The must-have addition to any college coed’s wardrobe this season is fashionable, comfortable and carries a large personality. It’s the spirit jersey, and in the latest redo of the traditional college sweatshirt, it’s been powering collegiate and mainstream mall sales and showing no sign of slowing down. Seized on by everyone from Victoria Secret’s Pink collection to sports teams and colleges, its distinctive bold back print and relaxed dropped-shoulder design has captured the imagination and become every coed’s go-to, wear-anywhere t-shirt.
The origins of the spirit jersey have been around for some time, and Barnes & Noble College Merchandise Manager Lisa Loughan has tracked the trend from its beginnings with pinnies, customized sleeveless shirts that were popularized by college sororities and sports teams. “That kind of messaging started to become popular on campuses and you’d start to see sorority girls wearing jerseys on spring break with an over-sized graphic on the back,” she says.
Noting how spirit jerseys were beginning to flood sorority Instagram pages, Loughan ordered an initial 72-piece delivery three years ago, which sold out immediately. The jersey’s design is patented, which drove the base cost of the jersey up, but that did nothing to prevent the runaway sales. Loughan is only predicting increased popularity this year, where it is being featured in 300 Barnes & Noble College stores, and, unlike some trends that might have a regional bias, the appeal of spirit jerseys has caught on nationwide. “We sold 52,000 units last year in just one of the styles, and our sales plan is much bigger this year. It’s really become the quintessential freshman garment to buy,” she says.
But it’s not just what the popular shirt looks like. A bigger part of the jersey’s appeal is what it says. Students wear the shirt to express their school spirit, clubs, team pride or even favorite sayings in a casual style that combines fashion, versatility and comfort. “They’re all cotton, so I am extremely comfortable,” says Jenna Karnofsky, a senior Occupational Therapy major from Penn State. “But what I really like about the shirt is that I can express my support for favorite organizations on campus!”
Although the basic seaming style and cut has remained unchanged, as the trend has developed, the garment has garnered endless embellishments and variations on the basic theme. “We know that as a student gets one for her sorority, she’s also going to want more than one version,” Loughan explains, and that might include lighter weight or slub fabrics, mesh details, slash sleeves, hooded or even an ugly Christmas sweater version for the holidays.
Much of the skill in predicting the next big thing in the fickle world of Millennial fashion depends on an innate understanding of emerging trends and predicting what could be a passing fad from where a particular style or fabric might be gaining significant cultural traction. Fashion watchers, like Loughan, keep on top of these trends by shopping in a variety of places — everywhere from SoHo to Los Angeles — but also through people-watching at airports, malls and wherever her demographic gets together.
Loughan is also quick to credit the collaboration of her Barnes & Noble College suppliers. “Partners like League Collegiate Outfitters really understand the Millennial shopper and have always really been on trend for the college market — and it’s that understanding that helps us deliver what’s next for our campus stores,” Loughan says. “We always want to provide great reasons for our students to visit their campus stores — and that means offering them the latest trends as they hit the market.”