Exhibit E: The Oakland A’s

Back to baseball.

The Oakland A’s were actually blue & red prior to 1962. One of owner Charlie O. Finley ‘s marketing schemes was to change the colors to a more gaudy green & yellow, which horrified the baseball community, including the players. Then the A’s won three straight World Series in the early 1970s, and the team has kept its colors ever since.

Here’s Billy Martin arguing a call in a green Starter:

I like the A’s for the reason that they are different. They wear white shoes. They have green hats. Their hats say ‘A’s’. They have a very cool elephant-on-a-baseball secondary logo on their sleeves.

This jacket is rather vanilla, but it’s green and that’s OK. It has a giant white A’s on the left chest. The logo is threaded and glued onto the satin.

The one issue I have with this jacket is the positioning of the apostrophe-s relative to the giant A.

I have seen photos of the apostrophe-s in a lower position. The charm of Starter jackets is that they have quirks. They were an assembly-line multi-million dollar company, but they sometimes appeared to be made in some local shop. This doesn’t mean Starter was lacking in quality. But every jacket seems to have a unique detail or too.

The lining is, of course, yellow.

That is really all there is to say about the A’s jacket. Plain, simple, green. Fantastic!

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Exhibits C & D: The Cleveland Browns

Now on to my favorite football team: the Browns. I like them for no other reasons that they were pretty good in the 1980s (childhood!) and that the old St. Louis football Cardinals had left town back in 1987. (The football Cardinals were never that good anyway.) I would never admit this to my friends, but most of all I liked the Browns’ color scheme.

Why don’t more teams adopt brown? Is it a “gay” color? Does it have cooties? Not “cool” enough? Is brown not a “badass” color? I mean, there are many greens and purples out there, and I would dare say those are not very macho colors. But anyway…

NFL teams used Starter jackets sparingly; many teams opted for other jacket and coat styles. Unlike in baseball, one did not see many satin Starter jax on the sidelines. I have not been able to find a good picture of a Browns coach or player wearing a jacket resembling what I have, but no matter. The Browns may have not actually worn these.

The team, as far as I know, had two different kinds of satin jackets. Both were brown with white inside lining.

The first incarnation had plain brown collars, cuffs, & waistband. There is white-orange-white striping around each sleeve. (This striping was a trait that many NFL satin jackets had, and made them unique.)

There is a prominent ‘NFL’ logo on the upper left sleeve. I do not like this branding, which thankfully MLB did not require. But the NFL has always been about branding. Every such jacket had its logo on the upper left sleeve.

Like quite a few jackets of the time, the team had its name written in smallish font on the left chest. This was about as understated as Starter jackets and coats got. This is actually close to the current Browns wordmark. From 1972-2002 they had a sans-serifed wordmark. I do not know why the Browns had this wordmark on their jackets. Merchandising back in the 80s was in its infancy, though, and quite often teams weren’t so standardized in their branding.

Here is a pic of Marty Schottenheimer, coaching the team in 1986. You can see the serifed “Browns” on his jacket:

This jacket is almost certainly from the mid-1980s because it has the old, boring “Officially Licenced Product” on its tag.

Our next exhibit is the jacket of the late 80s. It is slightly more colorful, with a striped collar, cuffs, & waistband.

Gone are the sleeve stripes. The NFL shield is still there, though.

Instead of a rather meek “Browns” on the left chest, there is now a big, bold, orange “BROWNS” across the chest in an arching pattern. Notice the style of lettering is in the official font of the period.

I assume this was the Bud Carson/Bill Belichick-era Browns jacket, since I got it in 1989. However, I have yet to see a picture of this jacket on the sidelines. This is about the time when the NFL began shifting its product & brand awareness into high gear. No longer merely an “Officially Licensed Product”, it is AUTHENTIC PRO LINE.

PRO LINE became NFL Equipment which became PRO COMBAT which may next become CRUSHWEAR for all I know.

Verdict? It’s a draw. Both are cool.

