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Beer Jackets

Beer jackets of white denim, with a distinctive design imprinted on the back, have been worn by undergraduates in the spring of their senior year during the greater part of this century. The practice was started by a small group in the Class of 1912 who, while quaffing beer and carving their initials on the tables of the old Nassau Inn, noticed that the foam from their steins sometimes spotted their clothes. In order to avoid dry-cleaning bills, they adopted the blue denim overalls and jackets of workmen. The next year, with the first signs of spring, the whole Class of 1913 donned overalls and jackets, this time white, and, although they were more a means of class identification than drinking uniforms, called them beer suits. Beer suits disappeared during World War I but were revived in 1919, partly in protest against high clothing prices.

The Class of 1920 were the first to use a design; they wore black arm bands to mourn the passing of John Barleycorn. Other classes also recorded the effects of Prohibition on the backs of their beer jackets, 1922 by a beer mug with wings, 1923 with a tiger pursued by a camel. The Class of 1925 depicted a tiger crushed by four heavy tomes, in token of the burden imposed on them by the new Four Course Plan.

The Class of 1930's design, "a perfect bust,'' was prompted by several seniors' purloining a copy of Venus de Milo from McCormick Hall, but it was also interpreted by some as commemorating the 1929 stock market crash. The Class of 1934 celebrated the contribution it had made to Princeton's undefeated football season of 1933 in the context of the National Recovery Act of that same year by portraying the NRA initials and legend "We did our part."

The Class of 1941, graduating during World War II, pictured a helmeted tiger sitting on a bomb-shaped world with a burning fuse. After the war, overalls were dispensed with, and since then only jackets have been worn.

In the fifties and sixties less attention was paid to symbolizing events of senior year and more to rearranging what came to be regarded as basic elements of beer jacket design: tigers, beer, girls. The Class of 1962's "the lady and the tiger" made effective use of the numerals 62 for the essential curves of the lady, while the Class of 1963's "astrotiger" rode in a space capsule, a foaming mug in one paw. A once-in-a-century opportunity was exploited by the Class of 1964 -- a tiger behind a ball marked with the square root of 64.

Source: Leitch p. 48