Football teams have always been style conscious, though their preferred uniform materials and designs have changed quite a bit. Footballers wore light jerseys and knickers early on but began switching in the late 1870s to canvas jackets or vests and canvas pants designed by Princeton’s Ledru P. Smock. Sold separately and later as a union suit that kept tacklers from grabbing the top of the pants, players wore team-colored jerseys or sweaters underneath the vests.
Throughout the time that players wore canvas uppers, many players wore sweaters only, so teams often had a mix-and-match look about them.
Speed became critical as football emerged from the rule changes of 1906 with an increased focus on open play. Players looked to shed weight, casting aside pads, headgear, and the union suits and canvas vests of the past. Though union suits remained in use until nearly WWI, jerseys became the dominant look.
The changeover in styles was underway when Spalding’s published their c. 1907 catalog in which they point out that canvas jackets were in decline.
The same period saw the first use of numbers on the backs of jerseys, and they ultimately became the dominant feature on football players’ torsos.
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