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The Most 1990s Jacket Ever

Any piece of writing about Starter jackets must begin with an iconic bit of ugliness that defined the very early 1990s. This was the unfortunate period when America knew it had to break from the 1980s, but didn’t know how. Women’s hair started to lay flat, and men started getting rid of their mustaches. The pastel colors, however, were still there. (Just watch any early episode of Seinfeld and you’ll see how pastel-y this era was.) Tight-fitting garments for men were still in vogue. Patterned sweaters – remember those? – were still popular. TV broadcasts still used that bulky white lettering with black drop-shadow. I’d say America didn’t break away from the 80s and go head-strong into the 90s until far into Bill Clinton’s first term.

After that digression, I bring you the Starter multi-colored windbreaker-coat. This blog is primarily about the satin-type jacket, but I’d be remiss not to discuss this jacket design.

If I were a time traveler and wanted to travel back to 1990 discreetly and without attracting the US Government, I’d don this windbreaker-coat to do my secret business:

I would wear this coat with some acid-washed jeans, and be carrying a Walkman. And listening to that rap-rock song that Anthrax and Public Enemy did together.

But let’s get down to the design itself. The Hornets’ color scheme was teal and purple. The Hornets, I believe, were the vanguard expansion team of the era to choose purple. (Before the Hornets, purple was only used with a few legacy teams such as the L.A. Lakers, Minnesota Vikings, and Utah Jazz. After the Hornets, a bevy of teams from all professional sports chose purple clothing: the Colorado Rockies, the Toronto Raptors, and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks just to name a few.)

There were several variations of the hooded coat and/or windbreaker product that Starter rolled out. The above pictures are of the hoodie-coat, which kept style-conscious males warm, even into the summer, when a coat was definately not needed. But if you’d spent a few Andrew Jacksons on a garish coat, then you’d probably want to put it on anytime the temperature dropped below 70.

The windbreaker style was not much different. It was a rather heavy windbreaker, and the purple highlights were placed elsewhere on the arms:

I give the Hornets credit for adopting a bold color scheme. The NBA has always been creative and splashy with uniform designs. Of course, REAL Hornets are black and yellow, so why Charlotte picked teal and purple is beyond my comprehension. But there was something very teal in the air as we entered the 1990s. The Mighty Ducks went with almost the exact same color scheme in 1993, and then the Arizona Diamondbacks did the same in 1998. What the hell, 1990s?

At least the Hornets’ logo was given a classy space on the left breast. But there might’ve been a huge Hornets logo on the back for all I know*.

*Oh, wait, here’s the giant hornet!

The Hornets’ logo was actually one of the better modern expansion-team logos. It looked almost classy, with a varsity-team vibe to it. Cutesy but not ridiculous. They could have easily done what the Toronto Raptors did. Ugh. The actual satin Starter jacket is a much more dignified affair. It is a nice neptune-blue with varsity lettering. I’m sure there were other variations of this jacket, but this might be the best:

I liked how the NBA logo was always placed beside the right pocket. This little detail went a long way for all NBA Starter jax.

I have always thought that, outside of baseball, these satin jackets worked best on an NBA court. It’s hard to describe exactly why – maybe it was the satiny roots of old NBA uniforms, the pizzazz surrounding the NBA generally – but throwing on one of these jackets before, during, and after a game just seems right.

I do not own this jacket, nor do I own any NBA jacket. For the right price, though, I’d pick one up, especially one of a defunct team like the Charlotte Hornets. I saw a truly fantastic Utah Jazz jacket from the 1980s on Ebay a few weeks back: it was purple, with green, yellow, and white striping. It was magic, and would totally not go with any daily ensemble I wear. Not even with jeans and a t-shirt. Well, maybe with that. But who wants to wear purple in public? Anyway, this jacket was like $140 so, no thanks.

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Interregnum: the Sox of the Seventies

I picked up this hat on Ebay, and paid probably too much for it, but whatever.

