Incoming freshmen at any university spend more time wondering what they’ll wear than how they’ll pay back their student loans. And that’s logical, really. “I don’t need to start paying on my loans for years. I need to wear something to class today!
One thing is sure: Nearly every student at Arizona State University, one of the largest schools in the U.S., is going to be rocking ASU apparel during their years on campus (or online) and probably before and after. In fact, Arizona State apparel is a bigger seller in the campus bookstores than, well, books. Nothing says you’re prouder of your alma mater than wearing her on your chest.

It all goes back to medieval times

ASU doesn’t, of course. Arizona’s biggest school didn’t get started till 1885 and the very last day of the 13th legislative session of the very young Arizona Territorial Legislature. They were a rowdy group, for reasons too many to go into here. (Look them up. Lots of good stories.) And their policies and antics earned them the name “The Thieving Thirteenth.” But on their last day
in office, maybe because some of them were feeling generous — and probably because some of them weren’t feeling much of anything, thanks to a succession of boozy parties hosted by lobby groups — they decided to create a couple of universities. ASU was one of them, called at the time, the Arizona Territorial Normal School at Tempe. It was too early for “ASU,” and certainly for ASU apparel.
But college wear goes back far longer than that; back to a time when students still knew what “alma mater” meant. (“Generous mother,” FYI) Back to a time when they didn’t have to think about what to wear to class because everybody had to wear the same thing every day: robes.
Those fancy outfits you see at commencement, with the big dangly sleeves and the colored stoles and the floppy hats that professors wear? Those are based on the robes of students and faculty at medieval universities, which were based on the robes of the religious institutions that created the first universities. Those robes were yesterday’s jeans and T-shirts and cut-off shorts.
By the way, those big dangly sleeves may look goofy, but they were a great place to hide a sandwich for when a professor ran long. It’s true.

Arizona State apparel never went through a robe phase

The only time ASU has ever required robes is at commencement or, for faculty members, other official university events when they’re worn to celebrate the centuries-old traditions of academia.
But that doesn’t mean official, or at least acceptable, ASU apparel hasn’t gone through phases of its own. Here are some examples.

ASU, Day 1

In 1886, when the first freshman class showed up at the door of the four-room building in Tempe that was the start of one of the largest universities in America, only it wasn’t then, they learned two important facts. First, there was no ASU apparel; no policy had been set for school uniforms. And second, none of those four rooms in the school building was a bathroom. That particular convenience had somehow escaped the planning committee.
As you can imagine, the second problem needed a solution before the first, so local businessman and the first board president of the school, Charles Hayden, sent some workers from his mill to build a couple of wooden outhouses in back just before the opening festivities.
In the next few years, men would start wearing uniforms; kind of a gray color with a high color and a stripe down the front. Women wore what women wore in those days: long skirt, high-collared blouse, lots of layers and fasteners — just the kind of thing that made stepping into a dark, smelly privy the highlight of your school day.

ASU apparel, early 1900s

Women: dress or skirt. Men: slacks, shirt, tie. Pretty simple, really. But this was also when you saw the first uniforms on the college’s athletic teams, proudly bearing the name of the school’s mascot.
Shout it with us, now: Go, Normals!
Gets your blood pumping, doesn’t it? A normal school, by the way, was an institution for training teachers, which was one of proto-ASU’s primary missions. The Normals name didn’t last long, and while it did the teams probably got a lot of grief from other teams. But it didn’t get much better when the name was changed to the Owls. After that, Bulldogs was a definite improvement, at least until the more badass Sun Devils came along.
But in those earlier days, there was no such thing as Arizona State apparel. (Also no Arizona State. Those two words didn’t become part of the school’s name till mid century.) Back then you couldn’t go to the bookstore and buy an Owls T-shirt. They didn’t sell them, and T-shirts were underwear anyway.

ASU apparel trends through the years

Things lightened up after a while. Men were able to ditch the ties. Women were eventually allowed to wear … pants (gasp!). Jeans were still workwear for a long time, but you would see them when students would show up to whitewash the A that was installed on Hayden Butte in the late ’30s. Eventually jeans started showing up on campus. So did shirts and sweaters with the school’s name or initials and colors. Also hats. (But never indoors.)
Student uniforms never made a comeback, with one exception: for a number of years, freshmen at whatever ASU was being called at the time, like freshmen at most universities across the country, had to wear beanies. Not the cool kind — the kind you can wear on the back of your head, maybe in rasta colors; the kind that also keeps your classmates from knowing you really need to wash your hair. No, these were like little umbrellas or mushroom caps, in school colors, sitting on the very top of your head, that shouted to everyone on campus, “I’m a freshman! Please bully me!” When beanies went away it was the most popular change in the student policy manual since the Owls were made extinct.

Arizona State apparel catches up

Eventually, what students were wearing on campus started to mirror what young people were wearing off campus. And of course, during the ’60s, clothes — like everything else — went a little crazy. But even then, students were wondering, “What do I wear to class?” Or “How much can I get away with not wearing?” Because hey ... the ’60s.
The campus stores found they were selling more and more ASU apparel every year. And not just to students. ASU alumni, no matter where they ended up across the U.S., were keeping the spirit alive. And it’s more alive today than it’s ever been.
There was a time, decades back, when the only place to buy ASU apparel was on campus. Today, of course, you don’t have to visit a campus store for that. There’s knockoff “official ASU” merch all over the place. There’s other stuff that, while it says “ASU” on it, that’s pretty much the only thing it has in common with ASU.
You can buy your Arizona State apparel anywhere you want. Those are your franklins out the door, we know. But here are three reasons we think you should come to State Forty Eight for your ASU merch.
First, we are officially licensed by ASU not only to sell their image, but to co-brand designs with them. They don’t do that for just everybody. That’s why you’ll see Sparky, and that official Fork their foes fear, on some of SFE’s shirts and patches. Retailers that sell that image without permission get stern letters from ASU legal, and it escalates from there, up to and including a visit from the horned one and his fearsome fork. But Sparky smiles at us.
Second, we have deep ASU ties. We live where ASU lives. Many of our team members are alums. Some are students. Maroon and gold flow through (some of) our veins.And last, you should choose us because we took the time to tell you this history of ASU apparel. Now you can preserve the memory with a little maroon and gold love of your own.