Why have there been so many changed uniform styles in sports?

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Answered by: Les, An Expert in the Fashion Category
The history of sports is rich and significant. Among the sports that have had the most history are American professional sports. Teams in the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, National Football League, and National Basketball Association each have their own individual histories. Collectively, these leagues’ histories make up some of the most interesting stories in all of professional sports.

One aspect of this history is the changed uniform styles of these teams over time. Many teams have changed uniform styles, including colors and logos to provide a psychological affect upon the opposing team. These changes, when compared to original uniform styles, have helped to create a more pleasing game to watch.

The psychological impact of logo and color usage has made an impact upon opposing teams and fans alike, but for different reasons, and in different ways. Some changes were made for marketing reasons, while others have been made to give an illusory impression of speed or tenacity.

It can be said that the original teams in each league have done little to change their uniforms, as these teams’ very history and tradition are often intimidating in themselves.

There is a delicate balancing act that team owners must maintain to ensure fan enjoyment, and the success of their own players. Uniforms that are repulsive in nature whether color or logo, can impact the aesthetic experience of watching the game, which affect team revenues. A team wearing a pink uniform, for example, would give westerners an impression of gentleness and bliss, which are traditionally feminine qualities. This might influence a player’s performance on a subconscious level.

A repulsive style might have the same effect upon opposing teams. In fact, there are some hockey teams that have painted the visiting locker rooms pink, to cause opposing players to play more “softly,” enhancing the home field advantage.

Hockey goaltenders have experimented with different colors and patterns on leg blockers to give an illusion of space between the legs. This causes opposing players to believe that there is an opening there, and shoot the puck at what is not an actual hole.

In recent years, there has been a rash of uniform changes across all professional sports. A common change has been the increase in the usage of black. Black is often associated with grief and sadness, as David Fontana notes, “Black is the symbol of death, sorrow and the underworld” (Fontana 67).

Teams look to create a subliminal effect upon the opposing team, to gain an advantage, albeit a small one. According to D. Pavey, black often is interpreted as bravery: “What better symbol could there be for bravado in the face of death than a 200 mph black racing car” (Pavey 171).

Black also gives an illusion of speed. In fast paced sports such as hockey and football, defenders battle their minds as well as the offensive player’s actual speed.

When we look at sports teams from the infancy of their sport, we find that the same basic colors are used across the board. Red, white, and blue were almost exclusively used by teams, with white or gray being the predominant or base color.

For instance, the Boston Red Sox are one of the founding teams of Major League Baseball. Their colors have always been a white uniform with red lettering, trim and logo. As modern times have almost forced teams to keep up with each other’s uniform changes, fans have expressed outrage at even the most minor uniform change for this storied franchise and others with a similar tradition.

Newer teams however, like the Houston Astros, entered the leagues with atrocious color schemes that few questioned. The lack of team tradition and history has allowed for such radical color schemes. For long-established teams, tradition has a grip upon team colors, and looks as if it will never let go.

In the National Football League, storied franchises like the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers will most likely never see a major uniform change. Less storied teams are able to “get away with” just about anything they try.

A few years ago, Houston was awarded an NFL franchise. Owners immediately began research on possible uniform schemes. Team owners decided upon a traditional color scheme of red, white, and blue. Although this color scheme is not a novel one, it is regarded as one of the more aesthetically pleasing NFL uniforms.

Other teams however, have made great changes in uniform appearance. For instance, the New England Patriots made a significant uniform change in the early 1990s. The former color scheme included a typical red, white, and blue, in a patriotic theme. The new motif seemed “futuristic,” and less traditional. This new uniform was met with some opposition initially, but recovered due to the team’s subsequent success.

Color combinations are very important as well. Many teams have overlooked this point, while others have capitalized on it. R. Fabri discusses this in his book, Color – a Complete Guide for Artists: “The only way to make a color more intense, without adding another color, is to place a complimentary nearby” (Fabri 27). Many teams have followed this strategy, mixing orange and blue (Denver Broncos), yellow and purple (L.A. Lakers), etc. As two complimentary colors are juxtaposed, the colors seem to flicker. This simultaneous contrast intensifies the edges of each color, causing each to seem deeper.

Sports rivalries are a prime example of color clashing, and its effect upon a tense situation. In all American pro sports, most teams have a rival that either their fans do not like, sometimes players do not like the rival team. These games are among the most entertaining to watch, mostly due to the emotion level involved. Part of this emotion is built by team uniform colors.

Interestingly, in the four major American pro sports, there are examples in each that place a predominantly red team versus a predominantly blue one. Red and blue are polar opposites (complimentary). David Headley notices that “Blue agrees so well with other colours (sic) that it functions as one of the most flexible of all primary colours (sic), yet it retains its own identity with ease” (Headley 42). When seen together, they seem to flicker. This eye fatigue offers a stress level that is unknown to the observer, giving rise to further tension and emotion.

Modern society has seemed to erode the distinctions between art, music, theater, and fashion. Modern sports teams have now begun to follow. Consumers no longer buy sports apparel to show support for their team, as fashion and wearability have become the standard for buyers’ purchasing decision. Often a team’s success on the field is irrelevant to the buyer. More often color scheme, and perhaps more often, the color scheme’s impression determine a uniform’s selling ability.

The image that different colors portray is a huge factor. Gone are the days when uniform color was purely symbolic. Today, colors are both symbolic and psychological.

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