It’s a Roman Pro cap, a brand from the 1960s (I think) until the nineties. Roman Pro made some official caps during this period, and they are probably most famous for the leather headbands, which were what the pros had to endure for many seasons, until the cotton headbands were mercifully adopted.

This is the cap the Sox wore from 1976 to 1981. This cap is interesting because its font clashes a lot with the jersey’s. While looking futuristic, the “SOX” font is actually a throwback from the 1920s, when owner Bill Veeck noticed a banner or pennant that had that font type. He then applied it to the caps.

You can see the “SOX” draped over the car door in the bottom center of the photo.

The jerseys, though, had an obvious old-style font, harking back to the nineteenth century.

This cap was worn during the infamous shorts-wearing games, shorts which were quickly abandoned after a couple games in 1976.

The White Sox unies of this period may have been the greatest faux-backs ever, never to be outdone. This was smack in the middle of the Sox’s identity crisis, starting in 1967, an identity crisis that itself may never be undone. They went from all-navy to all-red, to powder blue, to butterfly collars, to beach-blanket pullovers, to terribly bland cursive-with-underscore, all within a space of 20 years. They finally settled on their modern design, the very classic black-and-white Olde Englishe look, in 1991. And they have stuck with it ever since.

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Exhibits A and B: The White Sox

These jackets were made in the late 1980s/early 1990s for the Chicago White Sox. The ChiSox went through three uniform changes in the eighties. They began the decade in those terribly awesome navy blue leisure-suit tops with the butterfly collar. Then management had enough of those, as they made a 180-degree change to the so-called “beach blanket” design which conformed to the v-neck polyester pullover with elastic-waistband pants. (You remember those. They had the bold “SOX” across the front. Tony La Russa made his name in those unies.)

The next phase in Sox designs concerns this blog. The stripey SOX design made way for another near-total makeover. While keeping the same navy blue and red color scheme, a cursive “White Sox” appeared on the jerseys between 1987 and 1990. It was a design that many a baseball team has adopted at one point: the ascending cursive script with an underline. The new cursive Sox uniform was very understated, too: plain white pants, and no striping on the jersey. It was also a button-up jersey with belted pants, a style that re-entered MLB in the late 1980s, eventually killing off the pullover style of the 1970s-80s.

I do not particularly like this design, mostly because a team called the ‘White Sox’ should have some kind of design reflecting its name.

As you can see on the jacket, the script is in red…why not in white, at least? The interior lining is navy blue, matching the satin shell. The “White Sox” script is red twill sewn onto white twill fabric. The jacket’s shell is navy blue, with the tricolor on the cuffs, collar, and waistband. Though I would have preferred Starter to ditch the tricolor and go with a design the same as the stirrup stripe pattern, which was the only interesting thing, really, about the 1987-90 uniform.

That striping pattern was used on the jackets of the Cardinals and Red Sox. Usually Starter was surprisingly sensitive about the striping. They (either themselves or directed by the team) seemed to capture the essence of the team’s color-character in the striping. Unfortunately, it looks as if the base jacket of the polyster-pullover Sox was simply given over to the new buttoned-up Sox.

All in all, the jacket looks very much like the earlier “SOX” dugout jacket, which had the 1980s-era abstracted-batter logo on the left chest.

I appreciate the simplicity and cleanliness of the 1987-1990 design, but not much else. But this design was short-lived, as they changed yet again in 1991. The team re-introduced their Old-English “Sox” logo of the 1950s, and have kept it ever since.

This time, they changed the colors to black and white with gray trim; much more suitable to team name. As you see here, the striping is much more loyal and original to the new design.

(Note: The Sox beat the rest of MLB to the black craze starting in the late 1990s. Unlike the Athletics or Royals, though, the Sox look very good in black. The Sox haven’t changed their look in 21 seasons, which must be some kind of record for the South Siders.)

