Uniforms, Sports

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Since the time when humans were able to stand upright, running has been an activity conducted for survival, in order to hunt for food and escape danger. In terms of competitive-running (track and field) events, the Ancient Olympics (776 b.c.e.), in Olympia, Greece, probably best document the history of running. The Olympics are typically associated with feats of superior athleticism and hundreds of sporting events, but the first Olympics were one-day religious festivals to celebrate the gods (specifically Zeus) that the Hellenic society worshiped. The "single foot race" (which covered one length of the stadium) was the only sporting competition until the fifteenth Olympiad. As the Olympic festival expanded, other sports like chariot racing, boxing, and pentathlon were added. Married women, who were forbidden to look at other men, were banned from the festival and were killed if they were caught attending. Virginal women were allowed to attend the Olympics so they could see what the ideal man looked like, and they had their own sports competition called the Heraean festival (after the goddess of Hera), where javelin throwing was a popular competition. All of the athletes participated in the nude (for ease of movement) and wore no foot protection. The branch of a wild olive tree was the official prize for an Olympic winner (Hickok Sports 2004).

The modern Olympics were revived in April 1896 and in the early 2000s they include twenty major track and field events (not including separate events for men and women). At the first modern events, the track and field dress consisted of woven shorts and knitted tank tops with colored athletic striping to identify athletes by country. Athletes wore leather track spikes that were constructed much like a traditional men's dress shoe with nails on the sole for traction. Twenty-first-century track and field athletes wear uniforms that are very lightweight, breathable, and aerodynamic. There are two trends. One is that the athlete wears as little as possible, so that the body is almost nude—reflecting the dress of the original Olympic athletes. Men who follow this philosophy wear body-conscious polyester and spandex knit shorts and a tank top. Women wear body-conscious polyester and spandex knit briefs and a sports bra top. The other trend is to cover the entire body (including the head) in aerodynamic body-conscious polyester and spandex knit "skin" where the athlete is theoretically making the body more "fluid," so that it has less resistance (drag) from the racing environment. This particular uniform technology is also seen in swimming, ski racing, and speed skating. For most of the running events, lightweight track spikes are worn to help propel the athlete over the running surface. In longer running events like the marathon, a lightweight racing flat is worn, which is constructed more like a modern day sneaker. For the field events, like discus and javelin, the athletes wear sport-specific footwear or ones that have been customized.

Football (Soccer)

Football or soccer is another sport that has a long history. Some historians credit the Chinese with the earliest form of football in 255–206 b.c.e. The sport was called Tsu Chu, and it was used to train soldiers as part

of their physical education program. Many societies including the Ancient Greeks, Aztecs, Romans, Japanese, and Egyptians have claimed to be the creators of football too, as any sport where a ball is kicked is seen as a predecessor to the modern sport (Miers and Trifari 1994 p. 26; Langton 1996, p. 15–27). The object of modern-day football is to move a single ball, by passing it between players, and kicking it into an opponent's goal. At the end of a ninety-minute game, the team that has the most goals wins the game. Hands cannot be used to pass the ball, as seen in rugby or American football. The sport is played between two teams, with eleven athletes on each team. Football as we know it in the early 2000s is based upon rules and regulations formed in London, England, in October 1863 by delegates from the Association of Football (Miers and Trifari 1994, p. 36–37).

The first modern day uniforms (1860s to 1880s) consisted of wool or cotton knickers, a woven or knitted pullover (typically with a buttoned welt opening), knee-length socks, a cap, and leather-work boots with leather or metal cleats. Some teams utilized colored stripes as a way to identify their team and because they were easy to incorporate into a woven or knitted material. Other teams had badges that were sewn onto their jersey (usually on the left side of the chest) for further identification. The sport was played with a round, leather ball that was inflated with a pig's bladder. Shin guards were not widely used during this time. In the latter part of the 1800s, woven shorts became popular, as they provided better freedom of movement. The use of woven materials for jerseys became less and less visible as the game evolved into the early 1900s. The use of wool declined, and synthetic fibers were more relevant (for laundering, durability, and comfort). Shin guards were more and more visible on players, but not mandatory until 1984. The original guards were made of leather and boning with horsehair stuffing, where twenty-first-century guards are made of synthetic plastics and high-performance foams. Football jerseys, shorts, and socks are made of high-wicking fibers and are designed to allow the athlete to move with efficiency and accuracy. The uniforms contain very little or no seaming and accessory pieces (buttons and zippers). The football "boot" is really a shoe-type construction with cleats or studs that is streamlined in design to help the player control the ball and run fast. Ball technology has changed the game most. The lighter the ball becomes, the faster the game becomes. Goalkeepers prior to the 1970s never wore goalkeeper gloves. But with players and ball technology, the ball can be kicked at speeds around 100 mph and the goalkeeper needs his or her hands protected with foam gloves. Uniform styles also include player numbers, names of the player on the back of the jersey, sponsorship, and club badge. There are also home and away uniforms. Many sport brands and football clubs have their own game-day and lifestyle collections that enable fans to wear their favorite team or player's colors as a supporter outside the stadium and as a fashion statement.


