The Iconic Varsity Stripe: How to Choose and Style These Timeless Sweaters

Varsity stripe sleeve sweaters have been a wardrobe staple for generations. With their preppy striped pattern and classic fit, these iconic sweaters have moved from athletic teams to mainstream fashion, maintaining their popularity over decades. In this in-depth guide, we’ll recommend the top varsity stripe sweater choices for different needs and budgets, provide tips on how to style them, and answer frequently asked questions about how to choose and care for these timeless knits.

Introduction

The varsity stripe sleeve sweater is one of the most iconic American clothing pieces. With its horizontally striped ribbed band ringing the neckline, sleeves, and waist, this knit jumper immediately calls to mind images of golden-era university athletes and Kennedy-era prep.

The style has its origins in the letter sweaters awarded to school sports players in the late 19th century. Originally made from wool, these sweaters featured a large letter on the front to denote the wearer’s team and school. By the 1920s, the letter sweater had evolved to include the classic striped band and trim that came to define the varsity sweater style.

In the post-WWII era, varsity sweaters gained wider fashion appeal. No longer just for athletes, the varsity stripe became a emblem of the Ivy League fashion movement and preppy style. Brands like Brooks Brothers began producing their own varsity knits. Donned by style icons like Grace Kelly and JFK Jr., the varsity sweater transcended its sporty collegiate roots to become a modern wardrobe staple.

Today, the varsity cardigan remains as relevant as ever. From retro inspired looks to collegiate-chic, the varsity stripe sweater offers timeless versatility. This article will recommend the top varsity stripe sleeve sweaters across budgets and styles, provide tips on how to wear them, and answer common questions about these enduring knits.

The Top 5 Varsity Stripe Sleeve Sweaters

When selecting a varsity stripe sweater, consider aspects like material, quality, fit, versatility, and budget. Quality materials like merino wool or cashmere last over time and retain their shape. A slim, tailored fit flatters most body types. Neutral, versatile colors make integrating a varsity sweater into your wardrobe easy. With prices ranging widely, set a budget but know that higher quality comes at a higher cost.

Here are five of the best varsity stripe sweater options available today:

1. Best Overall: J.Crew Varsity Sweater

For those seeking a timeless, wear-anywhere varsity knit, J.Crew’s Italian merino wool varsity sweater is a top choice. The merino wool offers durability and a touchable softness. The slim fit is tailored but not restrictive. Stripes around the cuffs, hem, and neckline anchor the classic varsity style.

Pros:

  • Soft, durable merino wool
  • High-quality construction and materials
  • Slim, flattering fit
  • Versatile neutral and navy colors

Cons:

  • Dry clean only
  • Runs about $100-$150 full retail price

For a varsity sweater that will become a go-to year after year, J.Crew’s version is a sound investment. Pair with jeans, khakis, or casual trousers for an elevated take on weekend wear. The neutral camel color works year-round.

2. Most Versatile: Everlane Italian Merino Wool Sweater

For an authentic retro varsity vibe, Everlane’s merino wool sweater is a stylish choice full of versatility. The wash makes it look worn-in and vintage. The 100% merino wool offers lightweight warmth and breathability. With its true-to-size fit, this sweater provides a roomier silhouette.

Pros:

  • Soft, fine merino wool
  • Relaxed retro fit
  • Worn-in vintage look
  • Full range of sizes
  • Under $100 price point

Cons:

  • Pilling possible over time
  • Loose fit not ideal for a sleek silhouette

From jeans to corduroys, Everlane’s varsity sweater pairs well with most bottoms. The heather gray shade makes coordinating effortless. For a casual weekend vibe, style with slim jeans and white sneakers.

3. Best Budget: Old Navy Varsity Sweater

For budget-friendly varsity style, Old Navy’s striped sweater is a win. The cotton-polyester blend provides softness and durability. The Silm Fit offers a tailored look without tightness. At under $40 full price, it provides the iconic varsity stripes at a fraction of designer prices.

Pros:

  • Soft cotton-polyester blend
  • Slim flattering fit
  • Crewneck and V-neck options
  • Wide range of sizes
  • Very budget-friendly price

Cons:

  • Runs small, order up a size
  • Limited color options
  • Polyester content not as luxe

For casual winter layering or grabbing coffee with friends, Old Navy’s varsity sweater offers an affordable way to sport the stripe. Pair with jeans, cords, or joggers for an easy weekend outfit. The black color makes coordinating effortless.

4. Best Fit: Banana Republic Slim Fit Varsity Sweater

For a slim fit that flatters most body types, check out Banana Republic’s merino wool slim-fit varsity. The merino wool blend contours the body smoothly without tightness. Stripes at the collar, cuffs, and hem anchor the varsity style. Banana Republic offers an extended size range to ensure proper fit.

