The Varsity Trend Is the Retro-Sporty Alternative to Athleisure This Summer

Hailey Bieber, Ethel Cain, Chloe Sevigny Wearing Varsity Style Clothing

The Riverdale crew is heading back to the ’50s—and this season, your closet may be too. If you even vaguely follow the soapy supernatural CW drama, you’d know that the final season is set 60+ years in the past, and Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the rest of the group are in full retro garb as a tribute to the original comics. Even if you don’t watch the show, you’ll notice that sporty, varsity style is everywhere from the runways to TikTok. The preppy look has even gained some celebrity fans, like Bella Hadid and singer Ethel Cain, who played her recent Coachella set in a Givenchy cheerleading ensemble. Ahead, we dive into the trend that will be everywhere this summer.

Bella Hadid wearing a varsity top

The Trend

Varsity-inspired styles have deep roots in the Ivy League schools, particularly at Harvard, where “H” logo sweaters were worn by the college’s baseball team. This evolved into the traditional letterman’s cardigan sweater and bomber-style jacket, soon to be worn by college and high school athletes (and borrowed by their sweethearts), and quickly became synonymous with the prep aesthetic as a whole. That campus-inspired style was eventually popularized by designers like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, and then it was adopted by hip-hop artists and became a significant element of streetwear style too.

(For a super deep dive into the Ivy aesthetic, check out the American Ivy podcast series from 99% Invisible.)

Where You’ve Seen It

The preppy varsity look is deeply embedded into American fashion and thus has a “comeback” every few years (though it never truly goes away). In the 2020s, we’ve seen Off-White, Coach, and Kith all put their own special spin on the trend, bringing this old-school look back to the runways, red carpets, and the most fashionable corners of your TikTok FYP.

The varsity trend is also a mainstay in pop culture fashion, from the campy references to the ’50s in the 1978 classic Grease, where T-Bird Danny ditches his leather jacket for a white Rydell cardigan to woo good-girl Sandy, to the updated varsity-chic styles of Julien Calloway in the now-canceled Gossip Girl reboot, who paired her letter jacket with bike shorts and designer sneakers—quite a shift from Blair Waldorf’s headbands and colorful tights.


The 2023 version is all about that mix; it’s less Cher Horowitz in her Clueless yellow plaid skirt suits and more Veronica Lodge raiding Archie’s closet and pairing his cardigan with her skintight capri pants and flirty pencil skirts for a coquettish vibe or Hailey Bieber wearing penny loafers and white socks with a miniskirt, sweater vest, and oversize jacket. Over on TikTok, the girlies are pulling from the similar “blokette” aesthetic, which pairs soccer jerseys with bows, and pairing varsity tees with miniskirts and bows for a feminine twist on the look.

We’re not talking a full OG Gossip Girl tweed-and-headband outfit or a Do Revenge-esque school uniform but rather a star athlete–meets–class president blend of sporty and sweet.


How to Wear the Trend

When you think prep or Ivy style, you probably think of fall, given the back-to-school connotations. However, it’s also perfect for transitional weather, making varsity the perfect vibe for your summer wardrobe, too. There are many ways to put a sporty spin on your style, but consider swapping your go-to athleisure for retro pieces like mini running shorts or ringer tees. And when in doubt? A pair of tube socks and sneakers will make you look Ivy-approved in no time.

Need some more inspo? Consider adding the below elements to your rotation.

Plaid prints: Slim-fitting plaid pants blend collegiate cool with TikTok’s beloved Lana del Reycore “coquette” aesthetic. Pair them with a vintage ringer tee and some hair bows and you’re golden.

Varsity jackets or sweaters: Your hero piece for summer and beyond, toss one over anything and everything; it’s a fun juxtaposition with a ruffled floral dress or a sleek bodycon dress or skirt, but it’s equally good with more classically preppy pieces. They’re fairly easy to thrift, or pick up the Levi’s After School Jacket for something new.

Sweater vests: Layer an oversize cable-knit vest over a white tee for a “dark academia” look or go for a colorful shrunken or fitted silhouette for a Y2K moment.

Dolphin Shorts: Swap your usual jean cutoffs or bike shorts for a pair of ’70s-inspired running shorts. Add a floaty white top and a pair of ballet flats for a very 2023 spin on sporty classic.

Baseball Tees: When it gets too hot for a varsity jacket, jersey-inspired T-shirts will be your best friend. Pair with the aforementioned running shorts for a head-to-toe sporty look or contrast with a sheer lace skirt.

Loafers with white socks: If Hailey Bieber is doing it, you should be too. Thick white tube socks folded over or lace-trimmed pairs are perfect for that sweet and studious Betty Cooper vibe.

A bookish bag: Toss your summer reading (or your lip gloss) in a structured bag with varsity-style stripes or patches, like Coach’s Swinger 20 shoulder bag or a timeless canvas L.L. Bean Boat and Tote, the carryall bag of the prep set.


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