Sweatshirts are just about as American as apple pie, baseball or obesity. One of the original American clothing inventions, sweatshirts have been worn and torn by Americans for years. Russell Athletic Co. invented the sweatshirt back in 1920, when Ben Russell Jr., who played football for Alabama (Roll Tide!), complained to his father about the uncomfortable wool jerseys they were forced to wear during practice. His suggestion was a soft cotton jersey, which would eventually become the sweatshirt that we know today.
A sweatshirt should fit one of two ways: tight and hugging the body or loose and boxy. Vintage sweatshirts (or repro sweats) will generally fit boxy and short in the body (though some are slim) and narrow in the arms, as a point of reference.
French terry: also known as loop terry, french loop terry, loop back cotton and several other marketing bullshit terms. French terry is woven like the terrycloth fabric used in towels, creating loops with the fabric and allowing it to absorb large amount of water or, in the case of sweatshirts, perspiration. It can be 100% cotton or a cotton-poly blend. Unlike terrycloth towels, however, French terry is woven in such a way as to have the absorbent looped fabric on only side, with the other side being flat.
Cotton fleece: fleece, not the synthetic kind but the kind made with cotton, is really just a wide-range of soft brushed cotton fabrics. Very comfortable and usually warm with a fuzzy, soft pile.
The purpose of that V thingie: that V thingie, is, for most purposes, a vestigial part of sweatshirt construction left over from the 1940s. The double V gusset that we’d find on both the front and the back of the neck in sweatshirts from the 1930s and 1940s was used for two purposes: one, to limit and control the stretch of the collar; and two, to absorb sweat (sweatshirts were, after all, athletic wear first and foremost). By the 1950s tho, it had become just a an extra layer of ribbed cotton stiched onto the collar. By the 1960s it was just two intersecting for decoration and eventually it was phased out all together until quite recently.
Tubular knit construction: also known as tube body construction, it is when a garment (usually a t-shirt or a sweatshirt) is made of a single piece of seamless fabric without side seams. The fabric is knitted around a tube and comes out as one tubular shape, hence “tubular knit” or “tube body” construction. This style of production was phased out some years ago (except for socks) because knitting different sizes requires the use of different tube looms, an increased expense. Tube body construction is still used for socks because socks are generally only made in one-size-fits-all or 2 sizes.
Loopwheeled cotton: there are some huge misconceptions about loopwheeled cotton and a whole lot of marketing bullshit from companies that misrepresent their products as loopwheeled when in reality they’re simply tubular knit or maybe not even that. This
is what a loopwheeling machine looks like. Pretty fucking cool, right? Confusion arises because all loopwheeling machines are tubular knit but not all tubular knit machines are loopwheeling. Loopwheeling machines have a couple qualities that set them apart:
- All loopwheeling machines, to my knowledge, are all vintage from the 1920s. They are all from this period. All of them.
- The cotton is fed into the machine via gravity, no pulling down, which allows for the lack of excess tension (and very soft hand) that loopwheeled fabric possesses.
- The fabric is knit extremely slowly. Like, absurdly massively inefficient slowly. Loopwheeling machines can only knit about 12 meters (about 40 feet) of fabric in a single day, which would only amount to about 8-9 sweatshirts.
- The fabric must be cut by hand.
Uniqlo : Uniqlo sweatshirts are some of the better ones on the lower-end of the spectrum, made of comfortable french terry and the elliptical neck opening that is reminiscent of those found on higher-end Japanese repro sweats. Ribbed cotton V sewn onto the collar. Fit is slim in the body and arms but I’ve had some success sizing up for a boxier fit. Available at the Uniqlo e-store
Champion : classic American sportswear brand, Champion used to make some of the best sweats in the game. Japanese vintage collectors go crazy for old Champion reverse-weave sweats, they’re really fucking good. Even though Champion sweats are nowhere near the level of quality that they used to be, they’re still pretty good. Fit is loose and relaxed, size down if you want something closer to the body. Available on the Champion webstore.
J Crew: pretty nice,construction is relatively good. Fit is slim, but not as slim as Uniqlo. Their sweats have the V detail on the collar, but it’s simply flat overlock stitching. Available at J Crew.
American Giant : subject of a recent MFA post and one of the darlings of the blogosphere, their sweats are MIUSA of 12.4 oz cotton fleece, with ribbed-cotton V insert at the collar. The fit is tailored, or so I’ve heard. I haven’t had the chance to try one on yet myself. Available at the American Giant online store .
Goodwear another brand making sweats in America, their sweats are made of 80/20 cotton-poly fleece (or 90/10 for their heavyweight fleece). Raglan sleeves and side gusset panels for movement, no V at the collar. Fit is loose and boxy, old school style. Available at the Goodwear online store .