Pros:

  • Ultra-slim fit through torso and arms
  • Merino wool blend
  • Extended sizing options
  • Machine washable
  • Often available at 40% off

Cons:

  • Slim fit not ideal for all body types
  • Limited color selection

For a streamlined layered look, Banana Republic’s varsity layers neatly under blazers and coats. The heather gray shade makes coordinating effortless. Pair with dark denim and boots for a refined weekend look.

5. Best Splurge: Vince Cashmere Varsity Sweater

For luxury cashmere varsity style, Vince’s slim fit cashmere sweater is the ultimate splurge. At $325 full price, the super-soft Mongolian cashmere commands top dollar. The fit is tailored and sleek, ideal for layering. For investment-worthy cashmere quality, Vince delivers.

Pros:

  • Mongolian cashmere
  • Ultra-slim fit
  • High-end designer quality
  • Luxurious feel and drape

Cons:

  • $325 price tag
  • Delicate care required
  • Sizing limited

For making a luxurious statement, Vince’s cashmere varsity sweater elevates any outfit from jeans to trousers. The black and gray shades pair well with muted pieces. For business casual to upscale occasions, this indulgent knit delivers.

How to Choose the Right Varsity Sweater for You

With countless varsity stripe sweater options available, focus on a few key factors when selecting one for your needs:

Consider Your Budget

Varsity sweaters range from $30 fast-fashion versions to $300+ designer cashmere. Set a budget to narrow choices to sweaters offering quality construction and materials. Quality wool or wool-blend versions can run $100-$175 at full price but often go on sale.

Evaluate Quality and Construction

Inspect sweaters closely for elements like:

  • Fabric density – Tightly knit fabrics withstand pilling and wear better over time
  • Stitching – Clean, tight stitching prevents loose seams or unraveling
  • Reinforced elbows – Patches inside elbows add durability
  • Hem and cuff width – Narrow ribbing keeps shape over time

Assess Sizing and Fit

Varsity sweaters come in slim to oversized silhouettes. Determine which flatters your frame best. Know your measurements and check size charts. Size up for a roomier fit or order true to size for a tailored look.

Determine Ideal Stripe Configuration

Varsity sweaters feature striped bands around:

  • Collar/neckline
  • Sleeve cuffs
  • Shirt hem/bottom band

Wider striped accents make a bolder statement. Thin striped bands offer more subtle varsity style. Choose your preferred stripe visual impact.

Choose Complementary Fabrics and Materials

Varsity sweaters come in:

  • Wool – provides warmth and durability; merino wool offers softness
  • Cotton – offers breathability and easy care
  • Cashmere – provides ultrasoft luxury and warmth

Select materials aligning with your lifestyle, care, and budget preferences.

Select Complementary Colors

Stick to versatile neutrals like black, navy, gray, tan, camel, or heathered shades. These colors pair easily with most wardrobe staples from jeans to trousers.

Factor in Intended Use and Versatility

Choose fabrics and fits that align with your purposes:

  • Lounging and layering – size up and choose soft breathable cotton
  • Sleek business casual look – select a tailored merino wool version
  • Date nights – slim cashmere adds luxury and polish

Read Reviews and Recommendations

Research options and read reviews to confirm sizing, quality and value align with your preferences and budget.

Compare Pricing and Value

Weigh price against material quality, construction, and durability. More expensive knits often offer superior longevity and cost-per-wear over time.

By keeping these factors in mind, you can identify the ideal varsity stripe sweater to complement your existing wardrobe.

Tips for Styling Varsity Stripe Sweaters

Once you’ve selected the perfect varsity sweater, it’s time to have fun styling it. This preppy classic pairs well with most casual basics.

With Jeans

Varsity sweaters instantly elevate classic blue jeans. Pair with:

  • Dark wash jeans – for weekdays or weekends
  • Black jeans – make it rocker chic
  • White jeans – for warmer months
  • Gray jeans – for toned down neutrals
  • Cuffed or ankle jeans – show off cool sneakers

With Khakis or Chinos

For polished casual looks, combine your sweater with:

  • Tan or stone chinos – for warm weather
  • Olive or army green chinos – for an earthy vibe
  • Navy chinos – subtle alternative to jeans

With Skirts

Varsity sweaters look preppy-chic paired with skirts like:

  • Mini skirts – stylish with tights and boots
  • Midi pencil skirts – for professional edge
  • Maxi skirts – pretty with ankle boots

Layered Looks

Throw a varsity sweater over tees and button-downs. Then layer under:

  • Blazers or sportcoats – for polished office looks
  • Trenchcoats – stylish with jeans or trousers
  • Leather jackets – for downtown edge

Accessorize

Elevate your varsity sweater with:

