The art pitch: football and fashion

The art pitch: football and fashion
Fashion pundit Andrei Abolenkin discusses football influences in fashion
Despite being a sport, football has served as a vibrant source of inspiration for many artists. This Welcome2018 project explores the reflection of football, the planet’s favourite sport, in various art forms.
On the face of it, football and fashion may seem so far apart that the only place where they can possibly meet is footballer wives’ wardrobes, well beyond the pitch. But in fact, modern fashion draws profusely on footballer uniforms and fan outfits.

The distinction between casual wear and sportswear is evaporating as casual pastimes and sports become indistinguishable from each other. Dressing right for different occasions used to be an admirable skill. Track suits were not tolerated in decent places. Nowadays, casual dress is widely regarded as a sign of success. Once-marginal wear styles dominate the catwalk, and sneakers have sneaked into haute couture fashion collections. The fashion revolution was driven by lifestyle changes, while the football culture forged the material to enable the revolution to succeed.
Trendy clothing is like a uniform: it sends “friend” or “foe” signals to the coolness radar. In this photo: Gosha Rubchinsky’s take on the red-and-blue “football rose” scarf, a smart addition to a sharp image
Egalitarianism. Once clothing that is both egalitarian and attractive came on the scene, fashion stopped being a privilege for the few and became available to the broad masses. Affordable mass-consumer wear was suddenly all the rage, and football had played a role in this change of heart. Originating in Europe’s private schools as an elitist sport, football played according to formal rules became a mass sport as the first clubs were formed by factory workers in the 1870s. As football swept all walks of society, it brought affordable football themed clothing with it. Today, in the 21st century, shared interests, not income or education, are the glue that binds consumers together in groups.
Club colours became part of the dress code for the fans, as well as football clubs. London’s Arsenal was not always red and white. This is what the Gunners’ uniform looked like in 1894
Mass appeal. Our wardrobe has become what it is today under the influence of a few game-changing events in the world of fashion in the 1920s. Mass sports paved the way for “easier” clothing styles, new silhouettes and fabrics. New clothing stressed shapeliness or tried to imitate it. Leaving the sports clubs and playing fields, sportswear invaded the streets to stay forever. Millions followed sports in the newspapers, on the radio and at the arenas. The same millions embraced sports influences in their lifestyles. The use of jersey fabrics in football uniforms was a milestone. Owing to Coco Chanel, jersey became a notable feature of designer fashion in the 1920s.
The sweeping popularity of football promulgated the spread of affordable football-styled clothing in all walks of life. In this photo: Prince Charles of Wales playing ball with his classmates, March 1957
The sweeping popularity of football promulgated the spread of affordable football-styled clothing in all walks of life. In this photo: Prince Charles of Wales playing ball with his classmates, March 1957
Triumph of functionality. Football uniforms are, first and foremost, practical. Unlike yachtsmen’s outfits, they are immune to fashion. Unlike golfers, footballers could not care less for snobbish primness. Football wear is devoid of the strong subculture feel of basketball uniforms. And it isn’t nearly as high-tech as swimmers’ swimsuits. But then when it comes to functionality, football wear always far outstripped other sports. One of the earliest “civilian” uses of nylon was in football uniforms in the early 1940s. A few of the firms that were specialized manufacturers of football boots decades ago are now the trend-setters in sneaker fashion. While “comfort” seems too general a term to describe the impact of football wear on world fashion, no one would even think of calling an uncomfortable garment “appealing” in this day and age. And yet for hundreds of years sharp dressers believed they had to suffer in order to look good. It was only by watching their idols, wearing clothes that were primarily practical and comfortable, that millions of fans began to think differently. No other sport could rival football in that regard.
Triumph of functionality. Football uniforms are, first and foremost, practical. Unlike yachtsmen’s outfits, they are immune to fashion. Unlike golfers, footballers could not care less for snobbish primness. Football wear is devoid of the strong subculture feel of basketball uniforms. And it isn’t nearly as high-tech as swimmers’ swimsuits. But then when it comes to functionality, football wear always far outstripped other sports. One of the earliest “civilian” uses of nylon was in football uniforms in the early 1940s. A few of the firms that were specialized manufacturers of football boots decades ago are now the trend-setters in sneaker fashion. While “comfort” seems too general a term to describe the impact of football wear on world fashion, no one would even think of calling an uncomfortable garment “appealing” in this day and age. And yet for hundreds of years sharp dressers believed they had to suffer in order to look good. It was only by watching their idols, wearing clothes that were primarily practical and comfortable, that millions of fans began to think differently. No other sport could rival football in that regard.
The Russian for T-shirt is “footbolka.” As follows from the Russian word, this particular piece of clothing descends from the very first official football uniform. The earliest official uniform specifications came out in the 1870s, and the first firms prepared to supply to specifications appeared around the same time. In this photo: first Scottish Cup winners Queen's Park, 21 March 1874 (left); football team of Otradnoye District, Krasnodar Region, 1929 (right)
Uniforms. In a way, trendy clothing is like a uniform: it sends “friend” or “foe” signals to the coolness radar. Trendy clothing spells out what’s cool in a language everyone understands. Over time, the T-shirt claimed the status of an army general’s uniform in the world of casual fashion. As is evident from its Russian name, “footbolka,” the T-shirt descended from the very first official football uniform. Only cricket could claim precedence, but back in the 1850s and 1860s, when the uniform rules were designed, football and cricket were very often played by the same people. It is essential to be able to tell your opponents from your team-mates right away in team sports, so already the earliest rules prescribed the use of club colours. The earliest official uniform specifications came out after the very first Association Football Cup in 1871-72, and the first firms prepared to supply to the specifications appeared at the same time.
English football rules allowed shorts from 1904 on, but the length of football shorts has since been frequently revised. In this photo: Peter Simpson of London’s Arsenal showing off the “football uniform of the future,” 11 August 1967 а
Historically, all subcultures have always borrowed their signature wear. Jeans, bikers’ leather jackets, jack martens and bomber jackets did not acquire their cult status because they were designed especially for the respective youth subculture. The subcultures simply adopted clothing and footwear that no one else would even dream of wearing proudly on a daily basis. Wearing army surplus clothing or workers’ uniforms, members of youth subcultures highlighted their alternative identity and lifestyle. Sportswear went down the same road, except it had to wait 30 years for its cult status. As lifestyles changed, sportswear became ubiquitous.