Archival Clothing : sweats are made in Portland by old-school American sportswear manufacturer Columbiaknit. Made of 9 oz (lightweight) french terry, ribbed V insert at the neck and set-in sleeves. Fit is slim. Available at the Archival Clothing online store
Velva Sheen: an old American brand that was founded in Cincinnati but went out of business, it was recently revived in California. Everything is MIUSA with domestic cotton. Sweats are made of lightweight 10 oz cotton and tubular knit construction. Double ribbed V insert at the collar, raglan sleeves, really good shit. Fit is slim. They also make super dope t-shirts. Available at Hickorees, Topwin, Morrison and The Bureau Belfast .
wings+horns : high-quality sweats made in Canada by CYC Design Co. (the same company behind Reigning Champ) of French terry. Ribbed gussets at the underarms, ribbed V insert at the collar. Slim fit with extra long ribbed cuffs. Online shop and alist of stockists . Fit pic of disby wearing his
Reigning Champ : the other in-house brand of CYC Design, more high-quality sweats MIC. Offer several fabrics types, their “core” is a midweight french terry, but they also have sweats in heavyweight terry and a midweight terry twill. Raglan sleeves, ribbed side gussets but no V on the collar. Fit is slim. Online shop and a list of stockists . Fit pic of albite wearing his
National Anthem Athletic Goods: oh look, yet another Canadian athletic wear brand. NAAG is made by Standard Design, the same guys behind Homespun Knitwear. They model their designs on vintage styles from the ‘30s-‘50s and have access to some of cool vintage shuttle looms. Sweats are very high quality, midweight french terry, designed with double V inserts on both sides of the collar (just like old school sweats). Contrasting ribbed collar and cuffs, vintage-style fit. Can be found at Inventory Stockroom and superdenim .
Levi’s Vintage Clothing : if you don’t know LVC, it’s the premium Levi’s brand that produces reproduction and vintage-styled pieces inspired by Levi’s archives. Their sweats are made in Portugal iirc, french terry with raglan sleeves. Ribbed underarm gussets, ribbed V insert at the collar. Fit is ‘50s style, boxy in the torso with narrow sleeves. List of stockists here .
Our Legacy : Swedish brand, sweats are manufactured in Portugal. They use several different fabrics, including washed cotton terry and cotton-silk blend. Raglans sleeves, no V at the collar. Fit is boxy. Online shop and they’re stocked all over the place. Fit pic of eccentrica with an OL great sweat
Norse Projects : Danish streetwear brand, sweats are made in Europe. NP usually has 2 fabrics for its unbranded sweats: a cotton-poly terry and a wool-blend fabric. The cotton-poly terry has raglan sleeves and no V at the collar. Wool-blend has set-in sleeves, V insert at the collar and side-panels. Fit on both is regular, little boxy. Available at Norse Store and these other fine retailers .
Sunspel : venerable English sportswear brand, been making premium underwear since 1860. They still make most of their underwear offerings in their Long Eaton factory but some of their production has been outsourced to Turkey, including their sweats. Sweats are made of mid-weight French terry, V detail sewn at the neck with ribbed cuffs and hem. Fit is slim. Available at these fine retailers .
Batten Sportswear: a recently created brand run out of Brooklyn, NY, Batten sweats are French terry and MIUSA. No V at the neck, but has ribbed underarm gussets and contrast cuffs and collar. Fit is boxy and short. Available at these fine retailers .
APC: the well-known French denim brand makes some pretty good sweats, if overpriced. Fabrics range, including French terry and several cotton-blends. Designs vary as well. Fit is generally slim. Available fucking everywhere.
Muttonhead Collective: yet another Canadian brand that makes sweats, Muttonhead is out of Toronto and so is their manufacturing. Made of cotton-poly blend terry fleece, with raglan sleeves and V insert at the collar. Fit is on the slim side of regular. Available at the Muttonhead online store.
Left Field: NYC-based denim company, focused on producing high-quality American made products. Their sweats are inspired by old school Champion reverse-weave sweats and are crossgrain (as opposed to the traditional vertical weave). The original reverse-weave sweats were invented by Champion to decrease vertical shrinking, because the reverse-weave is a crossgrain, it shrinks in width instead of length. Left Field sweats are made of heavyweight 14 oz ringspun (the cotton fibers are spun before being knit) cotton loop terry, with raglan sleeves and 4% lycra ribbed cuffs and hems. They offer a super heavyweight 18 oz indigo sweat that has the double V insert at the neck, but their regular sweats have no V insert. Available at BiG and these other fine retailers.
Albam: English brand focused on making heritage British workwear-inspired items, they also put out a pretty good sweatshirt. Made in Portugal with side rib panel construction, they’re garment dyed and washed. It has V insert at the neck and handy little internal pocket. Fit is regular. Available at the Albam online store and Oi Polloi.
Supreme: the classic New York based streetwear/skatewear brand, outfitting the cool kids since 1994. Supreme sweats are high quality and made in Canada by CYC Design, the same company behind Reigning Champ and w+h (that also does production for Engineered Garments). Supreme designs change often, but they usually use midweight or heavyweight cotton fleece with the eponymous Supreme box logo on the front. Fit is regular and TTS. Available (not currently tho) at the Supreme online store.
