“You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?”
“Cause they have Mickey Mantle?”
“No, it’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes”
– Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Watching Brazil beat Spain last night in the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup got me thinking about the most iconic uniforms in sports.
I began debating in my mind other uniforms and if they demanded the same passion and respect that seems to follow the yellow jerseys of Brazil. Rather than crowning the uniforms, I thought I’d put together my top-5 most iconic sports uniforms and sit well-and-truly on the fence when it comes to crowning one outfit.
Here’s my top-5:
Brazil’s National Soccer Team
With more World Cup trophies in their trophy case than any other nation, the Brazilian football team have brought their own flare and skill to the soccer field for decades. Their iconic yellow shirts (blue short and white socks) have struck fear in opposition players all across the world.
The story of how they ended up with those iconic jerseys is interesting.
Originally (1914 onwards) the Brazilian team wore white shirts. There were a couple of variations, but the white shirts were used a majority of the time all the way until the 1950 World Cup, in Brazil. Hosting the World Cup for the first time, the Brazilians were heavy favourites.
The tournament had a round robin format and Brazil faced Uruguay in their final game to decide the winner. The game was at the Maracana. Despite a capacity of 78,838, paid attendance for the game was 199,854! Brazil took the lead, but ultimately lost 2-1 and missed out on the World Cup.
The team was criticized for a lack of patriotism, so the Brazilian Sports Confederation held a competition in a local newspaper to design a new uniform. 19-year old Aldyr Garcia Schlee won after designing an outfit including a yellow jersey with a green trim and blue shorts.
The new uniforms were used for the first time in 1954 and remain as the home kit of the team today. Each of their five World Cup victories were won wearing the yellow, blue, white look.
New Zealand All Blacks
As if dressed for the funeral of their opponents, the New Zealand rugby team are known by the nickname ‘The All Blacks’.
The team have won two of the seven Rugby World Cups and are currently ranked as the best team in the world.
However, a look into their history shows that the All Blacks could have easily be known as the All Blues.
In 1879, the Canterbury Rugby Football Union was formed as the first rugby union in New Zealand. The national team traveled to Australia in 1884, taking the field in shirts that were dark blue with a gold fern.
9 years later, the newly formed New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRFU) stipulated that the team would wear a “black jersey with a silver fern and white knickerbockers”. The jersey was worn for the first time by the ‘Original All Blacks’ during a tour to the UK, France and the US. The shirt has changed very little since then and remains one of the most simple, iconic jerseys in sports.
In 2002, Adidas paid the NZRFU $200m over 9 years to make the famous All Blacks uniforms.
It is also reported that Nike were considering a move into non-established sports in 1996. The three deals they had written on a whiteboard: the All Blacks, the Brazilian football team and a young golfer named Tiger Woods. Whilst they missed out on the All Blacks, they did pretty well with the other two.
New York Yankees
The quote at the start of this article highlights a common opinion in American sports and shows the respect and fear that the New York Yankees have demanded since they first wore the pinstripes 1912.
Established in 1901, the Yankees are the most successful team in baseball history and now one of the most valuable teams in sports, at an estimated value of $2.3bn (Forbes.com). The story of their pinstripes, like many stories, almost ended before it started.
It is thought the design is created to mirror the businessman look of major cities in the US. However, the Yankees actually weren’t the first team to wear the pinstripes. When they debuted them in 1912, the Giants and the Cubs had already used the design. The Yankees actually abandoned them at the end of the season until 1915, when they introduced them again and have worn them ever since.
There is a myth that the Yankees started wearing the pinstripes because of famed baseball player, Babe Ruth.
It was said that Ruth, and his large figure, preferred the look of the stripes. However, he did not join the Yankees until 1919, seven years after the team debuted the look.
Nice try myth-makers!
Notre Dame Football
Notre Dame is one of the most storied and historic universities in America. Its (American) football team has enjoyed large success over its 125-year history, claiming the national championship on 13 occasions.
The team’s navy jerseys and gold helmet and pants make up one of the most iconic outfits in US sports. Like almost all uniforms however, they did not start that way.
The first ND football uniform was all-white and had a blue ND across the chest. By the turn of the century and lasting well into the 1930’s, Notre Dame’s uniform consisted of a very basic navy blue top with brown pants and leather helmet.
As leather helmets whittled out of the game, the new, plastic helmets became gold and have remained plain gold over the last 50 years, and became the calling card of Notre Dame football.
For several years the helmets have been painting using paint that includes 23.9 karat gold. Actual gold! The gold flakes in the paint were collected when the Golden Dome was regilded.
For decades it was a tradition at Notre Dame that student-coaches paint the helmets between games to ensure they looked impeccable during game-days. In 2011, that tradition ended when the team changed their helmets to a new shade of gold. The new colour matches the Golden Dome atop the University’s main building.
Whilst the team occasionally wear a throw-back green jersey, the navy-on-gold look is the uniform regarded as one of the most iconic in sport.
Tiger Woods (On Sunday)
Ever since turning professional in 1996, and lighting up the golfing world, Tiger Woods has worn red on black every Sunday he plays.
“I wear red on Sundays because my mom thinks that that’s my power color, and you know you should always listen to your mom.” he originally said.
“I’ve worn red ever since my college days basically, or junior golf days – big events on the last day,” Woods later said. “I just stuck with it out of superstition, and it worked. I just happened to choose a school that actually was red, and we wore red on our final day of events. So it worked out.”
‘Worked out’ is likely a massively understatement.
In the first 14 majors Tiger took a lead into Sunday, he dressed in red and won each time. Whilst he hasn’t won a major in over five years, he has won the red-on-black look to victory 78 times on the PGA Tour and 105 times in total as a professional.
I spoke with a Nike rep recently who told me they decide Tiger’s outfits around 14 months in advance, in order to get them tested, mass-produced and in stores prior to him actually wearing them. Whilst they know he’ll be wearing red on Sunday, he has won several different styles of red in his time.
So that’s my top-5. Other uniforms that came close were: Argentina, Barcelona, Man Utd (football), LA Lakers, NY Knicks, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls (basketball), Green Bay Packers, Boston Red Sox (baseball), Penn State (college football).