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The Uni-verse Is Broken, but Not Because It Has Failed

When I was about 12 years old, I was poking around one of the bookshelves in our house and found a paperback called The Naked Ape. The book, which examines humans as a species and compares them to other animals, had been an instant best-seller upon its publication in 1967 and was enormously influential, but I didn’t know or care about any of that. All I knew was that it had the word “Naked” in the title, which of course I found titillating. After pulling it off the shelf, I discovered that it had a fairly detailed chapter on sex, which I read and re-read rather obsessively over the next few years.

The sex chapter ended with the following paragraph:

Thanks to medical science, surgery and hygiene, we have reached an incredible peak of breeding success. We have practiced death control and now we must balance it with birth control. It looks very much as though, during the next century or so, we are going to have to change our sexual ways at last. But if we do, it will not be because they failed, but because they succeeded too well.

For whatever reason, that last line — the bit about something succeeding too well — stuck with me. I’ve thought about it many times over the years, and I think it applies to many of the problems we now face. Here are two simple examples:

• Humans, like most animals, are hardwired to eat when they’re hungry, to stop eating when they’re full, and to eat mostly what’s nutritious for them. So why do we have so much obesity and junk/fast food consumption? Well, lots of reasons, but a big one is that our hardwiring has been overwhelmed by the huge amounts of inexpensive processed foods — many of them engineered with crazy (and crazy-delicious) levels of salt, fat, and sugar — that the food industry has created. Our ability to produce and sell these items has evolved much faster than our bodies’ and brains’ ability to adapt to them. Our food system is definitely broken, but it’s not because it has failed. It’s because it has succeeded too well.

• Study after study shows that Americans dislike negative political ads, and with good reason — I think we all intuitively recognize that such ads are unpleasant, contribute to a toxic public discourse, and appeal more to cheap emotion than to reason. But the negative ads keep coming. Why? Because study after study also shows that they work. People respond to them, even though they dislike them. A classic case of a system that we all know is broken, but it’s not because it has failed. It’s because it has succeeded too well.

I could go on: the depletion of our oceans’ fisheries, anthropogenic climate change, the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, the endless race-to-the-bottom spread of reality TV, the spread of Walmart and other chains at the expense of mom-and-pops, the commodification of more or less everything — all examples of systems that are broken because they’ve succeeded too well. Indeed, one could easily apply “It has succeeded too well” to capitalism as a whole.

I hereby submit that the uniform-industrial complex is another example of a system that is broken because it has succeeded too well. Even if you like a lot of the newfangled alternate uniforms, special-occasion caps, and all the other stuff being cranked out these days, I think most of us would agree that there are too many designs (especially at the college level, obviously), and that they’re usually being created for the wrong reasons (to spur merch sales, to help Uniform Manufacturer A keep up with Uniform Manufacturer B, to make sure School A has the exact same portfolio of BFBS/GFGS/camo/etc. designs that School B has, and so on). I feel like there’s a widespread feeling of cynicism about all of this, even among fans who love buying merch and seeing new designs.

And yet the new designs keep coming, despite the cynicism. Why? Because we can’t look away, because we get caught up in the corporate theater even as we roll our eyes at it, and because some of us can’t stop buying. Or because, at the most basic level, we love uniforms, and the uni-industrial complex both feeds and exploits that love with more and more designs, and we continue to respond, even if we’re sometimes holding our collective nose. Remember the junk food example I mentioned earlier? I think many of the new designs we see are like the uni equivalent of junk food. We know they’re not good for us, or for the uni-verse, but we can’t stop eating them.

I think most of us recognize that this system is broken. But that’s not because it has failed. It’s because it has succeeded too well.

I sometimes think about my own role in all this. Uni Watch didn’t create the uni-industrial complex, of course (and if I hadn’t created Uni Watch, someone else probably would have created something very much like it), but it has definitely contributed to a more uni-aware climate that’s made it easier for the complex to flourish. One of my big goals when I created Uni Watch was for more people to take uniforms more seriously. Be careful what you wish for, eh? It’s a bit like creating a monster and then watching it run amok in all sorts of unpredictable and depressing ways. Maybe Uni Watch itself is an example of something that has succeeded too well.