Shorts. Fashions have trended towards greater comfort and egalitarianism for 150 years. One criterion of both comfort and egalitarianism was the amount of exposed flesh. The first garment that gave men the liberty to expose more flesh than strictly necessary outside the beach were shorts. Before the English football rules legitimized shorts in 1904, footballers had worn breeches or trousers cut off below the knee. It was not “proper form” to expose one’s knees back in those days. Tennis players had to wait until the early 1930s before they were allowed to bare their knees in the court. The Bermudas, invented after the First World War, became regular casual wear by the end of the 1920s, when the public got accustomed to the sight of footballers’ exposed lower extremities.
English football rules allowed shorts from 1904 on, but the length of football shorts has since been frequently revised. In this photo: Peter Simpson of London’s Arsenal showing off the “football uniform of the future,” 11 August 1967
Historically, all subcultures have always borrowed their signature wear. Jeans, bikers’ leather jackets, jack martens and bomber jackets did not acquire their cult status because they were designed especially for the respective youth subculture. The subcultures simply adopted clothing and footwear that no one else would even dream of wearing proudly on a daily basis. Wearing army surplus clothing or workers’ uniforms, members of youth subcultures highlighted their alternative identity and lifestyle. Sportswear went down the same road, except it had to wait 30 years for its cult status. As lifestyles changed, sportswear became ubiquitous.

