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Legend of the Red Grad Jacket

This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 edition of The Saint.

The St. George’s uniform is a standout in and around Vancouver. The sight of grey slacks, a school tie, and blazers brings back many memories for alumni and alumni parents. The uniform has been a staple of the School and its culture since 1930; however, over the 90-year history of the School there have been a few tweaks here and there to that iconic uniform. Some design styles and patterns have made limited runs, like the 1930 striped Prefect Blazer, the option to wear a blue dress shirt, and changes to the School’s official logo. However, one piece of the uniform that quickly became the most coveted by all students is the Grad Jacket. It has become a rite of passage for all St. George’s students when they reach their final year. Each year, the Grade 11s spend hours thoughtfully deciding what patches and words they will have sewn on the arms of their Grad Jacket, helping to summarize their time at the School, while also giving them a sense of individuality among a sea of uniformed young men. Over the years, simple team patches evolved into nicknames, specialized groups, and flags to celebrate each boy’s unique journey. The Grad Jackets have become a symbol synonymous with Grade 12 for students, parents, teachers, and alumni. These jackets are easily spotted in the crowded halls between classes, in clusters during full-school assemblies, and even at Alumni Reunions. Like each student who wears one, the jacket itself has a story unique to its time at St. George’s. Ask any member of the St. George’s Community about it and they can tell you what it represents and how much it means to each of the boys, yet only a handful can tell you its history. 

The origin of the Grad Jacket is a relatively new part of St. George’s lore and like most long-lasting customs at the School, it was born out of the minds of awesome, young, creative, and boundary-pushing students. The idea of a unique uniform item was not a new idea to the administration. Distinctive ties or small achievement pins (otherwise known as “colours'' in British-style schools) had been circulated amongst the school population before. Crosstown rival, Vancouver College, had followed the American tradition of letterman jackets for its football team, and some early St. George’s classes had flirted with the idea of sweaters, but the idea never got traction with the administration or student body until the 1980s. Many classes claim they are the reason the Grad Jacket was brought to St. George’s, but the legend of the current, and now iconic, look of Red and Grey has been claimed by members of the Class of 1987.

The story of the “Red and Grey” Grad Jacket begins in September 1986. The Phantom of the Opera has just opened, the IOC has announced the Winter and Summer Olympics will happen in separate years, and legendary Headmaster Alan Brown ’54 has taken a short hiatus from St. George’s. Previous Grade 12 classes had started flirting with the idea of a Grad Jacket, but it had not become an official part of the uniform. The Classes of ’84 and ’85 had early versions of a Grad Jacket, but it had not been embraced grade-wide. Edward Ko had been one of the Class of 1987 organizers, but popularity for the jacket was not high and the colour scheme of the jacket was very different—white arms and black torso. The trend of the letterman jacket was all the rage in the late 1980s, along with loud colours and big hair. There had been an attempt by others in the class to produce a new and distinct-looking Grad Jacket. Ian Cooper, Ian Dickey, Neil Johnson, and Brock Daem—all 1st XV players in Grade 12—thought something was lacking in their look for their final year at the school, a certain flair that would put them apart from other years and non-rugby players. With Headmaster Brown away, the group decided to try something new. According to Ian Dickey, Ian Cooper was able to find a company in West Vancouver that would make the soon-to-be-coveted jacket. The group chose the dragon from the previous year’s “Far East” Rugby Tour as a main design element. When the jackets arrived, it was apparent there had been a miscommunication with the company, the colouring of the arms and body were not as the boys had expected, but they were pleased nonetheless. There were only 16 jackets total and not much fuss was made about these 1st XV jackets until the return of Headmaster Brown later that semester. 

Like many Grade 12s, time was merely a construct to Ian Dickey. He was running late for school one morning and had to sneak into Assembly, hoping not to be caught. In the late 1980s, full-school assemblies were held in Woodward Auditorium, and Ian slid into the back row of seats, hoping to blend in with the background. However, Headmaster Brown, well known to have “hawk eyes”, easily spotted Ian wearing an unusual red and grey jacket at the top of the auditorium. Like a 1980s teen comedy, Ian thought he had flown under the radar and all was well—until he was called into the Headmaster’s Office. As any student can tell you, interactions with symbols of authority at St. George’s often include healthy discussion about the merits and importance of the uniform. This time, after showcasing some strong debating skills centering on the theme of “We would have asked you, sir, but you were in Greece, and it was only for the 1st XV,” Ian Dickey prevailed. Headmaster Brown finally relented and allowed the jackets to remain for one year. The administration may have thought this rebellious action was a one-off, but the seed had been planted. The following year, the graduating class had some serious debate about which colour scheme to use, and ultimately decided to adopt the Red and Grey jacket. By 1990, the Red and Grey had become the official tradition, with the School and Mr. Brown eventually embracing it. 

“It brings me great joy to see that something we started in ’87 has become a tradition at the School. If anything, it might be our class’s legacy, and, as John Parry used to say, ‘Legacy is important!’” said Ian Dickey. “I always wondered, if I hadn’t been late to that one assembly, whether the look and idea of the Grad Jacket would have spread.” 

Since its first iteration, the jacket has had a few tweaks and changes, with each year leaving their own statement on how it should be worn. The proper collar size has been debated, and the dragon has been replaced with the shield. After graduation, many Grads Jackets are not seen again until a Reunion or the odd Class meet-up, when they are dug out of garages and closets. However, when they do make an appearance, they are worn with pride, and there is always an interesting story attached to each one of them.

The School would like to thank Dr. Ian Dickey ‘87, Prentice Durbin ‘89, Dirk Laudan ‘87, and Michael Skene ‘85 for helping with the story about the legacy of the Red and Grey Grad Jacket.
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