A century after their debut, beer jackets are still in style

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An array of post-World War II beer jackets, circa 1950. (Princeton University Archives)
The following is an excerpt from the 2012 PAW Reunions Guide. To download a PDF of the full guide, click here.
 
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.

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While black and orange jackets have become common, above, the Class of 2012 opted for a more traditional white-background design, below. (Photo: T. Kevin Birch)
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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.
 
The Class of 1982, which brought back the jacket after an absence of several years, created a design that includes a hockey stick (for the U.S. hockey team victory at the 1980 Winter Olympics), a menorah, a basketball, a turban, and a sleeping fox, among other elements. Though class members wear their beer jackets up until their 25th reunion, when they receive their class blazer, this year’s 30th reunion chairwoman, Julia Cloud ’82, notes: “I still have my jacket and have worn it to every reunion.”
 
Not all beer jackets have gone over quite so well. Some members of the Class of 1987, which celebrates its 25th reunion this year, are eager to receive their blazer and bid their beer jacket a final farewell.
 
“Our beer jacket was a monstrosity in polyester and, as far as I know, the only non-cotton beer jacket ever made,” says Rich Gordet ’87. “I still have mine, but it’s never been worn and is still as shiny and white as the day I got it almost 25 years ago.”
 
This year, about 35 proposals were submitted in the Class of 2012 jacket- design competition. Jimenez’s winning design is simple yet striking: On the back of the white jacket, the stripes on a tiger’s head spell out a subtle “12.” The front is defined by an inverted “V” shape, which “is reminiscent of the one on the Princeton shield,” says Jimenez. “And the Princeton shield [lies] over the heart, as it very well should.”
 
When members of the Class of 2012 receive their jackets, they will gain an addition to their wardrobe that will never go out of style (or at least out of Princeton style).
 
Says Gregg Lange ’70: “Reunions or not, party or not, day or night, any event you can name — memorial services included — if you’re a Princetonian and you’re wearing your beer jacket, you’re appropriately dressed. End of story.”

3 thoughts on “A century after their debut, beer jackets are still in style

  1. MKT

    I buy vintage Princeton clothing, mainly sweaters and beer jackets. 1960’s and older–feel free to contact me if you have any for sale!

    Reply

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