Asymmetrical lines. Neon colors. Checkered patterns. So long basic sweatpants and T-shirts. With millions of dollars in publicity and retail sales involved, today’s sports uniforms are making headlines for striking design, eye-popping details, and meaningful messages.
Tennis was once played only by the rich. For years, players wore only “tennis whites.” Wearing all white showed that you had the money to have your clothes washed often. Plus, sweat spots on colored clothing—gasp!—were thought improper. Today, most tennis players sport flamboyant combos from novelty bandanas to vibrant shoes.
On the other end of the uniform spectrum lies football, also known around the world as soccer. Roger Bennett is half of a wacky British soccer commentating duo. Bennett says soccer advertising has changed sports fashion. He’s seen uniforms go from “functional garments . . . to the single-most lucrative billboard in the world.”
The Bible discourages paying too much attention to clothing and other externals. God’s word encourages us that “the hidden person of the heart” matters most. (1 Peter 3:3-4) But it’s helpful to remember that clothing can express personality and loyalties—outlandish, energetic, or nostalgic.
This year, Australia’s World Cup football jerseys were gold with swirling lines on the shoulders and sleeves of home uniforms. The algae-green lines celebrate the country’s border on oceans and seas, says Nike senior design director Pete Hoppins. Australia’s away kit was green with a diagonal slash of yellow and lighter green touches on the front, a tribute to Australia’s 2006 jerseys.
Nigeria’s World Cup shirts popped bright green, white, and black with a buzzy chevron pattern. The jerseys have been a hit. Hoppins says, “We’ve never seen anything like this before in terms of excitement,” referring to the crowds buying Nigerian jerseys.
Other sports have had their moments in the fashion spotlight. Many hockey, baseball, and American football uniforms have been noteworthy. Remember the Anaheim Ducks’ eerie masked cartoon water bird? What about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2012 black-and-gold striped “bumblebee” outfits?
Feelings about uniform fashion run deep. Soccer commentator Bennett accepted the deep pride and symbolism of Croatia’s red-and-white checkerboard World Cup uniforms. He knows they hint at the country’s flag and medieval coat of arms. But he wasn’t a fan. “I find it fairly terrifying,” he says. “It’s a tablecloth.”
What does Bennett like? Japan’s jersey. It’s a rich blue and recalls the ancient Japanese technique of sashiko, hand-stitching in rows down the front.
“It’s utterly captivating,” Bennett says, calling it “everything that’s beautiful about a national football jersey.”