My dad once had this chocolate-brown cardigan he’d wear on the rare occasions that the Los Angeles mercury dipped below 65 degrees. It had big knobby buttons and a thick rolled collar, and it generally made him look like the friendly postmaster of some microscopic English village. As a result, I have long associated button-up sweaters with a certain kind of geniality.
But had I brought that attitude to the streets of Chicago during the 1960s or ’70s, I might have paid a terrible price. That’s because the gangs of that era made their allegiances known through the donning of tricked-out cardigans. One of the wire services got into a lather over the practice back in ’75:
On a given day in major cities, gang members can be seen mingling on a street corner, a front lawn or in a school yard, “stylin'” their embroidered $50 sweaters or just “representin'” their gang…
Most of the larger gangs boast a sophisticted organization which stretches down to the 9 and 10-year-old peewees, up to the midgets, juniors and full-fledged members.
“The peewees don’t get to vote at the meeting, but they play the game,” Ross explained. “They carry the guns, the dope. The older members are making money off these kids, selling ’em guns, sweaters, drugs and spray cans of paint.
The first sweater that were worn with 2 colors would have to be from a white club, as there were more white clubs then Latino clubs back in the day, most clubs back in the 60’s mimicked high school mascots and colors, case in point Spartans, Viking, Panthers, Counts.. High school sweaters all had 3 strips, hence one of the oldest white clubs Gaylord’s I would have to say made there sweaters like that. I don’t really know where the colors Blue and black came from, but I also know that the Latin Kings from the 60’s were the first to have Chops on there sweaters. The late 60’s witnessed an explosion of Gangs and sweaters. If you have a sweater with this tag on it more then likely it’s from the late 60’s really 70’s. There were only a few knitting mills that made sweaters back in the day: New Era, Southside knitting mills, Logan Knitting Mills, Collegiate, Ma & Pa Book store and of course Chicago Knitting Mills.
The gangs’ insistence on donning such garments may seem quaint in retrospect, but make no mistake—blood was shed over those sweaters.
In 1981, the Chicago police started arresting anyone they could find who was wearing a gang sweater. The ACLU filed suit to stop the practice, but the damage was done—gang members figured out that going relatively incognito was the much smarter course of action. As a result, the bygone gang sweaters are now collector’s items—a patch alone fetches big money on eBay. Though some youngsters are lucky enough to inherit them from Dad.