What do you think about all this? Discuss.

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Collector’s Corner
By Brinke Guthrie

Some people like to argue about whether a hockey “jersey” should actually be called a “sweater,” but there’s no argument here: It’s a great-looking Montreal Canadiens handmade crew-neck sweater! They did a great job with that one.

Now on to the rest of the week’s vintage finds:

• Here’s a terrific-looking classic 49ers jacket, evoking memories of Joe Cool.

• Speaking of jackets, this Miami Dolphins zip-front DeLong pullover is in great shape. Other Dolphins items: a jacket by Champion with the Dolphins logo on the rear hemline, and a pullover by Reebok. (Those are tremendous quality — I had a Cowboys version.)

• Here’s a rather strange-looking 1960s button for “Bob ‘Four Speed’ Orr.”

• Wow, a 1970s Caps N Bats NL West set by MiniSport, still factory-sealed.

• Take a look at this rather quaint (by today’s standards) Packers visor from the 1950s-1960s.

• Here’s a Tug McGraw-inspired “Yes We Can” Phillies T-shirt from the 1970s.

• We’ve got another T-shirt from The City of Brotherly Love, but this time it’s a vintage 76ers T made by Champion (I think — it says “Champion Blue Bar,” whatever that is).

• Interesting-looking 1960s Dallas Cowboys bobblehead. And this Falcons bobble is in perfect shape.

• Here’s a 1960s Chase & Sanborn coffee mug featuring a black Saints helmet. The same seller also has Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington NFL mugs available

• Check the artwork on this corkboard sign for the “19th Annual East-West All-Star Pro-Bowl Game.”

• Here’s a set of 1970’s NFL helmet stickers. Not sure what these were originally intended for.

• Looks like they forgot the red on this early-1970s Texas Rangers pennant.

•  And from reader David Firestone: You know how players at college all-star games, like the East-West Shrine Game, often trade helmet decals with each other? Check out this helmet that started out as a Northwestern bucket and then picked up a lot of other decals along the way.

Follow Brinke on Twitter: @brinkeguthrie

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Click to enlarge

Ah, that’s better: My orthopedist cut the cast off of my broken left arm yesterday (see above), An X-ray showed that the healing is proceeding apace, although there’s plenty more still to go. For now, my elbow’s range of motion is limited — I can’t fully flex or fully extend it — and it’s also going to be a few weeks before I can lift anything heavy or put much leverage on it. Still, it’s great to be liberated from the cast, and everything from showering to sleeping is so much easier without it.

I celebrated my return to southpaw status by letting my arm perform one of its most essential functions (photo by the Tugboat Captain, click to enlarge):

• • • • •
The Ticker
By Mike Chamernik

Baseball News: Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Co. released Crown Town Ale to celebrate the Royals’ championship (from Andrew Cosentino). … WWE is sending the Royals a championship belt. … Looks like a fan pulled the trigger too soon on a Mets 2015 World Champs tattoo (from Phil). … A couple degrees of separation here, but Bob Wilmot‘s neighbor’s daughter and her friends went as the Rockford Peaches for Halloween. ”¦ Check it out: a 1930s shot of Stan the Man in a basketball uni (from Ed Bauza).

NFL News: Yellow receiver gloves aren’t the best idea. … Maybe this was just a weird camera angle or something, but a MNF preview graphic showed a white Panthers helmet (from Alex Ridoré). … Redskins RB Chris Thompson will now wear a longer back pad after landing hard on an unprotected area during a game a few weeks ago (from Tommy Turner).

College & High School Football News: Miami unveiled its Military Appreciation Day uniforms that the Hurricanes will wear this Saturday. Included are Kevlar cleats, embroidered stripes and camo undershirts. … Happy 30th birthday to Iowa’s “ANF” (America Needs Farmers) helmet decal. … Looks like Toledo might be revealing new gold jerseys today (from Patrick Thomas). … North Dakota State will have an alternate matte green helmet for the Saturday’s Harvest Bowl. … An Auburn student manager proposed to his girlfriend using those large picture play cards college teams use on game day (from Tris Wykes). … Florida appears to be teasing some kind of alternate for this weekend’s homecoming game (from Ran Isaacs). ”¦ A board member at Iowa’s Senior High School opposes the team’s GFGS unis. She says that the school wastes money on uniforms that don’t even represent school colors (from Jesse Gavin).