Shorts. Fashions have trended towards greater comfort and egalitarianism for 150 years. One criterion of both comfort and egalitarianism was the amount of exposed flesh. The first garment that gave men the liberty to expose more flesh than strictly necessary outside the beach were shorts. Before the English football rules legitimized shorts in 1904, footballers had worn breeches or trousers cut off below the knee. It was not “proper form” to expose one’s knees back in those days. Tennis players had to wait until the early 1930s before they were allowed to bare their knees in the court. The Bermudas, invented after the First World War, became regular casual wear by the end of the 1920s, when the public got accustomed to the sight of footballers’ exposed lower extremities.
Jean-Paul Gaultier’s take on the theme of football boots, 1993
Sneakers. Limited-edition sneakers are a status symbol these days like an expensive wristwatch used to be. Or like designer jeans were in the 1990s or top-of-the-line purses in the 2000s. They are sought-after and queued for, they are a sign of ultimate coolness, black marketeers sell them with a four-fold mark-up; and some rare collector’s pairs can easily set one back $10,000 or more. Top sneaker manufacturers have partnered up with big-name designers for decades. The list of collaborations is impressive. Hussein Chalayan attached his name to the first-ever “sneakers with a name” in 1998. The partnership with Yamamoto and Stella McCartney, started in 2002-2003, yielded fashion lines that include clothing as well as sneakers.

This success story goes back to the football fields of 1925, when the Dassler brothers designed their first football boots. Breaking into two parts, the family enterprise carried on its innovative football wear business after WWII, setting the trends for the whole industry: from vulcanized rubber soles to personal models designed for celebrity athletes. The very first sneaker-heads in history were probably English football fans in the late 1970s. The sneaker model, colour and design made as much difference to them as club insignia. They would wear nothing but sneakers long before sneakers were accepted in public institutions, including schools, and before any other subcultures made sneakers part of their style. English fans deserve credit for taking sneakers out of the locker rooms and onto the fashion scene.
Yohji Yamamoto Adidas designer sneakers, February 2017
Jeremy Scott’s teddy bear sneakers designed for Adidas, January 2017
Rick Owens Adidas sneakers, June 2015
Jeremy Scott Adidas sneakers, July 2014
Rick Owens Adidas sneakers, February 2014
Jeremy Scott and A$AP’s Rocky Wings 2.0 collection for Adidas, September 2013
Left
Right
All these designer logos, words and symbols emblazoned on clothing only too often nowadays come from club emblems and names on player uniforms. The brand mania, punk T-shirts and newest bootlegs hail from the same source: the stadium. It was Jean Patou’s idea to start using logos for decoration in the early 1920s, when sports became part of a high-status lifestyle, and Patou launched the world’s first chain of designer sportswear boutiques. The turnaround in fashion was fully completed by the late 1960s, when Geoffrey Beene starting placing football player numbers on his designer dresses, pulling sports insignia into the haute couture fold. In the past five years, garments in the sports uniform style have appeared in designer clothing collections nearly as frequently as new uniforms appeared in sports. This is so across the board, from the celebrated Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana duo to new stellar arrivals such as Stella Jane.
Bundesliga’s Eintracht Braunschweig had to change its emblem to the sponsor’s deer image (left) in 1973 following the official ban on the display of the Jägermeister logo on their jerseys. Nowadays fashion designers play with their own and other people’s logos, using them to make ironic statements or allusions to cult phenomena.
Bundesliga’s Eintracht Braunschweig had to change its emblem to the sponsor’s deer image (left) in 1973 following the official ban on the display of the Jägermeister logo on their jerseys. Nowadays fashion designers play with their own and other people’s logos, using them to make ironic statements or allusions to cult phenomena
Logos. From time to time, millions of subscribers see celebrity Instagram posts with calls to “fly Emirates” or other Arab airlines. This is not about airline loyalty, but about the football jersey culture: you cannot even think of one without a sponsor logo on the chest. There is definitely a trend in modern fashion to view ads on clothing as an unavoidable or even desirable part of the design, not as commercial solicitations. On the catwalk, fashion designers nowadays play with their own and other people’s logos, using them to make ironic statements or allude to cult phenomena. This playfulness has evolved from the custom of placing ads on sports uniforms, which was pioneered by the Uruguayan FC Penarol in 1950. Advertising contracts came to European football in the early 1970s. Bundesliga’s Eintracht Braunschweig, for one, had to change its emblem to the sponsor’s deer image in 1973, following the official ban on the display of the Jägermeister logo on their jerseys. Since then, all kinds of things – from vodka to chocolates – have graced footballers’ chests. Modern football, similarly to modern fashion, is unthinkable without logos, now that logos are accepted as decorations.
Logos. From time to time, millions of subscribers see celebrity Instagram posts with calls to “fly Emirates” or other Arab airlines. This is not about airline loyalty, but about the football jersey culture: you cannot even think of one without a sponsor logo on the chest. There is definitely a trend in modern fashion to view ads on clothing as an unavoidable or even desirable part of the design, not as commercial solicitations. On the catwalk, fashion designers nowadays play with their own and other people’s logos, using them to make ironic statements or allude to cult phenomena. This playfulness has evolved from the custom of placing ads on sports uniforms, which was pioneered by the Uruguayan FC Penarol in 1950. Advertising contracts came to European football in the early 1970s. Bundesliga’s Eintracht Braunschweig, for one, had to change its emblem to the sponsor’s deer image in 1973, following the official ban on the display of the Jägermeister logo on their jerseys. Since then, all kinds of things – from vodka to chocolates – have graced footballers’ chests. Modern football, similarly to modern fashion, is unthinkable without logos, now that logos are accepted as decorations.
With all this media hype about football celebrities, given the excellent physical form of the athletes, they did not have to wait long for lucrative advertising contracts to roll in. In this photo: FC Milan’s striker Andrei Shevchenko and fashion designer Giorgio Armani
Advertising. Really big money started flowing into football (and footballers’ pockets) by the end of the 1990s. Some footballers became media celebrities, like in the Golden Age of Hollywood. A huge, unbridgeable gap arose between their lifestyles and their fans’. Copycatting star footballers started to cost serious money. A large image-making industry developed in sports: the image and commercial success of athletes were now in the hands of professionals. Footballers no longer had to worry about what they wear. While their wives and girlfriends retained their liberty to dress as bizarre as they liked, footballers themselves strut about like elegance incarnate: all fitted three-piece suits and cool haircuts, like some kind of investment bankers. With all this media hype about football celebrities, given the excellent physical form of the athletes, they did not have to wait long for lucrative fashion contracts to roll in.

