Basketball Uniform History
Basketball has not escaped the fashion roller-coaster of the past century. Its uniform reflects the ever-changing trends and times. From baggy street clothes to signature form-fitting apparel and back to baggy, basketball uniforms have undergone transition until what has settled today is both comfortable and functional, and invokes a sense of nostalgic pride among players and fans alike.
In the Beginning There Were No Basketball Uniforms
Basketball is more than a century old. It began as a fairly simple game. And a simple game calls for a simple outfit. Pants, shirt, socks, and a comfortable pair of shoes, and you were ready to engage in the art of dunking a ball through a peach crate turned basketball hoop for points. When basketball began as a sport, they weren't designing special uniforms so players wore their every day street clothes. The men dribbled the ball in their baggy trousers and short-sleeved shirts, women in their long dresses and blouses adorned with scarves. And that left those clad for the court subject to the trends of the day. As trends changed, so did the uniform.
The 1920s gave basketball a place on the map, and a uniform consisting of medium length shorts, sleeveless form-fitting jerseys, and flat, comfortable shoes. Eventually uniforms were designed to not only identify the team, but to reflect its spirit. Men and women wore special shirts; sleeveless for the men, short sleeves for the ladies. Socks went to above the knees and were rolled down a bit. Women, considered more delicate, were required to wear knee pads for their protection. Uniforms were made from breathable, stretchable wool. Not only hot, but woolen shirts were difficult to care for and tended to shrink.
The New Synthetics Changed Everything
Throughout the turn of the century's first 30 years, wool and cotton were the fabric of American life. "Jersey" comes from the style of knit made from the wool used at the time. Wool was used because it stretched and breathed. But imagine how hot and drenched with sweat shirts must have been? Synthetic textiles had not been invented yet. The first jerseys fastened at the crotch to keep them from slipping out of trousers during the game. Thankfully the game was played in shorter increments of time, and at a slower pace, so players didn't get as hot as they might otherwise have gotten. Imagine your favorite basketball stars today zipping around the court in wool? It wasn't until the 1930s that the polyester-nylon blend was created, and by the next decade everyone was wearing it. It was easier to launder, and jerseys and shorts were more breathable and light. The new blend created a whole new era for basketball uniforms.
It's all about the Trends
Men may have sported long, baggy bottoms in the beginning. But the introduction of basketball uniforms in the1920s changed all that. For a not-so-brief stint, from 1935 until about the 1970s, shiny satin briefs were popular thanks to a women's tour team called the All American Redheads. Up through the 1950s and 1960s uniforms were form-fitting with medium length shorts. The 1970s and early 1980s raised and tightened the shorts, and shirts became even snugger-fitting.
Remember the Headbands and Tube Socks?
Who could forget the classic trends that the '70s and '80s brought to the sports stage and beyond? Take headbands and legwarmers. We were convinced they played a thermal role in regulating our body temperatures during a rigorous game of tennis or a dance workout. The trends had us convinced they would improve our performances (but really we just wanted to look more athletic). Were they necessary? Or were they marketing schemes. As for basketball, we can say the headband was necessary to keep perspiration from running into the eyes but if that were the case, why don't we see them worn today? And what ever happened to those classic, white knee-high "tube socks" with the red or blue stripe around the tops. If they were necessary to the game of basketball, we wouldn't have the sock-less look that players seem to prefer today.
Trends determine color schemes. The 1980's were either more conservative than its predecessor generations or in some cases wilder, with the crazy hairdos and over-accentuated makeup. On a palette of dark to bright, basketball uniforms tended to shoot for neutral - a little easier on the eye. But the uniforms didn't change much through 1970s into the early 1980s, the jersey and shirt remaining form-fitting, the shorts well, short. Superstar Larry Bird set that standard. And then Michael Jordan happened.
Blame the Baggy on the Biggie, Michael Jordan
In 1984 the legendary Michael Jordan revolutionized the game and the look. Before we knew it, our shorts were baggier and our shirts were getting roomier and longer. One day, the star player got tired of tugging on his conventionally fitting basketball shorts, and he requested that his team's shorts be made longer. It wasn't long before players all across the country were copying him. One of the first college basketball teams to aspire to the new look was the University of Michigan basketball team, the Wolverines, supposedly inspired by the shorts worn by the University of Arkansas Razorback basketball team. Like the legend, the Michigan basketball team wanted longer shorts so they didn't have to keep pulling them down around their hips which caused the jersey to slip out. Other teams caught on and "normal" fitting shorts were history.
From the Beginning was the Logos
The smashing success of an all-star basketball team isn't only because of its flashy moves, and fresher colors and designs. The ever-evolving team logo creates commerce. Teams come up with their own signature look and symbols, and any piece of clothing that dons the logo is a huge sell, making big bucks for the big NBA team.
Current Trends - What's Next?
The loose look has latched on both on and off the court. In the last ten years baggy-looking basketball uniforms have become more exaggerated. More than ever, the uniform allows players more room to jump high and dash around the court. Is it here to stay? Ever since basketball shorts became baggier, the uniform has changed little. You decide. Shoes have gone through some rather wild experimentation, but the classic high-top Converse remains synonymous with basketball even though leather and other high tech materials have updated our feet. Older styles are making a comeback, but the baggy look appears to be at home both on and off the court. Manufacturers will always be toying with new ideas for improving flexibility and performance, but just where today's trends or another future Michael Jordan takes us next remains unknown.