Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Off the Cuff

A good uniform blends design and construction together in a seamless unity. For a team as traditionally-minded as the Packers, the two sometimes come into conflict, and nowhere is this more evident than in the sleeve striping.

I've complained before about the problem of using sleeve stripes on jerseys which no longer have sleeves.

So how did we get here?

The Packers first used sleeve stripes in 1923, sporting gold jerseys with a series of thin navy stripes:

This experiment proved short-lived, however, and for most of Lambeau's time as coach the Packers would shun sleeve stripes for other distinctive design elements such as the gold shoulder yoke.

Stripes would next be seen on Packer sleeves after Lambeau's departure, as new head coach Gene Ronzani tried to put his stamp on the franchise. In 1950, the Packers alternated between kelly green jerseys and gold jerseys, both with two thin stripes on each sleeve:

When Lisle Blackbourn took over the reins in 1954, he brought his own uniform designs, this time incorporating Northwestern stripes.

And, of course, when Vince Lombardi took over the club in 1959, he created his own uniform set. Lombardi's sleeves were similar to the basic Northwestern striping pattern, but with two sets of Packer helmet-style stripes against a gold stripe.

The "TV numbers" were bumped from the sleeves to the shoulders in 1984, but other than that Lombardi's stripe pattern lasted for decades, even as the sleeves themselves were cut shorter and shorter.

In some cases, parts of the sleeve striping were cut off entirely as players cut down their jersey sleeves into cap sleeves, as seen in this photo of Reggie White immediately after the 1996 NFC Championship Game.

Remember, this was taken before the Favre photo above.

The next year, Nike took over the Packers' uniform contract and made the lineman pattern standard for all players:

When Reebok took over the uniform contract in 2001, they kept Nike's pattern, which continues to this day.

Not the best solution, watering down Lombardi's design, but at least it creates some consistency across all players on the field. Note also that, because of the uniform construction, the stripes no longer extend all the way around the sleeve.

Other teams have faced this problem, some ditching sleeve stripes altogether because so few players actually wear sleeves.

The 49ers came up with a pretty creative solution for their new uniform design for 2009, unveiled at their draft party last Saturday: the sleeves are designed at an angle, deliberately running into the sleeve cuff.

Over pads, this creates the illusion of perfectly horizontal stripes and hides the fact that the lower stripes aren't actually complete:

Lest anyone think this is an unintentional side effect of the players chopping down the sleeves, the Niners have the unique sleeve pattern represented in the official style guide:

It also appears on the replica jerseys sold to fans:

We'll see how this actually looks on the field, if it's a viable solution for teams that want to preserve traditional striping patterns. And then we'll see again how they look when the new jersey fabrications start appearing in 2010.

If this solution manages to make the sleeve stripes look good on the new template, the Packers may wish to consider adopting it. Going back to gray facemasks, on the other hand... well, that's a subject for another post.

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