I can’t argue with the aesthetics of this jacket. Black satin shell. The inside lining is white. The “Sox” logo is made of white and grey threading. It is sewn onto a black felt “Sox” outline and glued onto the jacket, like a big patch. The Sox have also had a very cool white sock-in-a-diamond secondary logo since 1991, and they had the good sense to include it on the jacket’s sleeve. The patch has a nice soft felt backing too.

The team had kept the diamond logo on the sleeves until very recently, when they ditched it in favor of their primary “Sox” logo (as if people were still confused about who they were) to be put on the away grays. This is the kind of nonsense that the Los Angeles Dodgers employ…if the hat says “LA”, then why should the uniform have the “LA” on the sleeve as well? Same goes for the other LA team, the Angels. It just looks redundant. Maybe even self-indulgent.

Verdict? I like Exhibit A for its rarity and simplicity; Exhibit B is clearly the superior design though.

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Parameters

It has been a year – A YEAR – since my first post on this blog. I originally meant it to be about Starter Jackets, but I will extend the parameters of this blog to include sports uniforms in general, but baseball in particular. (I may do some NFL talk but my patience with the whole NFL extravaganza is wearing mighty thin.) Big thanks to Paul Lukas at Uniwatch (of which I am a member) for helping me “come out of the closet” as it were, and admitting to myself and my family that I like uniforms, much more than the players that reside in them.

 

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Justification

When Christmas 1989 hit, I was 12 years old. I liked baseball and football, especially the colors and uniform styles of each. I remember my favorite store being Superstars, which was in the food court of a local mall. Before Lids and various other clubhouse stores, there was Superstars. On the racks were hats, shirts, posters, and and jackets of all kinds. Lining the tops of the walls was an array of gorgeous satin Starter jackets – the Orlando Magic, the Boston Celtics, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Oakland Raiders. There were other types of Starter jackets, notably those windbreaker-esque monstrosities that had all kinds of late 80’s pastels splashed over them. All I was interested in were the satin jackets that I saw in dugouts and on sidelines.

One the items on my 1989 Christmas list – it may have been one of the only items, since these things cost around $100 – was a Cleveland Browns Starter jacket. The local Superstars did not have this jacket, so my dad (presumably) put an order in for it. It arrived in time for December 25th. It was an awesome surprise. I had not seen what a Browns jacket looked like. It was a shiny brown satin with brown, orange, and white stripes on the stretchy sleeves, base, and collar. The word BROWNS was spelled out in orange letters across the chest. On the left sleeve was the NFL logo, and further down by the wrist was the telltale Starter logo with a brown star matching the jacket color. It was a quality jacket with great embroidery, and expressive without being garish.

Satin jackets had been in existence for many years – these jackets are a particular American sports invention. I don’t think these jackets were (or are) worn much anywhere else in the world. Sometime in the 1960s sports teams began ditching the “letterman” style jacket for the shiny satin kind. Its professional heyday was the sixties through the 1990s. The Starter company was one of the first to exploit on-field (or authentic) merchandise which was not only made with the sports franchise in mind, but the consumer as well. Starter inked deals with dozens of pro sports teams which allowed their jackets to be the official on-field wear. Their biggest client was Major League Baseball, whose teams had universally adopted the satin jacket as their dugout wear. The height of Starter’s popularity was the early 1990s. Their jackets were in such demand that they became a major target for theft, sometimes violent theft. That the jackets were prohibitively expensive for many people added to this problem. In fact, on the first day I wore my Browns jacket to school in January 1990, even before morning classes started, a boy threatened to steal it later that day. I had to go to my health teacher and ask to hide it in his closet. I never wore it to school again.

As the 1990s wore on, Starter lost its panache. Most sports leagues and their clubs began choosing other styles. The last team to don satin jackets were the ever-conservative New York Yankees, who in the late 1990s finally switched to the current “windbreaker” dugout style.

In the blogosphere there are sites dedicated to on-field uniforms, ballcaps, and even Fleer stickers. As far as I know, there is no blog dedicated to those shiny and colorful satin jackets that were all the rage in the very early nineties. I hope to do these old styles justice.

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