Every year when the ESPN Style Issue drops, I feel like a kid at Christmas. How will the worldwide leader in sports cover the niche of aesthetics and athletics in print and online? I approach this issue with a critical eye: partly because I hope to edit it myself in the near future and because I hold the subject very close to my heart and my wardrobe. Naturally, this year’s style issue features a column on uniforms, the organized sports version of the runway show. The uniform in gameplay are much like the garments in a runway show. They are classic and minimally styled but punched up with talent – like the Yankees big sluggers or a Calvin Klein show with super models walking. Or, they are outlandish or seemingly impractical like a Hussein Chalayan’s robot dresses or the Oregon Ducks infamous technologic gear. Is it wearable, practical and most importantly, will it sell? After all, both sports and fashion are businesses.
For this Style issue, ESPN had Tommy Hilfiger, the iconic Americana designer, re-interpret four classic uniforms – the New York Yankees, the Montreal Canadiens, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Los Angeles Lakers. It was an interesting yet obvious choice to have a heritage designer put his own spin on four uniforms that haven’t changed much from their original but beloved classic gear. I would have preferred to have Hilfiger take a crack on the teams that really need help in finding their own identity in their brand and style. The Oklahoma City Thunder, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Coyotes are among many teams that could all use a professional’s touch in the design department.
It would need a total brand overall and a lot of space, styling and graphic design in the magazine. However, using North American’s most popular teams as an example are a way to drive page views, debates and sheer terror in the hearts of fans and jersey aficionados alike.
Out of all the designs by Hilfiger, I feel that the New York Yankees’ uniforms were the most disappointing. I’m a Mets fan, but even though my green-eyed MLB monster may look to the Yankees’ roster with envy, I’ll always admired their pinstripes. There was uproar when names were to be added to the player’s shirts – you don’t mess with the classics and a certified money-maker. Hilfiger was smart enough to stick to pinstripes at least, the root of the Yankees style. However, using constrasting colours on the back and front of the uniforms was a mistake. Two different pinstripes at the same time would be dizzying to the cameras as would the use of both white and blue as it would be tough for the cameras to focus on the bright white as it would glow in the outdoor sunlight and under the stadium lights and balance it with the deep navy. Not only would it look poor on broadcast but it would be difficult to wear for thicker players to wear. Can you imagine a big man like C.C. Sabbathia half in navy and half in white – colour blocking with stripes would not have a slimming effect on the hefty pitcher.
The “NY” in the Tommy Hilfiger crest looks more like the New York Jets logo than the slim Yankees logo. It’s been imitated, tattooed and emblazoned on millions of ball caps – but it’s never bested. You can’t mess with that classic logo. The font of the numbers is fine and reminiscent of the original font the Yankees use now, however the placement on the chest looks too low and with the Hilfiger crest on the opposite chest, it puts so much emphasis on the top half. The use of button and polo collar are not practical for baseball. A big part of speedy Yankees like Curtis Granderson, is the ability to steal bases and sliding on all those buttons isn’t safe – they could chafe or open while in play. I like the pants as they’re simple and the socks with vertical stripes are very classic. However, all the pinstripes and colour blocking just muddies up a usual clean jersey.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ current gold and purple home jerseys haven’t changed much since their move to the city of Angeles from Minneapolis. The shorts are longer, the font is crisper and the material is more advanced but the classic, retro style remains. Hilfiger says his inspiration comes from sailing motifs in his own collections however I’m not sure why players would want to look like a sail. The purple and white stripes are somewhat awkward across the chest, widening that area and not lengthening players, which would be more aesthetically pleasing. The beautiful Lakers front was replaced with a boring, basic font that would look better on a typewriter and not a jersey. It’s very small and white, which would be difficult to read on the bright yellow on camera and in the arena.
