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It's a Wonderful Uniform

1 March 13
by Emily Sanders Richards Hopkins

Illustration by Emily Sanders Richards Hopkins

If it fits, prevents chafing, and does not distract from the game, then a uniform is probably OK. But is OK enough? Should we aim higher?

Whatever else you think of him, Steve Jobs could probably have designed thrilling athletic uniforms, or at least browbeaten a staff into doing so. But there aren’t many mavericks, lone wolves, or kooks in sports apparel design these days. Uniforms are probably designed instead by committees—much as the uniforms of flight attendants and soldiers and Shoney’s waitresses are probably designed by committee—or designed by an individual and then rounded out and dumbed down by a committee.

I am against committees this month. A committee at work took my perfectly fresh and fun idea for an event’s structure and handed it over to high-paid outside consultants who sucked all the fun out of it, wrote up the new, denuded idea on three sheets of paper, and handed it back to us proudly. But they use an impressive font in their presentations and proposals, and that really cloaks them in a shroud of importance.

That’s something else a uniform can do, besides preventing chafing: it can raise a sport’s status. The whole equestrian realm plays this card. I mean, the helmets are covered in velvet and riders aren’t below wearing ascots. In dressage, riders wear white breeches, white gloves, and canary yellow vests. By all rights, equestrian sports should probably have the human athletes just in Levi’s and leather chaps and long-sleeved micro-fiber running shirts that wick sweat and simple Kevlar helmets and neck braces to help prevent spinal injury and concussion. Jeans, neck braces, a pair of sturdy garden gloves—that could be the look of steeplechase.

Some people have been arguing that helmets actually make football more dangerous, not less. I agree, I agree. Mostly because I want to see those boys’ faces. And more of their bodies, too, but not in that silly Incredibles way, where they are piled up with pads and then made to wear Baryshnikov tights and golf shoes.

In college, I dated one football player after another, and together they formed a veritable convoy of male perfection, stretching from one end of campus to the other. They all knew their weights and body fat percentages by heart, and told me what they were. (It was only after college, when I started dating men who didn’t happen to be outside linebackers, that I realized most men don’t weight 260 and most don’t know their body fat percentages offhand.)

The boyfriend I remember best, Boris, had seven percent body fat, and that seemed to work well on him. And if you’ve ever been to a football picnic, you know that it’s a pretty special thing to be in a backyard with thirty very tall, very big men with body fat under twelve percent. I think more of America should be allowed to revel in these athletes’ beauty, during a game, so I join safety watchdogs in saying let’s do away with helmets and some of that padding. (As it is, most people only see players in full uniform or in five-button Italian suits, nothing in between.)

Basketball uniforms could be better, too. I watched a slideshow of the “100 Greatest Jerseys in NBA History” and noticed that a big deal was being made of very subtle differences. The sameness of basketball jerseys, across team and decade, is further compounded by the bridesmaid-like sameness within a single team. What if, as at more contemporary-feeling weddings, each player got to select a uniform of his choice as long as he stayed within a certain color family?

Or, better yet, how about uniforms colored according to position? So point guards wear the lightest blue. Forwards a medium blue. Centers dark blue. You could glance at the court and know immediately, from the arrangement of colors, what play they were running.*

Some other ideas: I think wrestlers should either wrestle completely naked or in regular street clothes. Their current onesie is neither here nor there, a bad combination of nakedness’s shame (but without the pride and defiance of true nakedness) and the tendency of some clothing to emphasize hairiness.

It makes sense that figure skaters dress like ballerinas and gymnasts, but what if they dressed more like casual skaters, with form fitting leggings and puffy mittens? I think this would serve the two aims of good uniform design: practicality (warmth, for instance) and a highlighting of the athlete’s skill. Have you ever seen a ballerina, in street clothes, suddenly leap into the air, in her yoga pants and hoodie? That is extra thrilling.

I must go to work now. I will wear a pencil skirt, button down shirt, a J. Crew “boys blazer,” and fake riding boots. I will keep my head down, my expression neutral.

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*My editor notes: “Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that this might add a severe level of confusion to the sport since it would be difficult to recognize players on your own team.”


simply wonderful

john fowler    Mar 1, 04:36 PM    #

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