Not surprisingly, the first notable footballer fashion shots were underwear ads in the early 2000s, featuring Swedish footballer Karl Fredrik Ljungberg and Japanese footballer Hidetoshi Nakata. At that time, David Beckham was on the covers of all men’s magazines, but he, too, would not avoid stripping down to his underwear for the magazines. In the first decade of the 21st century, it seemed that athletes had nothing to offer to the fashion industry but their bodies. Suffice it to view the fashion photos of Lionel Messi. However, the late 2000s economic downturn reset the priorities: suddenly sexy body was no longer a fail-safe marketing tool in fashion. Something more substantial had to be found.
With all this media hype about football celebrities, given the excellent physical form of the athletes, they did not have to wait long for lucrative advertising contracts to roll in. In this photo: FC Milan’s striker Andrei Shevchenko and fashion designer Giorgio Armani
Advertising. Really big money started flowing into football (and footballers’ pockets) by the end of the 1990s. Some footballers became media celebrities, like in the Golden Age of Hollywood. A huge, unbridgeable gap arose between their lifestyles and their fans’. Copycatting star footballers started to cost serious money. A large image-making industry developed in sports: the image and commercial success of athletes were now in the hands of professionals. Footballers no longer had to worry about what they wear. While their wives and girlfriends retained their liberty to dress as bizarre as they liked, footballers themselves strut about like elegance incarnate: all fitted three-piece suits and cool haircuts, like some kind of investment bankers. With all this media hype about football celebrities, given the excellent physical form of the athletes, they did not have to wait long for lucrative fashion contracts to roll in.

Not surprisingly, the first notable footballer fashion shots were underwear ads in the early 2000s, featuring Swedish footballer Karl Fredrik Ljungberg and Japanese footballer Hidetoshi Nakata. At that time, David Beckham was on the covers of all men’s magazines, but he, too, would not avoid stripping down to his underwear for the magazines. In the first decade of the 21st century, it seemed that athletes had nothing to offer to the fashion industry but their bodies. Suffice it to view the fashion photos of Lionel Messi. However, the late 2000s economic downturn reset the priorities: suddenly sexy body was no longer a fail-safe marketing tool in fashion. Something more substantial had to be found.

