How Football and Fashion Are Colliding


Fashion and football have always had a symbiotic relationship. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was the fans, or so-called casuals, who became style pioneers, importing European luxury labels like Stone Island and Fila before anyone else and, in the process, establishing terrace fashion. Then there's fashion, which, as Martine Rose, Liam Hodges, and just about every other designer with half an eye on the outside world have demonstrated, appears to find an eternal source of inspiration in the game.

Even footballers, who have long been anti-Midases of fashion, favouring trucker caps, bootcut jeans, and anything else from the Trafford Centre's terrible taste area, have gotten in on the act. Hector Bellerin, Arsenal's former full-back, is leading the campaign post-Beckham, spending as much time on the front row of Fashion Week as he does in the Emirates dugout.

When it comes to clubs, uniforms, and the official end of football fashion, however, the outcomes have historically been disappointing at best, and downright shocking at worst. Dover Street boys, high-end designers, and streetwear firms can readily repurpose football gear, but because clubs are primarily governed by normie marketing execs and ex-players, we've rarely seen kits and training clothing that match the game's stylistic appeal.

There has been many a flop, deadlock, or catastrophe for every Fiorucci-sponsored Milan gear, every Balenciaga-esque David James jersey, or Wavey Garms-friendly throwback football shirt. People have formed websites dedicated to bad football uniforms, where they can bemoan the iconic Hull City 'tiger' jersey, Coventry's dirt brown number from 1978, and Chelsea's 'broken TV grey and Tango orange' away shirt from the 1994/95 season.

There is still a gap between what people believe is attractive and what teams really do. Despite the large social media announcements, massive sponsorship agreements, and staged deliveries, many modern football uniforms are major disappointments — victims of both overthinking and underthinking. One of the most recent instances is Arsenal's '19/20 'bruised banana' away uniform.

However, there are genuine signs of progress. Men's fashion is dominated by sportswear, and football culture is once again trendy. It's the subject of magazines like Mundial. On stage, Loyle Carner wears football clothing. Drake is always seen wearing these. All of this implies that the flashy suit brigade in charge has begun to delegate some aesthetic power to a younger generation, which in turn looks to high fashion and streetwear for inspiration.

The home kit of Paris Saint-Germain – the gold-standard bearer for stylish football shirts – is one of the great kit triumphs of recent years, one that you'll virtually certainly find in practically any conurbation greater than 500 people on the planet. In recent years, this shirt from a little-loved side in a little-watched league has become something of an iconic piece. It isn't the most beautiful or spectacular song, but its simplicity, as well as its use in music videos by rappers like PNL and MHD, has solidified it as a must-have. It was most recently spotted on 'Alex from Glasto,' who, while being from Somerset, certainly doesn't follow Thomas Tuchel's lads everywhere they go, but finds something in the implications it brings.

It's difficult to pinpoint why that shirt has become so popular (and it's certainly not the team), but it's a model that many clubs and even national teams are emulating: an instantly recognisable, collectable kit that transcends traditional local allegiances in the way that American basketball vests frequently do.

Following the unintended success of its home uniform, PSG has now launched a diffusion line, its own 'X' cooperation with Nike Jordan, who, incidentally, are pioneers in the field of sportswear as streetwear. It's not difficult to picture the components being part of the official PSG outfit in the future.

Juventus, which is also striving for reputation (and a Champions League spot), has struck an unexpected alliance with Palace Skateboards. There was speculation that Palace would design the official uniform, but Adidas swiftly put it to rest by presenting the worst Juventus kit in years. Cristiano Ronaldo may not be wearing Palace just yet, but the relationship demonstrates both Palace and Juventus' ambitions, both in their own industries and in the worldwide market for cool, where a football team can now be as cool as a brand or rapper if they so choose.

Then there's the 2018 Nigeria World Cup kit, which became a genuine hot piece for even casual fans, far more so than any of the more established team's attempts, owing to the fact that it wasn't afraid to be flamboyant, on-trend, and aware of the team's culture. Like the finest Air Jordan sneakers, resellers went wild for it, and it's already been re-released several times.

Not to mention tracksuits and training gear, which were originally solely worn by club physios but are now quite popular in the age of athleisure. Naturally, PSG appears to be in the forefront of this.

Football's artistic possibilities are beginning to expand. We may be a long way from seeing the Versace X Stoke City home kit that we all crave, but clubs are surely looking to the streets and catwalks for inspiration, that can only be a good thing. We could be looking at a new golden era of football kits if it stays exciting and collaborative rather than cliched and cynical. Alternatively, those 'worst kits ever' blogs may still have a few more entries.

May 16, 2022 — Aditya Gokhale