Tiger Traditions: The Evolution Of Alumni Beer Jackets

By Taylor Smith

Spirited devotion has been a trademark of Princeton University alumni dating back to the first official post-graduate gatherings in the late 1850s. Today’s P-rade evolved from late 19th century Commencement Day dinner meetings and Princeton vs. Yale athletic competitions during which alumni marched (according to graduating class) down to the baseball field for the highly competitive and well-attended games. The athletic match-up of Tiger vs. Bulldog always took place the Saturday before Commencement. Soon enough, this procession down to the baseball fields took on the look and feel of a parade.

At that time, class members distinguished themselves with patches and pins indicating their class year. Princeton graduates didn’t begin donning a “uniform” until 1912. That year’s graduating class decided to wear matching denim overalls, which served the purpose of protecting their Commencement Day outfits from beer stains. The class of 1913 continued the idea with their decision to wear white “beer jackets.” By the 1920’s the beer jackets had become a hallmark of the returning alumni, each graduating class designing their own unique style of jacket. Until the undergraduate body became coeducational in 1969, women were not permitted to participate in the P-rade and thus, did not don beer jackets.

Princeton University students receive their beer jackets at graduation. During the P-rade, they join their fellow alumni in a march through the town of Princeton and the University grounds. The result is a sea of outrageous patterns in orange and black accompanied by huge smiles and brass band music. New beer jacket designs are created for every five-year reunion.

A significant and enduring feature of the P-rade is the presence of the “Old Guard,” a group of alumni who represent the oldest classes (beyond their 65th reunion). These alumni parade through the campus of Princeton (often in golf carts) and carry the notable Class of 1923 cane, a wooden staff decorated with a leaping tiger. The P-rade ends at Poe Field, but the fanfare and celebration continue well into the night.

 

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