What does iridescent mean?

Every year I like to look out for any trends that are developing throughout the football shirt world. 

Sometimes these trends are particular colourways, such as the dominant black and gold combination we’ve seen across all clubs over the past couple of seasons. Other times, the trends are more in the areas of shirt construction or material; trends which are typically dictated by particular brands as they seek to optimise every area of the shirt for maximum performance.

One trend which is sweeping kits in 2021 is iridescent applications. It seems every brand is wanting to get in on the action, and a lot of collectors seem to be excited by iridescent crests and manufacturer logos which look like they’re from the future.

Let’s take a closer look at what iridescent actually means, so you can avoid being caught out the next time you’re showing off your latest purchase with a friend.

What does “iridescent” mean

We use it all the time at the moment, but what does iridescent mean?

Iridescence is the appearance of a rainbow or rainbow-like aesthetic which is caused by the bending of light waves (refraction) as they interact with the surface of an object. As the angle of view changes, the different colours of the rainbow appear and disappear. 

An iridescent object is something which exhibits iridescence.

We see iridescence occurring in all sorts of everyday situations, including soap bubbles and the interaction of fuel or petrol on top of water. There are many animals like butterflies or beetles which have iridescent features, and anyone who remembers CDs will have observed the iridescence that can be seen on the back of the disc.

In football shirts, we’ve seen a number of designs which make use of iridescent details. Typically these will be club crests, but increasingly we are seeing shirts that make use of iridescent sponsors or iridescent features on larger portions of the shirt.

When did iridescent become a word?

You might expect iridescent to be a fair new term, given the futuristic look of iridescent objects, but the term dates right back to the end of the 18th century (1796).

Though the term “iridescent” would come in later, iridescence was noted as far back at 1665, where scientist Robert Hooke observed the changing appearance of a peacock’s feather as it went in and out of the water.

Iridescent vs pearlescent

Another term you might see which is closely related to iridescence is “pearlescent”.

Pearlescence is a similar effect to iridescence, where some or all of the reflected light is white, as opposed to iridescence where there are only other colours.

Confusingly, a lot of people mix up the terms, notably in the area of car paints where paints described as pearlescent are often actually giving off an iridescent effect.

Which shirts have iridescent features?

Let’s focus back in on football shirts, because that’s what this site is all about right?

One of the most notable iridescent football shirts came back in the 2016/17 season, with the 2016 PSG third shirt. The standout design from Nike was a personal favourite of mine across all clubs that year, although unfortunately for PSG fans the shirt’s usage in La Remontada (“The Comeback”), where Barcelona overturned a 4-goal deficit with a 6-1 victory in the Champions League Round of 16.

The shirt is, however, a beautiful piece of kit, and sure enough the crest and swoosh  (the defining features of the piece) were described in a press release at the time as having “an iridescent finish.”

2019 spurs training wear

More recently, if you watched Spurs’ All or Nothing documentary you may have noticed the team’s 2019/20 training wear. The purple range featured dazzling swooshes and crests, and it was a surprise that more teams didn’t get the same treatment given the popularity of the design.

2021 barcelona away shirt

Barcelona’s new away shirt is undoubtedly the star of the modern iridescence show. The lilac design shimmers in the light with an iridescent Nike logo and club crest, and interestingly these details can be found on both the replica and player issue versions of the shirt. There’s even an iridescent-like approach to the hem of the shirt; a subtle but beautiful nod which shows the kind of attention to detail we crave as kit fanatics.

Another stunning release which flew under many people’s radars was a special edition SK Brann shirt. The blackout design included shiny, iridescent applications with everything from the crest, to the swoosh to the various sponsors glittering on the all black VaporKnit surface. As soon as I saw this one, I knew I had to pick it up.

Just in case you thought it was just Nike pushing the iridescent angle, rivals adidas have also got in on the action with one of their biggest teams. The new Juventus away shirt features a stunning set of iridescent three stripes, which is “the first time that adidas has used this technology in its football shirts” according to the brand themselves.

juventus 2021 away shirt

We’ve seen a number of iridescent concept kits over the years, but now the imaginations and dreams of designers are making their way onto football shirts proper. I don’t have a crystal ball in front of me, but I’m fully expecting more clubs and brands to adopt the approach as we roll on into the 10s.

Phil Delves

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