Thursday, April 10, 2014

Baseball's Sartorial Serendipity.

I work in the fashion industry. There, I had to mention it one more time to make it an even 150.

Am I a fashionable person? If you asked either of my daughters, they’d say I dress somewhere between a tired old man and a seven-year-old boy.

When they put it that way, it sounds like I'm behaving inappropriately with myself.

No, I’m not a fashionable person. But I do pay attention to what people wear, since I’ve worked with pictures of people wearing clothes for the past 24 years.

I entered the fashion world in 1991, just in time to witness the whole Nirvana flannel Doc Marten thing hitting the mainstream. The Yupsters took over quickly, driving a javelin into music's grungy soul and filling the void with bands like Bush and Creed. Contrary to what you might think, these two people are models, not a couple hanging out behind the Lolapalooza beer tent.

On the other end of the early Nineties fashion spectrum, tapered lines and large shoulder pads dictated the look,

especially when contrasted with the smaller shoulder pads of today.

But with the opening of baseball season at hand, I couldn’t help but ponder how, while popular fashion trends evolve, repurpose and recycle themselves, baseball uniform styles haven’t veered off into weeds all that often. 

For a while, the process was a bit more organic. 

This is the New York Knickerbockers, the first baseball team to adopt uniforms in 1849. They wore blue wool pants, white flannel shirts and straw hats. 

Must have hurt diving face first into second, your vest feeble protection for the pocket watch that just pierced your sternum.

By 1882, most uniforms included stockings, which covered the leg from foot to knee, and were used to differentiate one club from another. 

The uniforms themselves had different colors and patterns that reflected the different baseball positions. This is a team from the 1870s, which, if I'm not mistaken, appears to be integrated. Go figure.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, teams began the practice of wearing different home and road uniforms and things really haven’t changed a heck of a lot since.

Major League baseball briefly attempted the “bring your guns to the park” promotion:

And a little “Devo-meets-Jethro” experiment in the Seventies:

Even youth baseball teams flirted with the avant garde, opting for t-shirts and long soggy denim.

Incidentally, this is one of the few championship teams I’ve ever played on, the 1974 Auburn Kiwanis Club Bronco League champs. We didn’t have a name—just Kiwanis Club, but let me tell you something—I learned a lot that season. A team is a family, and these guys were my brothers—brothers who hit me in the kidneys a lot. 

To demonstrate their dedication that magical season, a lot of the guys gave up smoking until the playoffs.

Over the ensuing forty years, the uniforms got a little tighter:

And a whole lot looser:

Yet one attribute remains a common denominator throughout baseball’s illustrious antiquity:

It still don’t feel right.

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