Lapel Pins History
Lapel pins can be traced as far back as the Civil War. During the Civil War, they not only provided the army a helpful visual clue for staying organized, but encouraged the troops by showing a marker of their loyalty to each other. During World War I, these pins had new meaning. They were awarded selectively to individuals to distinguish them for their exemplary service in the field. This use of lapel pins is still alive today, even though other uses have been introduced too. Lapel pins are worn to show a military ranking or government post. These pins can also mean a sign of membership in an exclusive group or dedication to a cause.
Though these little pins (sometimes called buttons or badges) sit quietly on the lapel on a jacket, they say a lot, and their rich meaning comes in part from their rich history. Lapel pins began to be traded during the 1896 Olympics in Athens, Greece. The first souvenir and “official” Olympic pin was produced for the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Fraternities and sororities, for example, frequently give each of their members a pin, which they wear to their meetings and events. Businesses, sports teams, police and medical services, schools and a wide variety of other organizations also use lapel pins, both as a sign of group membership and to mark outstanding achievement.
In the United States, many showed their patriotism by wearing American flag pins after the September 11th attacks. Of course, the meaning of pins doesn’t have to be political. They can also be used for social causes like cancer awareness. At the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid and at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles more than 17 million pins were traded in 1300 different designs. In 1999, Disney introduced pin trading at their parks, and it has become one of the major activities found at all of the parks. Pin trading also has become a big part of youth sports. Many baseball, hockey, soccer, and football tournaments offer pins for trading as a central part of the event. Cheerleading and competitions introduced the pin-trading concept in 2010 and it has become a memorable part of the competition for attendees.
Today, it does not matter if you call them a varsity pin or still call them lapel pins. Students, athletes, and coaches understand how significant these items really are. Every school might use these pins and/or chenille lettering in a different manner and have slightly different meanings. Some schools use the pins to show what other sports or activities the student participate in or to show the other varsity sports that they have lettered in. Co-captain, captain, etc are other uses that can be shown by the use of the varsity pins.
The first known chenille or varsity letter originated in the United States around 1865. The Harvard baseball team embroidered an Old English H onto its gray flannel shirts. Ten years later in 1875, their football team started to use the chenille-embroidered H to signify the individual players who played in what was then the most important games of the season against Yale and Princeton. This is the first recording of the use of the varsity letter as an award.
The letterman sweater was first regularly used in 1891 by the Harvard baseball team. Their sweater was black with a crimson H on the left chest. Letterman sweaters were the precursor to letterman jackets. On pullover sweaters, the letter was usually quite large and centered. If it was a cardigan style sweater, the letter normally was placed on the left side. The stripes on one sleeve designated the number of letters won; a star indicated the team captain. The sweater it seems was the main award from the 1890s until the 1930s. During the 1920s and 30s a stadium-style blanket was given as an award. About 1930, the letter award started to appear on leather sleeved, wool-bodied jackets. The jackets from the 30s were different in design than today’s modern jacket. As a decorative clothing item, the varsity letter has a huge number of variations with no set standard on how it should look.
It is not known when the letterman sweater was introduced to high schools. However, the earliest high school photo that can be found is from a 1911 from Phoenix Union High School, Arizona Territory yearbook. A student is pictured in a group photo wearing a V-neck sweater with the letter P on the left chest. Today’s award letters are usually made in the colors and initials representing the school that the recipient attends. The letter patch is primarily constructed of chenille and felt materials. Standard sizes range from 4 inches (102 mm) to 8 inches (203 mm). Sizes from 4 inches (102 mm) and 5 inches (127 mm) usually denote junior varsity achievements, with sizes 6 inches (152 mm) to 8 inches (203 mm) denoting plain (senior) varsity.
The stitching style used for creating the chenille look is called a moss stitch, and the outlining sew down is called a chain stitch. The letters are made by both hand and automated machine depending on the company manufacturing the emblem.
A varsity letter (or monogram) is an award earned in the United States for excellence in school activities. A varsity letter signifies that its winner was a qualified varsity team, awarded after a certain standard was met. A letterman, can be in U.S. sports, performing arts or academics, and is usually a high school or college student who has met a specified level of participation and/or performance on a varsity athletic team, marching band, or in other performance school-sponsored activities. The term, letterman, comes from the practice of awarding each such participant a cloth “letter”, which is usually the school’s initial or initials, for placement on a “letter sweater” or “letter jacket” intended for the display of such an award. In some instances, the sweater or jacket itself may also be awarded, especially when the initial award is given to the individual.
Traditionally the athletic letter is associated with elite athletes, though in the last few decades there has been movement to make the letter award more accessible to all students by removing performance requirements. In the case of a marching band, drum-line, or color guard member, usually a letter is awarded to an upperclassmen or section leader. Today, in order to distinguish “lettermen” from other team participants, schools often establish a minimum level of participation in a team’s events and/or a minimum level of performance in order for a letter to be awarded. A common threshold in American football and basketball is participation in a set level, often half, of all quarters in a season. To meet this standard in a ten game season, one would have to have participated in at least twenty of the forty quarters played. In individual sports such as tennis and golf, the threshold for lettering is generally participation in one half or sometimes two-thirds of all matches contested. Frequently, other members of the team who fail to meet requirements for a letter are awarded a certificate of participation or other award considered to be of lesser value than a letter.
Some schools continue to base the awarding of letters according to performance, in team sports requiring a certain number of scores, steals, baskets or tackles, according to position and sport. In individual sports letters are often determined according to qualification for state meets or tournaments. In the performing arts letters are awarded according to performance. Students who are selected for state choir or receive high scores at major instrumental competition may also receive letters, along with musicians who achieve first or second seat in their instrumental section. Students participating in academic clubs can also be given this award if the requirements are met, and usually are given at the discretion of each school.
In some schools general “academic letters” are awarded on the basis of GPA, usually students with a GPA at or above 3.8. The term letterman is not gender-specific; a qualifying participant in women’s basketball or other women’s sports is properly referred to as a letterman, as would be a qualifying female participant on a co-educational sports team.
Students generally receive only one actual letter, but can win the distinction multiple times. Adding embroidered sport insignias, modeled metal insert pins, or bars that are attached to the letter shows these additional designations. Some schools may embroider non-athletic letters with their award title, such as “Academics” or “Arts.” It’s called a letter because the player is usually given a patch of the school’s initial(s). Varsity letters come in many different forms and shapes. Some institutions use Old English style, 2 or 3-letter monogram, 3-D shading, chenille bordered or the traditional straight block style. They usually vary in size according to level, i.e. varsity is the largest. These are usually sewn onto a “letter jacket” or “letter sweater” worn by the athlete.