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Chicago Gangs Used To Wear Varsity-Style Sweaters With Patches

By Justin Breen | March 29, 2017 5:29am | Updated on March 31, 2017 11:17am
 Chicago gang members used to wear gang-affiliated sweaters.
Chicago gang sweaters
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CHICAGO — Chicago's gang members back in the day not only carried business cards; they wore varsity-type sweaters, too.

The sweaters came in a variety of colors — gray for Mad Lads, black and yellow for the Centurians, and black with deep purple stripes for the Kool Gents. Many of the gangs' sweaters also came with patches. The Uptown Rebels wore red sweater with a Confederate flag-styled patch.

The gang history site Almighty Gaylords 712 said gang members would try to capture rivals' sweaters.

"It was just as coveted to beat up and steal a rival gang member's sweater as it was to hold onto your own," said Zach Jones, creator of the website chicagoganghistory.com. "The sweater game was deadly and violent almost as much as drug turf is to gangs these days.

"Gangs would have prized collections of stolen sweaters that some guys hung onto for many years," Jones said. "It was exhilarating to steal a rival's sweater and it was a mission of gangs to make it happen, the more you get, the more of a badass you are."

The gangs wore sweaters from the 1950s through the early 1990s. Then, like the gangs' business cards, the sweaters went out of style. Almighty Gaylords 712 said police in the 1990s also began confiscating the sweaters, and gang members themselves stopped wearing them because it made them targets for shootings or arrests.

Chicago Police activity against gang members wearing sweaters began as early as 1981, according to the Tribune, when officers "began to harass people wearing gang sweaters and other suspected gang members, generally charging them with disorderly conduct." The Tribune also noted that knitting mills in the 1980s slowed their production of the sweaters because gang members would break into the factories and steal them.

Some sweaters can be bought on eBay for a couple hundred dollars. There are also vintage patches available that sell for less than $100 each.

Check out of the photos above, and there's a lengthy list of more pictures — including one with a man holding a gun while showing off a gang sweater — here.