The History of NFL Uniforms


The first football players dressed like they were going for an afternoon sail on the sound. Modern football players dress like a distant cousin of Robocop. Of course, in the more than 100 years of professional football, there were bound to be some dynamic fashion changes. But more noteworthy is that more recent changes are being made to accommodate for safety in a game that's getting faster, rougher and more dangerous.

The Early, Early Days

  • When Walter Camp put together the first rules of American football, the game more resembled rugby than its modern version. Not surprisingly, the first uniforms looked similar to rugby uniforms -- long-sleeve cotton shirts, knickers and stocking caps were the typical outfit. As the sport became more contact-intensive, uniforms were designed with durability in mind. Most teams wore heavy wool pants and jerseys in standard shades of black, brown, gray and blue. Since the sport generated little revenue, teams often bought their uniforms second-hand and weren't concerned about matching perfectly.

Getting the Hang of It

  • Football helmets were not always mandatory, and in fact were rare in the early days. But as the game matured in the 1920s, players began to wear leather helmets and layered clothing under their uniforms to provide more padding. The early helmets did little to prevent head injuries, so teams introduced new heavier, thicker, leather helmets in the 1930s. The NFL finally mandated the use of helmets for all players in 1943.

Starting to Gain Identity

  • Plastic helmets were patented in the late 1930s, and many defensive players took to wearing them -- some for protection, and some to use to injure opposing players. When a design flaw in these first models caused them to shatter upon impact at times, the NFL banned their use in 1948. That was also the same year that a team uniform logo was born. One member of the Los Angeles Rams painted ram horns on the side of his leather helmet, and the design stuck. Other teams quickly followed suit and began adding logos to their helmets. The 1940s also birthed the use of white and dark jerseys for road and home games, respectively. The use of nylon and polyester allowed teams to be more colorful with their designs. The San Diego Chargers' famed powder blue uniforms first appeared in 1960.

Safety Issues Arise

  • As the sport rapidly gained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, the NFL thought it would be good for fans not to see franchise players with mangled faces. In 1962, the NFL added facemasks to its list of mandatory uniform features. Air bladders in the helmets followed in the 1980s, and a polycarbonate blend replaced plastic in the 1990s. All changes were made to curb the number of concussions players were suffering.

The Fashion Police

  • At the dawn of the 21st century, the NFL became protective of its brand and wanted to create a uniform image among its players. Strict rules began to be added: shoelaces must match the tongue of the shoe, socks can not ride down below the calf, shirts must always be tucked into the pants. In fact, the NFL actually started employing people at each game to make note of any uniform violations and report them to the league office. Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson was fined $20,000 for wearing flashy gold cleats instead of the standard ones that matched the Cincinnati Bengals' orange and black scheme.

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