Shepherds from the southeast of England are recognized as the creators of cricket in the 1300s. They played a game on the short grass pastures where it was possible to bowl a ball of wool or rags at a target. The target was usually the wicket gate of the sheep pasture, which was defended with a bat in the form of a shepherd's crooked staff. Records show that King Edward II was a fan of the game, as well as Oliver Cromwell. It was a sport adopted and appreciated by the upper class, and there are gambling records from 1751 showing bets made on matches exceeding £ 20,000 (Lords 2004). In an effort to formalize how the sport was played, rules and regulations were formed in 1787, at the Marylebone Cricket Club (Farmer 1979).

The objective of cricket is quite complicated, as it is based upon a multitude of rules and regulations. To simplify,

cricket is a team sport for two teams of eleven players each. Although the game play and rules are very different, the basic concept of cricket is similar to that of baseball. Teams bat in successive innings and attempt to score runs, while the opposing team fields and attempts to bring an end to the batting team's innings. After each team has batted an equal number of innings (either one or two, depending on conditions chosen before the game), the team with the most runs wins. (Mar)

The traditional dress (sometimes referenced as "creams") worn for cricket is cream or white in color, symbolizing cleanliness, confidence, and keenness (Dunn et al. 1975). All players typically wear cotton/polyester trousers and a buttoned-down cotton/polyester shirt. Some will wear a cable or heavy rib-knitted V-neck vest or sweater (also in cream or white). White shoes or "boots" for cricket are worn, which look like golf shoes and serve a similar purpose of providing traction. Protective batting gloves, thigh pads (worn on the inside of the trousers), and combination thigh, knee, and shin pads (worn on the outside of the trousers) are worn to protect the player from ball impact. Each batter has a wooden bat that is shaped long like a baseball bat, but has a flat surface for hitting. In the past caps were worn more than helmets and sometimes players did not cover their heads at all. Helmets are worn for impact protection, but even in the late 1970s many players thought they were not "manly." One reference states: "If a senior player feels sufficiently unnerved by the speed of a fast bowler then there is nothing in the rules to prevent him placing one on his head. But avoid the indignity if you can" (Farmer 1979, p. 10). Some international matches are played in football (soccer)-styled uniforms with colorful jerseys and trousers. Some traditionalists feel that these uniforms disrespect the heritage and eliteness of the sport, as football was traditionally a sport for the working class.


Rugby is a version of football (soccer) where players are allowed to carry the ball with their hands. The sport originated at the Rugby School in England with a sixteen-year-old student named William Webb Ellis who picked up and carried the ball during a football (soccer) game in 1823. Some say that Ellis was inspired by the Irish-native game called Caid (where Ellis's father was stationed with the Third Dragoons guards). The sport was adopted in the 1860s by other schools and universities in England, and by 1871 the English Rugby Union was formed to standardize the rules (Trueman). The basic objective of the sport is that two teams, of fifteen players carry, pass, kick, or ground a ball to score as many points as possible. The team with the most points at the end of a match wins. Rugby became associated with the British upper class, whereas football (soccer) was the sport of choice for the working class, because of its origin at private schools and universities. This is quite ironic, since the game of rugby requires enormous physical strength, extensive physical contact, and is often played in the mud (created by inclement weather).

