Jordan Kelley / WOUB Visuals

At Ohio University Fests, Jerseys are the Unwritten Uniform

Posted on:

< < Back to

Fest season is a big part of spring at Ohio University, and whether or not you partake in it, there’s not much avoiding it.

For instance, if you walk around Athens on any given fest Saturday, you may ask yourself: Why is everyone wearing a jersey?

Browns, Bengals, Reds, Cavaliers – it doesn’t matter what team you wear, what matters when it comes to fest season is that you’re wearing a jersey.

But why? How do people know this is the unwritten “uniform” for a fest?

“I transferred here last year,” said Andrew Balcovec, who wore a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey at High Fest a couple weeks ago, “and I understood that for fest season, you gotta wear a jersey.”

“On a fest, you’re either expected to wear a jersey or a Hawaiian shirt so I went with a jersey today,” said Griffin Ward, sporting a San Diego Padres jersey. “I don’t know how that happened, but that’s how it happened.”

But Ward isn’t alone there – no one seems to know how it happened.

“I don’t wear jerseys during the week anymore, fests is when I break them out,” said Joe Kijauskis in his Oakland Athletics jersey, “and I honestly have no idea why that is.”

While the origin story of the jersey during fest tradition isn’t clear, people do have their own ideas about the power of the jersey.

“When you walk around with a jersey, it’s easy to meet people,” Dawson Wise, sporting a USA basketball jersey, said. “Someone will say ‘hello, nice jersey, I know him.’ You strike up a nice conversation. Hey, Maybe that person’s your future wife, your future co-worker, you don’t know! It’s a nice networking event.”

“Last High Fest, I traded a Vince Carter jersey off my back for a Carmelo jersey,” said David Heisel, who chose to wear New York Yankees pinstripes this year, “and everyone is just so cultured with their jerseys, you’re able to do that kind of thing up here.”

Some do it to represent their team.

“I chose to wear this jersey today because the Buckeyes are the best team in the country and they’re going to win a national championship this year,” said Luke Westkamp. “Go Bucks.”

Westkamp didn’t see the irony in wearing an Ohio State jersey to a party at Ohio University. He’s a student at OSU and, just like everyone else, is following cultural norms.

“I feel like it’s a tradition here, I feel like everybody does it,” he said, “so I followed the crowd and did it.”

That desire to fit in has a strong influence on people’s behavior and choices.

“People follow the path of least resistance,” said Alexandra Beauchamp, a graduate student studying experimental psychology. “So if there is a norm present, and they’re aware of it, they will follow whatever that norm is.”

And fest-goers coming up with all kinds of explanations to why they wore a jersey – that’s pretty normal too.

“People will come up with whatever reason makes the most sense to them for what’s causing their behavior,” Beauchamp said, “even if that’s not necessarily the correct reason or they’re not even aware of what the reason actually is.”

Remember Dawson Wise’s theory – about jerseys as a networking tool – he might be on to something there.

“Jerseys also provide a sense of identity,” Beauchamp said. “So when you’re wearing a jersey, it’s usually because you like the team that’s associated with that jersey. And so if you see someone else wearing that jersey, you know something about them. You know that they probably like that team, and that can start a conversation.”

Whether it’s conformity, identity, tradition, or something else, fest goers seem to enjoy it, like Ryan Gantzer, who wore a Philadelphia 76ers jersey.

“I mean, everyone looks good out here in their jerseys,” he said, “so why not?”