  • Simple layered necklaces or pendants – avoid bold statement pieces
  • Patterned silk scarves – add visual interest
  • Leather watch straps – lean into the retro vibe
  • Skinny belts – cinch over baggy tops or dresses

Footwear

Ground your look in:

  • Low-top white sneakers – fresh and youthful
  • Loafers – channel Ivy League prep
  • Oxfords – scholarly with skirts and dresses
  • Chelsea or ankle boots – sleek and polished

Create Different Vibes

Style your sweater for varied looks:

  • Preppy – with khakis, skirts, collared shirts
  • Grunge – over band tees and ripped jeans
  • Retro – with high-waisted bottoms and accessories
  • Athletic – with joggers and sneakers for off-duty model

Dress It Up or Down

Varsity sweaters easily transition from casual days to dressed-up nights.

  • Day – jeans, joggers, shorts
  • Night – layered over dresses, with skirts and heels

Year-Round Style

Varsity sweaters work in warmer and colder months:

  • Spring/Summer – with shorts, tees, tank tops
  • Fall/Winter – layered under coats and jackets

Have fun mixing, matching, and layering your varsity sweater for endless chic combinations.

Caring for Your Varsity Sweater

Give your varsity stripes the proper care to keep them looking sharp. Follow these tips:

Follow Specific Care Instructions

Check garment labels for guidelines on washing, drying, and other care. This preserves the size, shape, and texture.

Wash in Cold Water on Delicate Cycle

Hot water can damage wool, cashmere, cotton, and other knit fabrics. Wash sweaters in cold water on a gentle, delicate cycle.

Lay Flat or Hang to Dry

Line or flat drying prevents shrinkage. If hanging, use thick wooden or padded hangers to maintain the sweater’s shape.

Use a Sweater Comb

Regularly combing the sweater with a wool comb removes surface pills and fuzz before they accumulate.

Store Properly Off-Season

When not wearing the sweater, store folded in a drawer or hanging to prevent stretching or damage.

Hand Wash Cashmere and Wool

Delicate cashmere or merino wool may require hand washing to preserve the fibers. Use a gentle wool detergent.

Inspect Regularly for Damage

Check for loose threads, holes, stains, or other damage. Make repairs immediately before issues worsen.

Address Pilling ASAP

Using a sweater shaver at first signs of pilling maintains the knit’s smooth texture.

With some basic care, your beloved varsity sweater will last for many seasons of stylish wear.

Frequently Asked Varsity Stripe Sweater Questions

Varsity stripe sweaters prompt some common questions for first-timers and aficionados alike. Here are answers to the most frequently asked:

How did varsity stripe sweaters originate?

Varsity sweaters evolved from letter sweaters awarded to 19th century university athletes. The distinctive striped bands were added in the 1920s.

What fabrics are they commonly made from?

Traditional fabrics include wool, merino wool, cashmere, cotton, cotton-blends, or synthetic blends. Wool and cashmere offer the most luxury.

What’s the difference between varsity sweaters and letterman jackets?

Letterman jackets feature a large embroidered school letter. Varsity sweaters incorporate striped bands instead of embroidered letters.

How versatile are they? Can you wear them year-round?

Yes! Varsity sweaters pair with anything from shorts to suits. They transition seamlessly from casual warm to cold weather.

Are varsity sweaters still fashionable?

Absolutely. Varsity stripes remain perennially stylish for their nostalgic collegiate vibe that still feels fresh and contemporary.

How do you wash and care for them properly?

Follow garment label instructions. Most can be machine washed cold and delicate, then dried laying flat. Comb gently.

How can you style them for more edgy or casual looks?

Distress them a bit, style over band tees and ripped jeans, pop the collar, pair with leather and edgy accessories.

What colors and stripe patterns work best?

Traditional shades like navy, gray, black, white always work. For patterns, choose subtle thin stripes over bold, contrasting ones.

How much do quality varsity sweaters cost?

Budget versions run $30-60. Well-made wool or cashmere sweaters cost $100-$300 at retail depending on fabric and brand.

Where are the best places to buy varsity stripe sweaters?

Department stores, J.Crew, Banana Republic, Ralph Lauren, vintage stores, Etsy vintage sellers, Amazon, and Everlane.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a lifelong lover or first-time varsity stripe sweater shopper, this guide provides tips to select the right one for your style and budget. Follow our care instructions to keep your knits looking sharp. Peruse the styling suggestions for fresh ways to wear this forever staple.

From Ivy League nostalgia to modern preppy, the varsity cardigan offers eternal versatility and personality. With proper care and styling, these classic striped sweaters will deliver lasting comfort and flair for decades to come.

The varsity stripe stands the test of time thanks to its perennial ability to evoke academic nostalgia while still feeling current and on-trend. Moving effortlessly from campus bleachers to city streets, this iconic staple sweater belongs in every stylish wardrobe rotation.

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