George Best, the illustrious footballer-turned-fashion trendsetter, was the first to pose for magazines, open his own fashion boutique and let his hair down. George Best in 1976
In one notable exception, Giorgio Armani signed a more serious contract with footballer Andrei Shevchenko for Armani’s exclusive clothing line in 2006. But the real turning point in the relationship between football and fashion advertising came with the 2010 Annie Leibovitz photo series for the Louis Vuitton’s Core Values campaign, where Zidane, Maradona and Pele were photographed playing foosball with complete abandon, like the game was the only thing that mattered, while showing off the most coveted accessories of the day. Since then, footballers’ personality (and certainly their popularity!) has featured with increasing prominence in fashion advertising. Beckham has successfully partnered up with the British traditional clothes-maker Savile Row, curating its men’s wardrobe. Ronaldo’s brand has abandoned underwear for shirts and shoes. Football has gone far beyond athleticism and attractiveness in its partnership with the fashion industry. Although athletic good looks work just fine for the traditional advertising of wristwatches, perfumes and sports shoes.
George Best, the illustrious footballer-turned-fashion trendsetter, was the first to pose for magazines, open his own fashion boutique and let his hair down. George Best in 1976
In one notable exception, Giorgio Armani signed a more serious contract with footballer Andrei Shevchenko for Armani’s exclusive clothing line in 2006. But the real turning point in the relationship between football and fashion advertising came with the 2010 Annie Leibovitz photo series for the Louis Vuitton’s Core Values campaign, where Zidane, Maradona and Pele were photographed playing foosball with complete abandon, like the game was the only thing that mattered, while showing off the most coveted accessories of the day. Since then, footballers’ personality (and certainly their popularity!) has featured with increasing prominence in fashion advertising. Beckham has successfully partnered up with the British traditional clothes-maker Savile Row, curating its men’s wardrobe. Ronaldo’s brand has abandoned underwear for shirts and shoes. Football has gone far beyond athleticism and attractiveness in its partnership with the fashion industry. Although athletic good looks work just fine for the traditional advertising of wristwatches, perfumes and sports shoes.
Star factory. Football went professional in the 1920s. Footballers made a living both playing football and posing for advertisements. Unlike tennis players, footballers were rarely featured in clothes ads. Old-school footballers did not associate themselves with the fashion industry. This changed in the 1960s, when England, the cradle of football, repealed its top limits on how much footballers could earn. Once their recognition was complemented by serious money, athletes started to care about status and style. By the end of that decade, footballers showed all the signs of falling in with the celeb crowd. For instance, Chelsea players were apt to start “warming up” for a game at a restaurant run by Mary Quant, then the No. 1 fashion designer, at King's Road, and after the game they would receive celebrity visitors in their locker room: Steve McQueen, Rachel Welch, Elton John and Tom Jones, to name just a few.
Once recognition was complemented by serious money, footballers quickly fell in with the star crowd. Celebrities from show biz and other industries loved football and wanted to be part of it, too. Singer/songwriter Elton John, for one, did a stint as vice president of Watford FC. November 1973
Celebrity footballers dressed appropriately for their image. When they left home to play guest matches, they would dress to impress and intimidate their adversaries. George Best was perhaps the most illustrious example of a fashionista footballer in those days. He was the first to pose for the magazines, first to open his name-brand boutique and first to let his hair down. Many other players and football managers followed suit. Come the 1980s, all footballers dressed to kill. They were sometimes a horrible sight. When we think of 80s footballers, sports suits of shiny synthetic fabrics, ludicrous hairstyles, riotous colours and overabundance of decorations come to mind. Remember Gascoigne? That’s right! But this was the image that set the mass fashion trends in the early 80-s. Nowadays designers use this recognizable, provocative style for ironic retro allusions.
Manchester United and Liverpool fans, by and large, set the destiny of sports fashion in the 1980s. In this photo: Manchester United fans in 1977
Manchester United and Liverpool fans, by and large, set the destiny of sports fashion in the 1980s. In this photo: Manchester United fans in 1977
Fans.The original intent of sports clothing is all but forgotten these days. To our contemporaries, sportswear is just clothing that, unfortunately, cannot be worn everywhere, all the time. Few will remember that the original idea of these garments was to keep the athlete’s muscles warm before the competition. It doesn’t sound too outlandish when someone discusses “designer” track suits, how they look with spike heels, and the hefty price tags involved. This sentiment about sports clothing goes back to the cusp of the 80s, and we owe a lot of it to the fans of the great English clubs Manchester United and Liverpool. Fans would follow them to continental Europe for cup games, and they would bring back flashy clothes made by European sportswear manufacturers, which were promoted, in particular, by the fashion-conscious tennis players Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Other clubs’ fans made fun of Man United and Liverpool fans (“You need track suits to run quicker after the game?”). These clothes still looked out of place outside sports. Incidentally, this was a rare case of football fans not trying to imitate their idols.
Fans. The original intent of sports clothing is all but forgotten these days. To our contemporaries, sportswear is just clothing that, unfortunately, cannot be worn everywhere, all the time. Few will remember that the original idea of these garments was to keep the athlete’s muscles warm before the competition. It doesn’t sound too outlandish when someone discusses “designer” track suits, how they look with spike heels, and the hefty price tags involved. This sentiment about sports clothing goes back to the cusp of the 80s, and we owe a lot of it to the fans of the great English clubs Manchester United and Liverpool. Fans would follow them to continental Europe for cup games, and they would bring back flashy clothes made by European sportswear manufacturers, which were promoted, in particular, by the fashion-conscious tennis players Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Other clubs’ fans made fun of Man United and Liverpool fans (“You need track suits to run quicker after the game?”). These clothes still looked out of place outside sports. Incidentally, this was a rare case of football fans not trying to imitate their idols.
Football uniform presentations used fashion industry tricks. In this photo: a professional model in a photo session prior to the 1978 World Cup Argentina. May 1978
This was particularly unusual for young boys from working class backgrounds at a time when smart dressing and masculinity did not mix. Relevant sportswear manufacturers were subsequently joined by European heritage sportswear brands and some English leisure wear brands with century-old histories. The latter would spend another 15 years debugging their image, but football fans worldwide still treat their clothing like their uniforms. The culture of the stalls was fuelled by an appetite for football, fisticuffs and the right kinds of clothes, as in “casual.” Casual is pretty much what 90% of people wear nowadays.

