Football Kits Brief History: Everything You Need to Know

Most football fans these days probably own a football shirt or more. This is also the reason why kits have been made and became popular, whether it’s the current season or the most awaited retro versions. Kits today come in different colours and fabrics and have come on leaps and bounds in a brief space of time. 

However, it’s not surprising for football shirts to not look the way they do anymore. If you’re here to learn about the history of football kits, we’re here to give you a brief guide! 


The First Football Kit 

You might be curious and ask when was the first football kit ever made. Well, the first uniform kits started to appear around 1870. In England, colours were usually those of the public schools and sports clubs with which the game was related: Blackburn Rovers initially wore white jerseys designed with the blue Maltese Cross of Shrewsbury School, where some of their founders were educated. 


The Victorian Period (1857-1899)

Brief History of Football Kit Design - Historical Football Kits

Football is a game that was commonly considered to date from the mob football games played in the Middle Ages between competitor villages without following any rules and can accommodate unlimited players on each side. The suspected survival of this early type of game is the Royal Shrovetide football match. However, according to Modern scholarship, the small-side games that were played by young men based on locally agreed rules were ordinary and went hugely unrecorded. 


English public schools provided rules of football that were the first to be recognised in order to govern inter-house competition and were divided into two groups; the handling game developed at Rugby School and the dribbling game that began from Eton, although some schools like Harrow, Uppingham, Winchester, Marlborough, Shrewsbury, and Charterhouse all had made their own versions. To maintain the philosophies of the public schools during that time, these games were immensely violent.


After these young men from the said schools went up to university they created football clubs but games turned into chaos as there was no agreement on the rules. There was also an attempt to work out a uniform set of rules that took place at Cambridge University in 1848. However, the originals are lost but a set of Cambridge Rules from 1856 was maintained in the library of Shrewsbury School.


Cricket Clubs

A lot of football teams came from cricket, with football teams established as a result of cricket clubs looking for a sport to play in the winter months. Also, more working-class teams were involved, everything and anything was worn because of the high prices of colourful kits. Cricket whites were a famous choice to wear to cut down on cost and matched with coloured things like scarfs, sashes, and caps, as a way to differentiate their team from their rivals. 

While football developed into a professional sport, it turned into responsibility for the club to provide kits. Before, it depends on the individual. In 1981, Wolves played with Sunderland but got frustrated when both teams have the same kit design. This has resulted in the FA introducing the rule that clubs must register their colours together with insisting that all clubs has a while change of kit in the event of a clash. 

Classic football shirts before were referred to as jerseys and they were tight-hugging to the body and were created from knitted wood material. On the other hand, the shorts were loose and a bit long. Victorians were known to be conservative in nature and shorts must be able to cover the knee. The most popular designs during this period were plain and hooped shirts, as well as stripes which were claimed to make players look taller. At the end of the 1800s, half kits became known together with the harlequin kits that come with four separate panels. 


’50s Shiny Synthetic Silky Fabrics 

The Busby Babes before the game at Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup, the last time they were to play together

During the ’50s, Umbro releases shiny synthetic silky looking fabrics. The team Bolton was on the first teams to show off this lavish-looking kit in the FA Cup final. After that, Umbro revealed their ‘continental kit’ which was inspired by European clubs that feature v-necks and short sleeves. Aside from that, the England team kit had become hugely unchanged since the 1900s but even they caved into this new European style.

This period also recognized the start of the second set of change kits, also called the third kit. Although the shirts were a bit distinct, teams that had similar socks or shocks to other teams were required to change them into a different combination to avoid confusion during the game. After 10 years have passed, the numbers on shorts became big as well as with shirts. The entire kit designs turned out to be sleeker and more tailored, complete with crewnecks. Also, the length of shorts was on the rise. 


21st Century Kit Designs

Today, kit designs became simpler. Fabric technology became the real highlight and it was given huge emphasis. Mesh panels, undershirts, reversed seams, sweat-wicked were greatly introduced. Meanwhile, shirt styles are again fitted and with the favour of the adult replica they are designed to look amazing on players and be attracting to fans. Moreover, shorts became more modest compared to the ’80s that were an inch or two above the knee. 

If you own football kits and you don’t know how to clean or care for them, read this Football Kits Buying and Care Guide (Facts and What You Need to Know).

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