• Adam Shibley

History of Uniforms


Early on, uniforms were nearly nonexistent. Players simply sported clothes in coordinating dark colors, like black or navy to identify who was on what team.  Due to the blistering cold weather teams played in, before the invention of indoor fields and domed stadiums, many early uniforms were designed to keep players warm while they willed themselves to victory outside. Players wore uniforms that made them look as though they were better equipped for a day at sea than a game on grass. The constant contact the game of football inhibits led uniforms to also be made for durability. Heavier materials like wool or cotton shirts were worn for jerseys, while the strong pants consisted of canvas.

Fashion began to take off when teams attempted to gain an advantage over their competition. Teams began adhering vertical strips of cloth made of canvas, leather and moleskin on their chest and arms to prevent fumbling the football. These vertical strips led to the first designs on uniforms and teams like Ohio State have brought the look back in recent years. 

The 60’s were stacked with invigorating new color schemes. Upon its inception, the American Football League brought excitement to the uniform world. The Denver Broncos wore full orange unis, while Miami went turquoise and the San Diego Chargers became iconic for powder-blue jerseys with yellow lightning bolts. This time period was the beginning of true creativity in the uniform world and would set a standard for years to come. 

In the late ’70s, the American Football league added two new expansion teams. Those teams came bearing new distinct color schemes and interesting uniforms. The Seattle Seahawks introduced “rush green” down their pant legs, onto their helmets and into their socks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers introduced a captivating creamsicle South Beach palette, thought by many to be an embarrassment of football fashion. 

The 80’s

Fashion in football hit a wall. The absence of new designs, led in part by winning teams’ unwillingness to jinx it, made for a lack of interest in team uniforms. The San Francisco 49ers won four Super Bowls between 1982-1990, and fans were not going to let a redesign end their winning streak. Superstitions in the game of football are very real. Winning and losing can be blamed on what uniforms were being worn during the game. Although it sounds crazy, people swear by these excessively credulous beliefs.

The 90’s

The decade in which fans began to buy jerseys of their favorite players, regardless of who they played for. This was a way for fans to stand out from the “home team” crowd and pick the jersey of a player that they identified with, even if their team was across the country. During this time period, jerseys became acceptable to wear in public, even outside of the stadium.

2000’s & Beyond

Since the turn of the century, uniforms have become about experimentation: a plethora of alternate jerseys, intricate design elements, throwback uniforms and sightly colorways. The biggest difference from current uniforms to older ones is the “performance technology.” Football uniforms now contain nine different fabrics that protect the jersey from being ripped while introducing thermal cooling to each player. Uniforms are lighter, more flexible, shrink-fit and stronger at the same time. Player movement and comfort is essential when designing uniforms.

Oregon started a trend in college football thanks to Oregon alumnus and Nike co-founder Phil Knight. The Ducks began sporting unique uniforms in bright fluorescent colors, which instantly became a topic of conversation and undoubtedly helped Oregon become a dominant Power 5 football team out of the Pac-12 Conference. Some recruits fall so far in love with all of the different uniform options that they end up committing to Oregon because of it. However, not every program in the nation has been bold enough to alter its look. Some are even well-known for their classic approach to outfitting players. Alabama and Penn State are the most notable of all the simplistic uniforms in college football. Oregon’s innovative uniform designs led to many schools taking risks on bold looks. Even the NFL had monochromatic uniforms for every team, during the Color Rush movement. 

While teams frequently tweak and redesign their uniforms, throwback jerseys still make an appearance throughout the season, allowing teams to celebrate their tradition while continuing to improve their uniform appearance. 

Uniforms have an undeniable presence about them. They have the power to affect how a team performs on the field, just look at our first donation to the Garden Valley Falcons.

Uniforms are able to give athletes and teams a sense of pride and excitement that can translate into all phases of life. That is what TUFF believes and why the foundation was created. Everyone deserves to wear a uniform they can be proud of and think is cool. 

It is impossible to know where you are going without knowing where you have been. The Uniform Funding Foundation now knows the history of football uniforms and how they have gotten to where they are today. Now it is time to create, design and donate customized uniforms to youth teams in need.

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