Like fashion, the great game communicates with the world in a universal language. Most of humanity understand this language without translation. No wonder the dialogue has been going on for a century and a half.

Andrei Abolenkin, fashion analyst, special to Welcome2018
Football uniform presentations used fashion industry tricks. In this photo: a professional model in a photo session prior to the 1978 World Cup Argentina. May 1978
This was particularly unusual for young boys from working class backgrounds at a time when smart dressing and masculinity did not mix. Relevant sportswear manufacturers were subsequently joined by European heritage sportswear brands and some English leisure wear brands with century-old histories. The latter would spend another 15 years debugging their image, but football fans worldwide still treat their clothing like their uniforms. The culture of the stalls was fuelled by an appetite for football, fisticuffs and the right kinds of clothes, as in “casual.” Casual is pretty much what 90% of people wear nowadays.

Like fashion, the great game communicates with the world in a universal language. Most of humanity understand this language without translation. No wonder the dialogue has been going on for a century and a half.

Andrei Abolenkin, fashion analyst, special to Welcome2018
Photo credits: The Firm (2009 film), Christian Vierig/Getty Images, ullstein bild/Getty Image, Фотохроника ТАСС, Popperfoto/Getty Images, www.1stdibs.com, Timur Emek/Getty Image, Christian Vierig/Getty Images, Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images, Vanni Bassetti/Getty Images, Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images for Adidas, Werner OTTO/ullstein bild/Getty Image, Venturelli/WireImage, Michael Putland/Getty Images, John Bulmer/Getty Images, Bob Thomas/Getty Images