The original game was played with a round leather ball that had a pig's bladder. Since rugby was originally a schoolboy's sport, the school uniform was typically worn to play in. In the 1800s the upper-class school uniform consisted of a top hat, white trousers, braces (suspenders), black jacket, white shirt, and a tie. Black leather shoes or boots complemented the outfit. Everything except the top hat and jacket were worn to play rugby. Boys even tried to take the "newness" out of their school uniforms by getting them extra dirty while playing. At the end of the 1800s, knicker-length trousers in darker colors became popular for their ease of movement and ability to hide dirt. Caps were worn on the head in team colors, often with badges. Collarless jerseys (sometimes with a leather yoke) with numbers were seen in the early 1900s. The advent of synthetic fibers and knitted materials allowed for more comfortable uniforms in the 1900s. The rugby game in the early 2000s is played with an oval ball, a bit blunter in shape than the modern American football. This shape allows the ball to be easily bounced and drop-kicked. Cleats similar to the ones worn for football (soccer) are also worn to help the player run fast and establish traction with the ground, especially if it is muddy. Players who are larger and play defense wear a higher-cut version for ankle stability. A horizontally striped polo shirt design (with long sleeves), with three to four rubber buttons down a center front welt became known as the "rugby shirt" and was worn by players with traditional athletic shorts. Sporty teens and college students adopted this design in the 1970s, and again in the early 1990s. At the 2003 Rugby World Cup, teams were seen wearing body leotards that prohibited the opponent from grabbing and tugging down players during a match. Many players still do not wear any impact protection. The players who do, wear lightweight helmets, rib, and shoulder pads. Gloves are also worn to protect the hands and provide extra grip, while some players still choose to only tape their wrists and fingers. Some players tape their ears to prevent cauliflower ear.


Like football (soccer) many ancient societies had some sort of game that could be linked to the sport of baseball. Most historians believe baseball is based on the English stick and ball game of rounders. In the early 1800s the sport became very popular in America and it was known by numerous names including townball, base, or baseball. Many small towns formed teams, and baseball clubs were formed in larger cities. By 1845 Alexander Cartwright formalized the rules of baseball, and in 1846 he organized the first recorded baseball contest (between the Cartwright Knickerbockers and the New York Baseball Club) at Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey (Bowman and Zoss 1986, p. 10–11). The basic idea of baseball is to hit a ball that is pitched by an opposing team's pitcher with a wooden bat and get around three field bases to make a run (score) without getting caught. After nine innings, the team with the most runs wins the game.

The baseball uniform has a very rich history. The Knickerbockers adopted the original uniform in 1849, and it consisted of a white flannel collared shirt, woolen trousers, a straw hat, and leather shoes. Like other sports in the late 1800s, knickers were adopted (for more comfort) and leagues soon used color and patterns (like stripes and checks) to identify players, positions, and teams. At the turn of the twentieth century, team badges and names were on almost every player's shirt. The baseball shoe became a high top with cleats for better ankle stability and traction. The straw cap was now made of wool. The shirt collar was removed for more comfort and numbers were added on the sleeve for further player identification. In the 1940s, the All-American Girls Softball League was formed, and women wore uniforms featuring belted short-sleeved tunic dresses with caps. Player names were added in the 1960s to the back of the jerseys (along with numbers) (National Baseball Hall of Fame). In the twenty-first century, the uniform is reminiscent of the original uniform in that it consists of a shirt or jersey and trousers, but they are constructed with nylon or polyester fibers and are often knitted, which allows them to fit very close to the body. Trousers typically have stirrups, which allude to the look of the old-fashioned knickers. Jerseys are still closed up the center front and are either short sleeved or sleeveless to allow a cotton T-shirt to be worn underneath for heat management. Players still wear caps (typically they are made of cotton and polyester fibers), and helmets are now used for impact protection when batting.


Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian Presbyterian minister, invented the sport of "Basket Ball" on 21 December 1891 at a Springfield, Massachusetts, YMCA Training School in response to a work assignment that required him to create a sport that could be played indoors during the winter (Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Inc.). Naismith's idea was to utilize athletic skill instead of strength like in American football or rugby. With thirteen rules, the basic object of Naismith's new sport was to put a ball in an opponent's "basket." At the end of the game, the team with the most baskets wins. The first game of basketball was played with eighteen players (nine to a team) and used a football (soccer ball), and two peach baskets as the goals (Wolff 1991, p. 7–13). Women were involved in the game almost immediately, and Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, was the site of the first collegiate women's basketball game in 1893. Although there have been some major changes to the game since it was first invented, it is still one of the most popular games played. Over 300 million people play basketball in the early 2000s (Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Inc.).

