The Catalina Varsity Jacket

In the past I’ve written about both the Catalina La Paz and the Derby of San Francisco bomber jackets. This time I’m focusing on the Catalina Varsity, a jacket closer in style and substance to the Derby version, along with a new copy from Oi Polloi.

My first encounter with this style of jacket came from my secondary school PE lost and found box. In the late 70s I I would regularly revisit the box where there were dozens of discarded sportswear items. Some of the stuff had probably been there for years. One day I discovered what I now know to be a Catalina knock off  – one of probably hundreds of copies* of the ‘rain cape shoulder’ windcheater. A light tan colour with no lining but with tan and navy striped elastic. I wore it until it fell apart and nobody ever claimed the thing.

*Rumour has it that the Ivy Shop in Richmond sold their own copies back in the day.

The Catalina Varsity

The Catalina Varsity version also features the padded lining and extra bulk, the lining this time with the wonderful Catalina sunbird logo. This model also mostly had slash zipper pockets rather than Baracuta styled reverse flaps.

You probably know by now the long and tortured story of the return of the Derby of San Francisco brand. It’s a shame that the reissues have remained so localised and really aimed at West Coast greaser/tattoo culture. In a similar way to the adoption of playboys by funky dudes in NY in the 1970s, the Derby/Catalina style jackets had their fans amongst varied  fashion tribes – often without seeming to come into contact one with another. Of course, we are primarily concerned with the ubiquitous wearing of these jackets in the 1960s to 1980s within the larger lvy Look sphere.


Which came first? That’s something I’d be interested to learn. Despite the propaganda from the Derby of San Francisco camp, my gut feeling is that the Catalina Varsity was the first version of this style. I suggest that because the Catalina brand can be found way back into the early 1930s as a maker of swim and beach wear, whereas I’ve not seen anything Derby branded earlier than mid 1960s. Both versions were of course originally Made in the USA and both companies continued the models long after their offshore move to places like Korea and Taiwan.


Gil Evans with Miles Davis










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