Sunday, March 6, 2011

Archives: Knitted Harvard Varsity Ties

Photo Credit: Jim Harrison

While flipping through the latest Harvard Magazine, I stumbled upon a picture of knit ties from the 50s with stripes that represented the major sports teams on campus.  The article stated that back when ties and coats were required on Harvard's campus, varsity letterwinners were easily recognized by thier black knit ties with distinguished red stripes.  


Neckties distinguished athletes in 14 major sports, with a generic tie for all minor sports, says Renny Little, curator (pro bono) of the Lee Family Hall of Athletic History. Here (from left) are those for football, soccer, cross country, track and field, ice hockey, swimming, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse, baseball, lightweight crew, golf, and minor sports. Missing are those for heavyweight crew and squash.

Chester M. Pierce '48, M.D. '52

 “Chester M. Pierce ’48, M.D. ’52, proudly wears his football tie in his portrait lecturing in the Ether Dome at MGH [The College Pump, January-February, page 64],” writes Warren M. “Renny” Little ’55, “although artist Stephen Coit has taken the license of lengthening the notoriously short original tie.

When Pierce was in college, ties and coats were required on campus, and varsity letterwinners in major sports were easily recognized by their black knit ties with distinguishing red stripes. Minor sports had a generic striped knit tie. It was not difficult to identify the major sport being represented when there were only five (football, track, hockey, crew, and baseball), but as new sports obtained varsity status (and now there are 41), the number of stripe combinations proliferated bewilderingly. Fashions and dress codes changed, however, and my guess is that by the mid 1980s, these knit ties were no longer being made or often worn. A few old grads still sport their ties, although the iconography of them escapes today’s undergraduates.”



  2. Cool ties! And since they're "notoriously short" -- a boon for shorter guys with skinny necks. They never have stuff like this in my State University e-Newsletter...

    But shame on Stephen Coit for taking the "artistic license" to lengthen this man's tie (worn with such pride) while leaving in the FLATSCREEN MONITOR. One guess which one is going to look more laughably dated in a few year's time... Neckwear lengths and styles used to be so richly varied. Even in the mid-20th century. It's bad enough that the trend these days is toward lock-step stylistic conformity down to the quarter-inch away from the belt buckle. But to "correct" for something like this in what will soon be a historical portrait is silly. Did they get this guy to airbrush out some of the founding dons' ruffs and cravats?

  3. The tratioin of these ties lasted about a century, by my estimate, beginning in the late 1800's and likely inspired by the "colours" ties that undergraduates at English Universities won for sports participation. Perhaps they were introduced into the Ivy league by crew teams returning from the Henley Regatta, who noticed and sought to emulate thia nglish tradition. Such sports ties were the equalivent of what a vasity letter is today. Well into the 20th centur, every Harvard varsity athlte was given a knit sweater (with a unique crew neck of 19th centruy styling, possibly also inspired by the English crew team kit; the sweaterhad a white highlighted Crimson H knitted into it). This sweater trastion and original cut endures to this day. The major H winnter also could curchase a short, thin,tubular knit tie with their sports distinctive stripe pattern. This tradition was disconieud sometime after the seventies, regretably, possibly becase they were made for the Varsity Club by J. August, Co., which appears to have gone out of business. I still wear mine to Harvard sport events, as do many older alumni.