New(ish) Patterns for the Varsity, Letterman, Aviator or Bomber Jacket


As a blogger, I can look at my stats and know what’s bringing readers here, and I’ve been surprised lately to see that people are searching for Varsity/Letterman/Bomber/Aviator-style jacket patterns. Thinking of fall sewing already?

During the winter I wrote about how this cut of jacket was becoming a style statement, and included a link to a New York Time Style article featuring designer versions.

Elletra Weidemann

(You can find that post and info here)

While I’m in the sewing shed laboring on a project that’s not ready for prime time (oops, and going to the beach, too, forgot I told you that…) I thought I’d share some of the jacket patterns I’ve found while procrastinating–er– “researching” online.

Even though this basic style is somewhat interchangeable nowadays, the jackets come from two different places in history.

The Varsity or “Letterman” jacket started in the 1860’s at Harvard University (of course, where else, rah rah rah) when athletes had the letter “H” sewn onto their sweaters, and if they did particular well, they got to keep the letter. This started a U.S. tradition of athletes earning “letters” to wear on their wool jackets with leather sleeves.


Earning a letter allowed these “jocks” to date the prettiest mean girl and beat up the sensitive guys…or at least that’s how it plays out in most American movies about high school. International readers, does this style exist in your country?

The bomber or aviator jacket was developed in the early 20th century for pilots to wear in cold airplane cockpits, and they were often made of sheepskin with shearling on the inside for warmth. During the 30s, the jackets were shortened to waist length to create the A2 style we’re familiar with now.

Brando in bomber jacket

It’s definitely a “bad boy” look.

This style has gone in and out a number of times, but now the jackets are having a moment, so stitch one up fast while they’re still hot!

Here are some patterns for women’s jackets that I found recently on BurdaStyle:

Burda slouchy varsity jacket pattern

I like the 3/4 batwing sleeves and low neckline of this pattern, found here.


Burda flowing varsity jacket

This one, found here, has blousy sleeves and slash pockets.


Burda collarless varsity jacket pattern

I like the clean neckline, snaps, and zipper pocket detail on the sleeve. You can find it here.

Here’s one for men, cut with raglan sleeves, found here:

Burda coat pattern

As I mentioned in a previous post, Kathleen Fasanella of has a men’s bomber-style jacket pattern with in-depth instructions, which can also be used for manufacturing. (Info is here.)

Bomber jacket pattern


That’s all the patterns I could find, but if you’re aware of any others, please let us know in the comments. It’s a fun look to stitch up for fall.

Update: After I published this post, I heard from Gabrielle of the Up Sew Late Blog. She told me about the following patterns:

The Papercut Patterns Rigel Bomber, which has a modified “V” neck, and plain raglan sleeves or sleeves with shoulder detail:

Rigel Jacket

And the StyleArc “Sharon Sweat Top” which could be used to make this kind of jacket, or to fake a Lululemon apres yoga jacket. With a wide range of sizes and a princess seam cut, this could work for more pear-shaped women.


Thanks for the heads up on those patterns, Gabrielle!

All of the links to these patterns, and more, can be found on this Pinterest page:  

Enough procrastinating. Back to sewing!

Too Cool for School: Patterns for The Varsity Jacket and Duffle Coat


Recently the New York Times featured some new designer takes on an American classic style, known as the bomber jacket or varsity jacket. Here’s Elletra Weidemann sporting what the Times calls a “statement piece” (no kidding–look at all of that beading) by Giambattista Valli, with jackets by other designers such as Alexander Wang and Phillip Lim:

Elletra WeidemannNY Times Style Article

Talk about someone who’s hit the genetic lottery; her mother is Isabella Rossellini and her grandmother is Ingrid Bergman. (Love her short bob.)

Suddenly I’m seeing these jacket everywhere. At J. Crew (an American mall brand) I saw what looked like a sweatshirt-meets neoprene version, and then later I had to restrain myself from ordering this silk crepe de chine homage from the UK’s Pure Collection:

Silk jacketSilk Jacket

If you’re a certain age in the U.S., you’ll remember when this jacket was a “varsity jacket” with a wool body and leather sleeves, and ribbing on the cuffs and hem. When you borrowed your boyfriend’s jacket in high school, the oversized fit made a statement that you and the guy were a couple. They were warm, comfy and cute.

Here’s a picture from the 40s:


I cadged that picture from this blog full of Made in America stuff: (Check out the nice leather goods in this blog)

In the 80s this style morphed into a “tour jacket” which was the hot thing you got to wear if you were working on a rock and roll tour.

Michael_Jackson_Smooth_Criminal_Roadie_Tour_Jacket(If you’re really into Michael Jackson collectibles…)

The logo of the artist would be embroidered on the back, and if you were really cool, your name would be embroidered on the front, a kitch-y reference to 50s bowling team shirts. After awhile, this style moved from rock tours to TV crews, and then everybody had them.

Here’s an Oscars jacket in my personal collection, from more than 20 years ago:


As to how I got it, well, as the old Rodgers and Hart song says, “if they asked me, I could write a book…”

Now that I’ve recovered from thumb tendonitis from hand-stitching Chanel jacket #4, I’m thinking that this kind of jacket might be a nice change of pace.

To make one, I’m looking at the recently released pattern created by Kathleen Fasanella, whose popular blog, Fashion Incubator, has a wealth of deep and broad information for the fledgling designer and serious home-sewing nut. Her book, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing has gotten great reviews on Amazon. (Kathleen Fasanella’s Book)

This jacket pattern may look simple in the prototype, yet her instructions and construction photos are a whopping 59 pages long. Though sized for men, the pattern could be used by a woman as the base for making an oversized designer-inspired version.

Bomber jacket patternBomber Jacket Pattern link

Here’s another classic design many of us grew up with: the duffle coat. In one of the earliest examples of dressing “vintage,” the Beat Generation writers and artists embraced this style, getting the coats from the Army/Navy surplus.


In a recent post from the Vintage Traveler, I saw that one element of the Canadian Olympic uniform is the duffle, designed by the Hudson Bay company:


And the upscale skiwear manufacturer Bogner came up with this rockin’ version for the Germans: Sochi-2014-Uniforms-Germany

You would never get lost in a white-out skiing in that thing.

Somehow in the past 50 years in the US, duffle coats have become preppy, and now preppy has become a parody of itself (thanks a lot Ralph Lauren and you “Official Preppy Handbook” people…(Review of the book “True Prep” by Lisa Birnbach and Chip Kidd), but the duffle coat remains cool. Hipster cool.

Here’s a couple of modern hipsters, Bob and Betty Walden, wandering about what appears to be the woods outside of “Portlandia,” modeling coats from Colette Patterns’ new “Walden” line.


(The last time I drove by the turn-off to the real Walden Pond, outside of Boston, it was near a mini-mart and state prison.) Here’s a link to the original hipster/hippy go-back-to-the-land-and-gaze-at-your-navel book, Thoreau’s Walden: (Or Life in the Woods) If you like it, let me know. As a college freshman during the disco era, I read the Cliff Notes for American Lit because I was far too busy to get through it.

Kidding aside, this duffle coat pattern looks authentic and well-drafted. (Albion Duffle Coat Pattern)

The line also has a pattern for three vintage-style satchel/backpack-type bags that I’ve been coveting:

Cooper Bag Pattern(Cooper Bag Pattern)

You can also buy an in-depth construction guide for this pattern, with more than 400 photos, so this would be a good project for a beginner. Gentlemen, start your sewing machine engines.

As for the rest of you kids, I’ll meet you in the woods after school for a ciggie.