There’s been a lot of talk recently about the direction football kits have gone towards: from the offensive Vapid Aeroswift of Euro 2016 that saw Nike disregard iconic national colours for their own, questionable “experimentations” to the highly individual South Korea and Nigeria ranges of late, as well as Puma’s work with incorporating cultural references onto their shirts, we’ve seen a dramatic shift of direction.
This development has also seen a rise of the football shirt as a modern fashion/culture item, especially since Paris Saint-Germain kicked off an ongoing collaboration with the Jordan Brand that saw the Jumpman logo feature on kits and highly popular lifestyle ranges. Combine that with the resounding success of the bespoke Nigerian collection from the 2018 World Cup, which went viral throughout the world and ended up becoming one of the most iconic pieces of sportswear to come out of the 2010s and it’s easy to understand why these pieces of coloured polyester that the general public found relatively un-interesting have suddenly become viral internet sensations and the concept kit design niche has seen an incredible rise to online popularity.
Considering all of the above, many people have come to conclusions that the football shirt industry has changed for the worse – that it’s not what it once was, that there’s a complete disregard for club values and traditions and so on. There’s, of course, the other side too: these people that have welcomed this dramatic change of pace, calling it the “new golden years” of the football kit. In my view, neither of these are true: no, football kits haven’t completely gone down the drain, but they’re also not “good again” – in fact, they were never bad to begin with. They just were momentarily heading the wrong way.
There’s signs of life, however – we’re seeing more effort put into them recently than in the last few years. From club-specific prints to Nike boasting of “ditching the templates”, football kits are getting more custom than ever before. See Puma’s aforementioned efforts of adding cultural references to their kits, or even the smaller brands on the rise recently thanks to the power of social media and the concept community creating bespoke, individual efforts even for Sunday League clubs. Other brands, like adidas, seem to be stuck in the template-heavy past, but with so many options out there, this does not have to be a problem.
The tide has turned
For traditionalists though, it will be. The days of football kits conforming to unwritten rules and traditions look like they’re numbered. In the past, it used to be law that “you don’t mess with a team’s colours” and there was an unwritten law that all “experimentation” should be limited to the superfluous third kit. The tide has turned, however, and designs such as Barcelona in a checkered top or Real Madrid with streaks of bright pink and dark blue on the sleeves are thought to be “the new normal”. It’s the flipside of all the individuality we’re seeing, but then… there’s two sides to every story.
It’s hard to predict the future. But it’s not doomsday in the football kit universe. It’s not all happy days either, but it’s getting better. Football kits aren’t good again, no. Neither are they “beyond saving”. They’re certainly getting more individual, more fashionable and more digital – yes, digital – than ever before. The results will be mixed, but I think we should just sit back and enjoy the ride as much as we can.
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