1980s vs. Today: Uniforms   

Updated: June 5, 2008, 12:47 PM ET

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The 1980s vs. Today
Was the sports world better back in the 1980s? Or are we better off today? Page 2 has the answers, specifically looking at …

Weinreb: Comparing/contrasting cheating in the '80s versus today

The ballpark experience
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Lakers vs. Celtics

When were uniforms at their most wack? The stock answer is the 1970s, but things were just as over-the-top in the '80s. You had rainbows, modified rainbows, beach blankets, all-lowercase typography, faceless makeovers, Cooperalls, extra-wide piping, powder blues and, at the close of the decade, the start of the purple and teal craze. On the other hand, for the most part these elements were projected onto a traditional template: Baseball players wore stirrups; football jerseys had sleeves; basketball shorts were short.

Pros: Definitely a lively period -- you never knew what you'd see next. … An excellent time to be in the fabric dye or sunglasses biz. … Somehow all those synthetic-looking designs meshed well with all the artificial turf that was so common back then. … Laid the foundation for some very amusing throwback games 20 years later. … Admit it, Cooperalls looked kinda cool.

Cons: There's something just wrong about Yogi Berra being forced to wear this.

Mike Scott

AP Photo/Ed Kolenovsky

Ugh, cover your eyes!

In terms of colors and graphics, we're in a fairly classicist era -- lots of primary colors, and the design excesses of decades past have given way to a back-to-basics feel. But the underlying template has shifted -- baseball players wear their pants down to their shoetops, football sleeves have vanished (plus teams now wear matching colored pants and jerseys), and basketball "shorts" extend to the kneecap or beyond. And thanks to the growth of merchandising, the whole point of uniforms has changed: What you saw on the field used to be dictated by someone saying, "I think this will look good on the field"; now it's dictated by someone conducting a few focus groups, doing a marketing study, hiring a branding firm, and then saying, "I think we can sell a bunch of these at the pro shop … and maybe a bunch of this, this and this, too." Which is how we ended up with teams like the Mets (five jerseys, three caps) and Rockies (ditto). And now almost every uniform carries a maker's mark, so we're forced to think about Nike (or Reebok, or Majestic, or whatever) while watching our favorite team.

Pros: Relatively low "What were they thinking?" factor (emphasis on "relatively"). … We no longer have to look at basketball players' upper thighs. … Teams that have stuck to their aesthetic guns (Raiders, Celtics, etc.) look more classic than ever. … Uniforms are taken seriously enough for ESPN.com to employ a uniform columnist.

Cons: What day is today? OK, that's the day my team wears its alternate road throwback cap. … Wait, unless it's the second Thursday of the month. … Wouldn't it be nice if we could see the Red Sox's red socks? … Hating the Yankees is one of life's great pleasures, but it's hard to keep loathing them when they resist all the worst uniform trends.

VERDICT: 1980s. Yeah, there was some retina-searing stuff going on, but there was an endearing innocence to the designs of that era. Today's uniforms feel so calculated, so focus-grouped, so "Run it past the marketing staff and get their feedback first." I'll take harmless over pointless every time.

Paul Lukas' Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here, his answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and his Page 2 archive is here. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.



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