Written by Tom | 29th May 2020
Fashion’s never been afraid of reinventing itself. The recent trend of reusing and recycling, coupled with the surge of nostalgia the current generation are experiencing, has seen the revival of an old icon – the classic football shirt. While we’ve touched on the collectors’ appeal of these pieces, they aren’t just interesting for investors. The often bold, block and clashing patterns—sometimes adorned with political insignia— of the 70s, 80s and 90s football kits have found a home in modern day dressers. To help us explore this burgeoning trend, we sat down with sports memorabilia expert Gustavo Radescu.
“Vintage is a trend right now and the same could be said for football”, Gustavo explains. “Football lovers who are now well into adulthood are looking for shirts to remind them of significant moments in their lives while younger people are discovering football and fashion from another era”. It’s this bridging between the old and new that’s one of the things that makes football shirts so appealing.
Modern day buyers are increasingly driven by the desire to find something unusual. Old football shirts fit the bill; they’re distinctive, scarce and colourful. “Until the late 80’s, shirts had this plain and minimalistic design but Adidas changed the game with the German and Dutch shirts from 1988”, explains Gustavo. “The Denmark shirt from 86, Liverpool from 85, Newcastle from 95 and Arsenal’s rusty yellow away kit from 91 are other good examples of the new geometric and colourful trend that is now distinctive of the time”.
The Dutch kit from 1988 is one of the most sought-after shirts
These are just some of the iconic kits but for the casual football jersey fan, it’s as much about the style as it is the memories associated with them. It’s in the distinctly old feel of the kits, the stitched-on club crests and – up until the early 80s – the thin, elasticated cotton. That’s not to say every kit was a work of art. Fiorentina’s 1992-93 kit was an unfortunate case of optical effect turned propaganda when half of the jersey’s design mirrored the lines of a swastika, while Sheffield Wednesday fans and players alike have yet to recover from the lilac satin extravagance of their 1986-87 outfit. But even these have value among collectors and fans, where the garish is often gorgeous.
The care put into the design of these shirts follows the trend of modern buyers looking to own quality, well-crafted pieces. These are in direct contrast to the football shirts of today which are often churned out with minimal attention paid to the actual design and more focus given to how large the sponsor’s name features. There’s less soul in current football wear and the commercialisation of the sport is another driver of the surge in vintage football shirts.
A Liverpool football kit from 1982 is a simple, classic design
In this sense, fashion and football are mirror industries. “I think people look at 80s and 90s shirts because of the originality and the good memories of football from that time”, Gustavo explains. “Nowadays, football is caught up in big sponsorship deals, soulless stadiums and price tags for tickets and merchandise that is unaffordable for the everyday fan. There’s a desire for heart, feeling and that we’re in this together. What modern day consumers look for in fashion is no different”.
Beyond design, Gustavo explains that the draw of some football shirts lies in their political connotations too. “It’s worth remembering that football clubs have traditionally stood for socio-political positions, and the club you chose to support said something about your views. Take the Corinthians 82-83 kit, which was designed with the words ‘Vote on the 15th’ on the back of it to encourage Brazilian fans to vote against the dictatorship in the first election since the military coup.”
It’s not a new thing for football to be political but modern day kits have continued to capitalise on the power of footballing allegiance. Barcelona released a kit designed in the colours of the Catalonian flag, with the words ‘We carry it inside’ inscribed onto the sleeves to signal their allegiance to Catalonia. Meanwhile, Madrid-based club Rayo Vallecano affirmed its conscious and inclusive attitudes to the LGBTQIA+ community and fanbase with away kits adorned with rainbow flags. These kinds of socially conscious kits have found a popular home in the modern day dressers, football fans or not.
Fashion has always been a zeitgeist of the times and classic football shirts in some way capture the mood of the current one as well. “We will never again see so much variety and creativity like that of the 80s and 90s. Adidas paid a tribute to these memorable designs at the 2018 World Cup with kits inspired by the designs of the great years for these teams, which just goes to show how influential this era was for football wear”.
To nab a football manager’s perennial post-match phrase, at the end of the day, these shirts are in it for the long run. “The vintage trend is here to stay”, says Gustavo. “Classic football shirts are objects of desire, nostalgia, fashion but perhaps most importantly – love”.
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