The original basketball uniform consisted of everyday clothing that boys would wear to school, like a pair of full-length trousers, a buttoned-down shirt, and leather shoes. Over a period of twenty years, specific team uniforms were created for men to identify team names and colors. The first uniforms were composed of a knitted pullover with appliquéd team letters or names, knicker-length woven trousers, knitted striped knee socks, and leather shoes. The uniform soon reduced itself to a pair of woven short-shorts, a knitted tank top, leather kneepads, knee socks, and basketball sneakers like the Converse All-Star. For women, the first basketball uniforms consisted of large belted black bloomers that extended below the knees with stockings and white middy shirt. In the twenty-first century, basketball uniforms for men and women are almost identical, less complicated, and protective. They use nylon and polyester and material constructions to provide thermal comfort on the court. A typical uniform consists of a sleeveless knitted jersey tank, shorts that are almost knee-length, ankle-length socks, and basketball sneakers. Furthermore, each player's uniform typically has a number on the front and back of the jersey for identification on TV and for spectators. Sometimes the player's surname is printed on the back of the shirt for further identification. Basketball sneakers are built to provide traction on the wood court floor and ankle stability from medial-to-lateral movements.

American Football

The sport of American football derived from rugby. Football (soccer) has also been noted as a cousin to American football. The sport came to America in the mid-1800s and was played by many northeastern colleges, like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia. In 1876, Harvard and Yale Universities met together in Massachusetts to formalize the rules of American football. The object of the game was to move an oblong-shaped ball across a goal line by kicking, throwing, or running with it. The team that can get the most points in four quarters wins. The game is played between two teams, each with eleven players. In American football, the teams can be rotated in and out of the game, which is different than football (soccer) and rugby.

In the beginning of the Professional Football League in the 1920s, there were no rules regarding the equipment players wore. Teams only provided players with long-sleeve knitted wool jerseys, and socks in team colors and logos. Many players used the equipment that they acquired at university (if they went). To protect the head from contact, players wore soft, pliable leather "head helmets" with nose guards, while some players felt that long hair was good enough. Pants were knicker-length and were made of brown cotton canvas (reminiscent of the original Levi's). Players also wore cleats to enhance traction when running, especially in the mud (McDonough et al. 1994, p. 31,). Throughout the 1900s elaborate equipment was developed for the player, including pads made with high-density plastics and foams for the neck, thighs, hips, groin, ribs, knees, shoulders, and sometimes the forearms. Over the protection, the player usually wears a knitted jersey, knee-length pants, and socks, in team colors and made of synthetic fibers that provide durability and thermal comfort. Like in many other sports, jerseys contained the name and number of the player and team logo for on-field identification. Many of the equipment developments during the last century were created by players themselves or by equipment managers. Players in the early 2000s wear proper, durable helmets with face and mouth guards (McDonough et al. 1994, p. 110). Lightweight cleats are worn for different field environments like grass or synthetic turf. Gloves are sometimes worn for warmth and to provide a better grip on the ball. Even the ball has gone through a series of changes, making it more durable, aerodynamic, and easier to handle.

See alsoSneakers .


Bowman, John, and Joel Zoss. The Pictorial History of Baseball. New York: Gallery Books, 1986.

Dunn, John, et al. How to Play Cricket: Australian Style. Hong Kong: Souvenir Press, 1975.

Farmer, Bob. How to Play Cricket. New York: Hamlyn, 1979.

Langton, Harry. 1000 Years of Football: FIFA Museum Collection. Berlin: Edition Q, 1996.

McDonough, et al. 75 Seasons: The Complete Story of the National Football League 1920–1995. Atlanta, Ga.: Turner Publishing, 1994.

Miers, Charles, and Elio Trifari. Soccer! The Game and World Cup. New York: Rizzoli International, 1994.

Wolff, Alexander. 100 Years of Hoops: A Fond Look Back at the Sport of Basketball. New York: Bishop Books, 1991.

Internet Resources

Hickok Sports. 2004. Sports History: The Ancient Olympic Games. Available from <http://www.hickoksports.com/history/olancien.shtml>.

Mar, David. An Explanation of Cricket: Rules and Game Play Described for Novices. Available from <http://www.cricinfo.com/db/about_cricket/explanation/explanation_of_cricket.html>.

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Inc. Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: History. Available from <http://www.hoophall.com>.

National Baseball Hall of Fame. Dressed to the Nines: A History of the Baseball Uniform. Available from <http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/exhibits/online_exhibits/dressed_to_the_nines.htm>.

Trueman, N. Rugby Football History: Timeline. Available from <http://www.rugbyfootballhistory.com>.

Susan L. Sokolowski