I’m glad that Hilfiger used his better judgement against the short-shorts and keeping a long, loose silhouette that the players prefer. Especially after the recent “Fab Five” documentary, where the long shorts were championed with style and swagger. The stripes on one leg of the shorts is visually interesting and echos the horizontal stripes on the jerseys but once again, makes them seem larger. Perhaps if they were on both shorts or on a diagonal layout it would be more flattering. I don’t mind the number on the shorts, however it shouldn’t be bigger than the number on the front of the jersey, it should be smaller or equal in size. The crest on the front of the jersey looks tacked on and that’s where the NBA embroidery is meant to go. It would look better scaled down and on the back of the right leg of the shorts.
The Cowboys, partly due to owner Jerry Jones’ constant chatter, are “America’s team”. They’re the second most valuable sports franchise according to Forbes, only Manchester United bests the blue and silver. I find the Cowboys uniform to be the most aesthetically pleasing of the four re-designs as it is somewhat loyal to the original version. However, the uniforms are overly embellished. The concept of having the infamous Dallas stars all over the sleeves to represent all the different states that the players come from is a sweet idea and a tribute to the team, however it fails in execution. The sleeves look cluttered and like they belong to perhaps a pewee team – at least the Ohio State Buckeyes keep their small stickers on their helmet, not on their apparel. It would be better to keep the Stars minimal for more impact, like the giant Star on the centre of the Dallas Cowboys New Stadium. The small star and simple lines on the pants are a nice, clean look. I like the idea of the American red, white and blue stripes around the middle but it would look better as piping on the bottom of the jersey. However, red, white and blue are not and were never the Cowboys’ colours, so why bother including them?
The Tommy crest beneath the player’s number on the back of the jersey looks tacked on and would look better at the very bottom of the jersey or above the number and scaled down. On the famous silver Cowboys’ helmet, Hilfiger enlarged the Star and added the player’s number inside the star. The problem with this is the number will change depending on whether the player wears one number or two and certain numbers are blockier and take up more room than others. The changes in sizes and scale wouldn’t look clean and I think the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies to the original Cowboys’ helmet.
The Montreal Canadiens (or the Habs) are a member of the original six franchises of the NHL. The Canadiens’ centennial celebration lasted two full seasons as the team re-released their original hockey sweaters worn during the early years. Most designs were well received and one of the most polarizing among fans was fittingly the red and blue barber pole style. Hilfiger used the horizontal stripes, a favorite of his, in his design of the Habs’ uniforms. The stripes are popular in Hilfiger’s main inspiration source, rugby shirts, as well. To quote the rapper Cam’ron, “I love Rugby to death, made that my baby’s name” and while Cam’ron may have referred to Hilfiger’s competition, the Ralph Lauren Rugby brand – I, too, have no qualms with most rugby designs. The diagonal white sash though looks more fitting for a beauty queen than a hockey player. The white is distracting and the font is very basic. It looks so cluttered and the infamous Hab logo is nowhere on the jersey – that’s practically sacrilegious in Montreal.
When it comes down to the details, I like the Habs’ new crest the best out of all the Hilfiger designs. The use of the fleur de lys is a nice touch, even though it was the logo of the former arch rival Quebec Nordiques. The font is nothing special, but like lettering that is used on most NHL jerseys. The numbers on the sleeves could be scaled a bit larger as they will look very small once they are over muscles and equipment. The pants are clean with simple stripes and would work with either red or white jerseys. The ties on the jersey neckline are now common on retro designs usually worn as third jerseys and fits in with the heritage of the Habs. The white patch that the numbers are sewn on is unnecessary and another layer of fabric would weigh down the uniform. Most jerseys in the NHL are incredibly lightweight to help wick sweat and so many pieces of fabric and embroidery would make it heavy and impractical.
I’m not impressed with Hilfiger’s design direction of these uniforms. Designs will change with the trends but the original four jersey designs are classics. They will be tweaked over the years depending on fabric and cut of the league standard uniforms (such as the adidas contract with the NBA) but scale and . If Mr. Hilfiger wanted to make a significant design statement he should have gone all the way and done something completely out of the ordinary and not merely remixing the originals. I would love to see ESPN push the envelope in their Magazine style issue in the future.