Once Blue, Forever Blue

FFA Jacket

It’s the most recognizable symbol of the National FFA Organization, and if you ask FFA members past and present about their feelings for the FFA jacket, they’ll bubble over with pride when they talk about what the jacket has meant to them.

Take, for example, Derek Schmidt of the Peabody-Burns FFA Chapter in Kansas.

“If my FFA jacket could speak, it would go on for days,” he explains. “The jacket and I have been through a lot. It was there to help me step up and stand out throughout high school. I was always the shy kid who just went with the flow, until my first year as an FFA member. That very same year, I stood out and ran for an officer position in my chapter, and to my surprise, I was stationed by the flag! This bond with my jacket led me to become less shy and lead the chapter the next year when I was elected chapter president. Because I was able to step up and go beyond my comfort zone, I became interested in theatre and ended up receiving scholarships to college for my ability to act and perform on stage.”

National FFA Chief Executive Officer Dwight Armstrong remembers receiving his first jacket as a freshman in high school after earning his Greenhand degree.

“Getting a jacket was a big deal because FFA members wore their jackets at that time as a normal jacket. It ranked right up there with the letter jacket that the basketball and baseball players wore,” Armstrong recalls. “Since our school was so small, many had both, which were worn with school pride. When I was elected district vice president and put on that jacket, the world of what FFA represented got much bigger. It was a defining moment.”

CELEBRATING A MILESTONE 

This year, the iconic blue corduroy jacket celebrates its 80th anniversary. Much has changed about the National FFA Organization since then, but the official FFA jacket – in all its blue and gold glory – has remained a steadfast cornerstone.

“The FFA jacket changes people’s lives. When they first put it on, it often brings tears to their eyes,” says Lee Anne Shiller, director of Merchandise, Customer & Fulfillment Services for the National FFA Organization. “It was a real inspiration for those who wore it early on in the ’30s, and it’s still a big deal today.”

The jacket was first created by an FFA chapter from Fredericktown, Ohio. In 1933, the Fredericktown FFA band performed at the National FFA Convention in Kansas City, and they wanted to wear something in addition to the dress shirt and trousers of the official FFA uniform back then. The group opted for a corduroy jacket that would unify and evoke pride in the band members, not knowing their new uniform would become a national FFA tradition. Eighty years later, the jacket continues to instill a sense of pride and belonging in all who wear it.

FFA Jacket Celebrates a Milestone

MAKING A DIFFERENCE 

“My morals, my standards, and the way I live my life every day are sewn into the seams of this blue and gold corduroy jacket,” says Angel Lawson of the Clear Falls FFA Chapter in Texas. “It’s special to me because it gives me something that’s bigger than myself to be a part of.”

Gus Douglass, who served as West Virginia’s agriculture commissioner for 11 terms (44 years), remembers wearing his jacket during some of the most influential moments of his life. Douglass was the first national FFA president to hail from West Virginia, a role he filled in 1946 and 1947.

“I presided over convention after World War II, and that was a benchmark in my life,” says Douglass, now 86. “I was so proud to wear that jacket of yesteryear, and the jacket I wore as national president is now in the archives of the National FFA Organization.”

kind of expensive – somewhere in the $30 range,” she says. “That might not sound like much, but for a farm kid back then, that was a lot of money.”

Armstrong-Gustafson, who now owns Des Moines-based Amson Technology LLC, a company that provides consulting services in climate change, sustainability and carbon offsets, adds that her FFA jacket still hangs, protected in plastic, in her closet.

She continues to value her jacket for the “wonderful memories” it brings to mind.

“To this day, I still remember how hot those jackets could be in summertime in Iowa – better than any sweatbox,” Armstrong-Gustafson says, chuckling. “We would spend two weeks at the Iowa State Fair, wearing them every day. They were miserable, but it was well worth the sacrifice.”

Armstrong-Gustafson says the FFA jacket is life-changing because of everything it represents.

“What I learned in FFA between the ages of 14 and 18, I continue to use every day of my life in business, community service or in my home,” she continues. “The jacket is a physical manifestation of what we value and believe in – the future of agriculture. I still wear the virtual FFA jacket every day – it’s a call to duty, a call to excellence.”

Douglass recalls wearing his jacket with his team of national officers when they met James Kraft of Kraft Foods and representatives from John Deere, General Motors and Ford, as well as U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture and other government officials.

“I’ve been so proud to join the other blue jackets,” Douglass says. “One thing I learned in FFA was to gain all the education and information I could get, and there was hardly any time in my role as agriculture commissioner when I didn’t refer back to those blue jackets and all the experiences and activities our ag teacher pushed us into.”

A UNIFIED SYMBOL 

Deubrook, S.D., FFA member Kayla Nuese says the jacket is the symbol that unites all FFA members across the country.

“The FFA jacket is special to me because there is so much meaning to it,” she says. “Not only have I made so many of my own memories in it, but there have been thousands upon thousands of extraordinary people who have worn that jacket before me.”

Those who have worn the jacket before her include Peg Armstrong-Gustafson of Iowa, who became the second female elected to a national FFA office in 1977 when she served as national vice president. She was the first female state president in Iowa in 1976.

“I remember that we took very good care of our jackets, because they were kind of expensive – somewhere in the $30 range,” she says. “That might not sound like much, but for a farm kid back then, that was a lot of money.”

Armstrong-Gustafson – who now owns Des Moines-based Amson Technology LLC, a company that provides consulting services in climate change, sustainability and carbon offsets – adds that her FFA jacket still hangs, protected in plastic, in her closet.

She continues to value her jacket for the “wonderful memories” it brings to mind.

“To this day, I still remember how hot those jackets could be in summertime in Iowa – better than any sweatbox,” Armstrong-Gustafson says, chuckling. “We would spend two weeks at the Iowa State Fair, wearing them every day. They were miserable, but it was well worth the sacrifice.”

Armstrong-Gustafson says the FFA jacket is life-changing because of everything it represents.

“What I learned in FFA between the ages of 14 and 18, I continue to use every day of my life in business, community service or in my home,” she continues. “The jacket is a physical manifestation of what we value and believe in – the future of agriculture. I still wear the virtual FFA jacket every day – it’s a call to duty, a call to excellence.”