. They are the tool watches of outerwear, with their functional detailing, simple designs and easy to style versatility.

Baracuta G9 Harrington

Baracuta G9 Harrington Jacket, £360

The original Harrington, the Baracuta G9 is one of Britain’s great outerwear exports. Still made in the UK from a water-resistant cotton, it comes with raglan sleeves, an umbrella back yoke and a Fraser tartan lining.

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Barbour B.Intl SMQ Rectifier Harrington Casual Jacket

Barbour B.Intl SMQ Rectifier Harrington Casual Jacket, £135

Inspired by the Harrington worn by Steve McQueen in the 1960s, this Barbour jacket sports a versatile beige shade, a corduroy collar and handy snap pockets at the front.

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Private White V C The Ventile Harrington 3.0 Jacket

Private White V.C. The Ventile® Harrington 3.0 Jacket, £400

Refined and luxurious, Private White VC’s Harrington is made from ventile cotton and is seam sealed, ensuring it’s 100% waterproof. Finished with a corduroy collar, a military grade brass zip and a tailored fit, it’s as good as it gets.

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About the author

Charlie Thomas

Charlie Thomas is a UK-based writer and photographer. An eternal pessimist, he has an equal love of both fine food and KFC. His work has appeared in The Independent, The Times, NME, the London Evening Standard, Tatler and Esquire.