This is the good shit, the top of the line shit, the sweatshirts that make women cum and guys jealous. All are manufactured in Japan and all of them are made of loopwheeled cotton, which I talked about before. These sweats are the best of the best. A further note, if you’re buying a sweatshirt for >$200 and it’s not loopwheeled or doesn’t have very specific design/details, then you shouldn’t fucking be buying it.
NSW x Loopwheeler: collaboration between nike’s high-end streetwear apparel label and Loopwheeler, the result is some pretty dope sweats. Loopwheeled cotton (obviously), flat-locked seams and pretty much everything you’d see in a Loopwheeler sweat. Nike design details include a pocket with the ribbed V gusset on it instead of on the collar. Fit is slim. Sweatshirts are not being sold this season, just sweatpants, but there are plenty to be found on ebay. Fit pic of disby wearing his
Warehouse Co.: Japanese denim brand, also does sick side-projects like dubbleworks and Lee WHITE LABEL. Sweats are loopwheeled, deep V insert at the collar, set-in sleeve. Fit is slim side of regular, with Japanese sizing. Available at BiG, Rakuten and through the warehouse co. online store.
Studio D’Artisan: one of the first Japanese repro denim brands, the Osaka-based brand started making jeans in Okayama in 1979. Sweats are some of the best, loopwheeled organic cotton with tubular knit construction. Details include 4-needle flat cover stitching and “runaway threads” at the V insert and the cuffs. Fit is boxy in the torso. SDA is available at BiG and superdenim.
Fullcount & Co.: Fullcount is another old Jap denim brand, crafting jeans in Okayama since 1992, famous for being the first Japanese denim brand to use long-staple Zimbabwe cotton. Loopwheeled cotton, tubular knit construction and seams joined using a vintage Union Special 4-needle flat seam machine. Double V insert on both sides of the neck. Vintage fit, boxy in the torso with narrow sleeves. Available at BiG.
Samurai: Japanese denim brand, making some of the best heavy repro denim in the world out of Osaka since 1997. Sweats are loopwheeled and tubular knit, seams joined using a Union Special flat seam machine just like Fullcount. Raglan sleeves and a double V insert. Fit is slim with Japanese sizing. Available at BiG.
Buzz Rickson: Japanese repro brand, makes some of the best vintage and extremely authentic reproductions in the world. Sweatshirts are heavyweight loopwheeled cotton and seams are sewn with the Union Special flat lock machine. Set-in sleeves and V at the neck, but unlike most other Japanese-made loopwheeled sweats (and surprisingly for a brand that prides itself on extremely detailed repros), the V gusset is “fake” (fucking sufu denimheads), simply an extra piece of cotton that is sewn onto the sweatshirt (like you’d find on Uniqlo sweats), as opposed to an actual V-gusset insert you’d find on SDA or The Real McCoys sweats. Fit is vintage style, regular and short in the torso,slim and tight at the cuffs and hem with a wide neckline. Available at Buzz Rickson UK, History Preservation, Self-Edge, Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold and Peggs and Son. Fit pic of trashpile wearing his Buzz Rickson sweat
Strike Gold: another Japanese denim brand, this one out of Kojima, focused on repro styles and production techniques from the ‘50s. Sweats are heavyweight loopwheeled cotton, brushed fleece interior and seams sewn using the Union Special flat seam machine. V insert at the collar with extended thread, these sweats are unsanforized and will shrink in the wash. Fit is slim side of regular, extra length for sleeve stacking. Available at Self-Edge and the Kurashiki Tenryo Denim Rakuten store.
Loopwheeler JP: the eponymous loopwheeling brand, all of their products are (clearly) loopwheeled. Sweats are very nice, midweight cotton with Union Special flat-locked seams. Double ribbed V insert on the collar and set-in sleeves. Small screenprinted LW logo on the bottom in the back. Fit is boxy, but slim in the shoulders and no Japanese sizing. Available at the Loopwheeler online store.
The Real McCoys: everyone on mfa irc knows that these guys are one of my favorite all-time brands. The Real McCoys (and its sister brands Joe McCoys, Toys McCoys and Buco) makes some of the greatest and highest quality American-military inspired reproductions. This stuff is mind-shatteringly awesome. Their sweats are arguably the best in the world, made with 12 oz loopwheeled cotton and tube body construction. Double ribbed V insert at the collar, extra thick ribbing at the hem, collar and cuffs and flat-stitched seams. This is the fucking Rose Bowl of sweats, the granddaddy of them all. Fit is somewhat boxy but TTS (no Japanese sizing). Available at only a handful of places outside of Japan, including Inventory Stockroom, BiG and superdenim.
There are plenty of other sick sweatshirt brands out there, Cushman and Deluxeware in particular, but most of them are extremely hard to get outside of Japan and require either the use of a proxy or Rakuten.