As part of our spring summer 2022 collection, we are pleased to introduce our new cashmere cotton collegiate raglan sweatshirt. Inspired by the original American football sweatshirt that first came about almost a century ago, we dive into the famous sweatshirt’s history and how it informed some of the decisions we made whilst designing ours as well as where we made tweaks to make the Colhay’s one a luxury version of the original.
Read more about this below, or shop our cashmere cotton collegiate raglan sweatshirt in cream here.
The Story of the Sweatshirt
The sweatshirt was created back in the 1920s by American footballer, Benjamin Russell Jr. Russell felt frustrated by the uncomfortable uniforms he and his team were wearing. At this time they were made of wool, which could get too hot, and were basic in terms of design, which meant the players’ movement was restricted. This frustration compelled Russell to make a change which would not only make life easier for himself and his fellow teammates, but also create an item of clothing that would be worn for decades to come.
Left: Grange & Zeller tackle. Alan Fisher, for the New York World-Telegram and the Sun, 1935
Right: famous Native American athlete Jim Thorpe of Canton Bulldogs
Benjamin Russell Jr’s father (also Benjamin Russell) owned a small business producing women’s and children’s knit shirts and this factory was where the very first sweatshirts were made. They took inspiration from a women’s union-suit top and were made of cotton which was both breathable and light, making it much more comfortable to wear for sports than wool. Over four years the design evolved and became closer to the sweatshirts we know in the 21st century. They featured close fitting elasticated cuffs and were collarless with a small elasticated V shape at the neckline. This notch would be made of a thicker material and its purpose was to soak up sweat - hence the name sweatshirt. It was also the genesis of what we know as the “Russell Athletic” brand today.
Early iterations of the sweatshirt
Today, the sweatshirt is an iconic piece. You’ll find it almost everywhere. All different kinds of manufacturers produce them, from fast fashion businesses to high end fashion houses. In the time that has passed between their original conception, various details have been added and adaptations have been made in terms of aesthetics. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, the sweater was popular amongst college students and was often emblazoned with a college’s name or an initial. This continues through to today, where the collegiate style is still prominent. As well as colleges, branded sweatshirts featuring logos are also very popular today. Despite the many aesthetic adaptations, the foundations of the sweatshirt remain the same - a loose fitting top with elasticated cuffs.
Why Choose the Colhay’s Version?
As with all of our pieces, we wanted to take inspiration from a classic men’s piece of clothing, but incorporate some of our own design tweaks and touches of luxury that we believe would not only elevate the piece as a refined version of the original, but make it relevant and more modern for the men of today. The world has now seen countless versions of the sweatshirt, with many different embellishments as mentioned above, but we have tried to keep ours as close to the original as we could, whilst ensuring it had a flattering design.
We’ve taken our design right back to the original and this is because, when you look back at the original versions of these kinds of pieces, you’ll find they’re primarily born out of function. After years of redesigns, the functional aspects are often lost and we want to bring some of that functionality back to menswear (with a few subtle changes, of course, to avoid looking like you’re at a fancy dress event!)
Our collegiate sweatshirt features the raglan shoulder construction and is inspired by one of Russell’s earliest designs. With this construction, the sleeves go right up to the neck and there is a seam running from the neckline down to the underarm. This means that there is no set shoulder size for the wearer. With a raglan construction, the piece would accommodate a wider breadth of shoulder widths compared to set in sleeves – that is to say, you might have slightly wider or narrower shoulders but that same piece would still be a good fit for you because there is no hard shoulder line that dictates where your shoulder must be. It also allows a lot more movement. You can easily move your arms up and down without restriction, which was essential for sportsmen wearing the earliest sweatshirts.
Not only that, the raglan shoulder itself is handcrafted using the fully fashioning and hand linking technique, meaning that the sleeves are knitted first and then painstakingly linked onto the body by hand using a hand linking machine. This is why you will see the faint dotted lines along the shoulder of the sweatshirt where the raglan shoulder line is as shown below.
A lot of sweatshirts having raglan shoulder designs today, but many of them would simply be cut and sewn on, whereas ours is fully fashioned and hand-linked – a luxury technique used on a common piece of clothing.
The silhouette is slightly slimmer than the usual sweatshirts, tapering down from the chest, which is a change we made to keep the piece looking modern. But it isn’t too restrictive either through the body – ensuring that it still retains the characteristic comfort of a sweatshirt. Finally, we made the ribbed hem and cuffs slightly longer, taking them from approximately 5cm up to 8cm, which means the sweatshirt is less likely to ride up and more likely to stay in place. This alteration was one we made for practical reasons but also to take our design closer to the original sweatshirts which had the longer rib.
The Cashmere Cotton Blend
As it’s a piece designed for the warmer months, we’ve chosen a cashmere cotton blend. With an almost even split of cashmere and cotton, it’s a highly unusual fabric. Light and springy but incredibly soft to the touch, it’s luxurious and light at the same time. Both fibres are natural, so the sweater is breathable with moisture wicking properties too - ideal for summer wear.
Throughout the years, the sweatshirt was made predominantly in a pure jersey cotton. Ours is designed as a luxury, refined version of the traditional collegiate sweatshirt, made up with an exquisite mix of almost half cashmere and the other half cotton. The very high percentage of cashmere in the fabric mix gives the sweater a luxuriously soft hand feel - you will be hard pressed to find a sweatshirt anywhere quite as soft as this. All the while, it retains that sporty robustness and resilience that came with the original jersey cotton sweatshirt through our use of high quality Egyptian long staple cotton. Many sweatshirts nowadays would be made in cotton or possibly other synthetic mixes - none will have as high a level of cashmere in its composition as our version, and very rarely made start to finish by the best knitwear craftspeople in Scotland - something that makes this sweater one of a kind and truly an heirloom piece.
The cashmere cotton yarn is a 3-ply yarn, developed and produced by revered Scottish yarn mill Todd & Duncan. Both the cashmere and cotton used are, as always, the world's very finest of their kind, enabling the resulting garment to soften and age beautifully with each wear, and last decades, just like the tough as nails collegiate sweatshirts of old.
As with all of our knitwear, the sweatshirt is produced in Hawick, Scotland - the home of expert knitters. The town is renowned for its knitting industry which began in the 1700s. The knitters we work with are experts in their craft with unrivalled knowledge and experience in the production of knitwear. They knit using traditional techniques that are known to produce the very best quality knitwear, giving them longevity as well as the luxury touch.
How to wear
We have introduced this piece in three colourways: cream, navy and dark olive - all classic colours and another nod to the original. Each is a sophisticated tone that will be easily paired with items already in your wardrobe. With a classic design, a slim silhouette and a versatile colour, the sweatshirt is simple to wear and can be dressed up or down accordingly.
Our collegiate raglan sweatshirt is designed to be the perfect smart casual piece, equally at home as part of a sporty, casual outfit, like with a pair of shorts or denim, as it is part of a dressed up combination with trousers, oxford button down and blazer. The reason it is able to work on any part of the smart to casual spectrum is because whilst the raglan sleeve and wider ribbed hem and cuffs give it a sporty look, it is made in a refined material and with a minimal aesthetic, making it suitable for more dressed up occasions.
If you’re looking for a modern, luxury take on the traditional sweatshirt, then our version is for you. Take a look at our collegiate raglan sweater here.