Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Dos and Don'ts of Gridiron Haberdashery

Recently, I was asked by a friend to elaborate on my football uniforms posts (swear to God I was).

She wrote (reproduced from a private e-mail from her to me, permission of which to reproduce in part would have almost certainly been granted had I bothered to ask her):
I'm mostly curious, having seen many examples of what you like and don't like, to have you generalize about your preferences: what are the rules of a good uniform, and how do the bad uniforms break them? I know that I'm not a fan of that stabby orange stripe-thing down the side of the new Broncos uniforms, but why?
And she's right; I gave examples about what was good and what was bad, but I didn't tell you why.

And so, in the interests of keeping our nation's football fields presentable, I give you:

The Dos and Don'ts of Gridiron Haberdashery

- Rule: Avoid Modern Trends

This rule applies to all sports, really (i.e., the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL). For the most part, the basics of what does and doesn't make for a decent looking uniform in each sport were settled long, long ago. So why, no matter what the sport, would you ditch a classic old look in favor of a new silly trend when history and good taste suggest you're just going to go back to the old look eventually? Why not save everybody the time and embarrassment of ever having to look back at something like this? That's the first, broadest, most over-arching rule of uniforms in general and football uniforms in particular: changing uniforms to make them a little different might (might) be okay; changing uniforms to make them "newer" never will be. From a sartorial standpoint, at least. Odds are the more basic the uniform looks, uglier it ain't.

- Rule: Stay In the Lines

I call this the "coloring book rule;" it explains why my friend (quite rightly) dislikes the "stabby orange stripe-thing" on the Broncos new duds ("new" being relative; they switched about ten years ago). A decent-looking football uniform won't have anything on it (other then the logo on the helmet) that doesn't run directly along side, or perpendicular to, a fairly obvious and intuitive seam in the jersey or pants. And no widenings or narrowings of stripes, either. That's why the Broncos' swipe looks so ridiculous; in effect, the team colored outside the lines. Lots of teams do it now; it's probably the worst thing you can do to a football jersey or football pants, as well as the trend most responsible for the uglifying of the NFL (and, to a much greater extent, the NCAA). And, I realize that the ridiculous two-toned jerseys that seem so popular nowadays don't technically violate this rule, so:

- Rule: No Two-Toned Jerseys

This is just common sense. I mean, come on.

- Rule: Two Colors, Max

Not counting white (and maybe black, an exception I make only because I don't hate the 49ers' current unis), and not counting some superficial, unostentatious decoration on helmet logo (if applicable), you only get two colors. That's it. Some of the best football uniforms in the world only use one color other than white, and no one complains. Some don't use white, but just use two other colors (Part B of this rule would be that if you're not using white, then tough; you only get two colors, period). This rule really isn't broken in today's NFL (because: can you imagine?), but I fear it's just a matter of time.

- Rule: No Cartoons On the Helmet

Don't go crazy. Don't try to be a hero. Which helmet do you think looks cooler; this one, or this one? Would anybody in their right mind pick the second one? You'd have to be mad, wouldn't you? When you're designing the helmet emblem, as with the rest of the uniform, simplicity is the name of the game. You're not going to be able to duplicate the glory and grandeur of the old Buccaneers helmet (featuring a fabulous swashbuckler that writer/comedian Nick Bakay liked to call "Lance"), so don't even bother.

And that's if you need anything on the helmet at all. A few of the best uniforms in college football don't use them, and neither do the NFL's Cleveland Browns, because a) it's tradition and it's kind of cool to be the only team that doesn't have something on the helmet, and b) what would you put? Other than the letter "C", which the Bears already have. Also, the Steelers have a logo on one side of their helmet, but not the other. When the Steelers play the Browns, from the right angle, it can look like you're really watching some classic old-time football.

- Rule: No Monochrome

Again not counting white, you can't have your pants and your jersey be the same color. That looks ridiculous. Regrettably, even some teams with good uniform designs have fallen prey to this trend in the past few years.

- Rule: You're Not Going To Top the Chargers' Power-Blue Throwbacks, So Don't Even Try

Why the Chargers don't switch back to these permanently is mystifying. They only wear them once or twice a year, and yet if you go to a Chargers game, half the jerseys are powder blue. They are, quite simply, the best-looking football uniforms in the history of the universe.

That's about it; if I think of any more rules later I'll be sure to add them. Hopefully this was informative and, ideally, time-consuming.

I seriously don't know why I love this stuff so much more than anything else ever created by humankind -- even more than posts about something I know or care about. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I also like to obsess over little details like this: things I notice as a result of overexposure to a certain favorite topic/activity. (For you: NFL football; for me: something else.) Details that couldn't be more meaningless (in the cosmic sense) but seem so important anyway. So, I guess it's great to see that stuff like that is universal.

(Or, at least, universal among us -- and if there's a bigger universe, I don't want to know about it!)

Thanks to that anonymous e-mailer! She asks the questions that re-energize the best online dialogues!
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I agree with the whole trifecta of posts except for baseball--I grew up on super-garish baseball unis, and I want them back. Even less garish ones like the Cardinal and Phillie light blue ones were great. Now all baseball uniforms look the same. Also, I'm a dissenter on the Jets--I think their '80s duds were preferable.

The Vikes' change is no worse than most others that have switched, and much better than the train wrecks that are Buffalo and Seattle. If they were the purple jerseys and pants together at any point, please delete the previous sentence.
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