Hockey News: The Canadiens will reveal their Winter Classic jerseys on Friday. “Based on intentionally poorly framed pictures, looks like a white crewneck with a red collar, and the French LNH shield (normally an exclusive for Habs’ home jerseys) slapped in between the main crest and the top of the neck,” says Mike Engle. “Also, I’m doubting whether there’s a hanger effect message.”

NBA News: Here’s how the Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders memorial patch looks on a jersey. … NESN ranked the ugliest uniforms to debut this year (from Phil). … Lammert Wijnsma has created personal logo concepts for several young NBA players. He recently made one for Lakers rookie D’Angelo Russell. … In the WNBA, the Tulsa Shock will become the Dallas Wings next year. ”¦ Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, attended last night’s Bucks/Nets game at the Barclays Center but while wearing a jacket with the Bucks’ old logo and lettering. That’s Lasry sitting next to former President Bill Clinton (from Bob Johnson).

College Hoops News: A couple notes from Mark Chiarucci: St. Mary’s has new uniforms and is now an Under Armour program. The Gaels previously wore these unis uniforms. And, San Francisco will wear these late 1960s-early 1970s throwbacks. The Dons normally wear this. ”¦ The UConn women’s team went GFGS yesterday.

Grab Bag: Is this the new logo for DC United? (From John Muir). … A couple of changes are possible coming to curling. Curlers dislike the “directional fabric” on the outside of new brooms because the fabric lessens the sport’s skill and athleticism. Also, a curler’s freak face-first fall last week has led to a call for protective headgear (from David Cline and Phil). … Here’s what the men’s volleyball teams in the Japanese V.League will wear this season (from Jeremy Brahm). … The cross country team at Cascade High School in Iowa still wears T-shirts, instead of more form-fitting tank tops. Must not be an issue, because it won the Class 2A title this weekend (from Jesse Gavin). … In a diabolical money grab, Under Armour now sells Star Wars merchandise (from Andrew Cosentino). … New jerseys for the women’s lacrosse team at Rollins College (from @DaveDoop).

Comments (86)

    Seems odd to me that any player is permitted to have any accessory that’s essentially the same color and size as a referee’s flag. Everyone on the field needs absolute certainty as to whether a flag has been thrown or not, so even the tiniest chance that a yellow glove or towel or whatever might be confused with a flag, by anyone on the field of in the press or officiating booths, should be sufficient justification to ban bright yellow accessories.

    UA is not alone in its diabolical money grab: Pendleton Woolen Mills is also selling Star Wars wool blankets.

    That Dallas Wings logo is like a wing restaurant logo combined with Charlotte Hornets and New Orleans Pelicans

    aren’t the Star Wars sequels in themselves a “money grab”? I’m not sure you can pin that on UA.

    shoot, everything George Lucas has done with that franchise is based on “money grabs”

    Lucas doesn’t have a hand in it anymore. He sold it to Disney a few years back.

    So if you thought it was all a money grab before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

    I dunno, the merchandising surrounding the 3 prequels was ridiculous. Disney will have plenty of merch out there, but they will at least pair it with decent flicks.

    true, but who is truly doing the grabbing here? Is UA just a secondary grab? I mean, they made Marvel shirts when the Avengers was huge, why not get in on the next big blockbuster?

    anything a company does is a money grab

    Uh, no.

    There’s a difference between doing business and being greedy. There’s a difference between profit and profiteering. There’s a difference between behaving morally and ethically and acting immorally or unethcially. And so on.

    This isn’t just splitting linguistic hairs. Profiteering is actually illegal in many contexts.

    Kind of ironic that Under Armour would sell a shirt of the Death Star and their slogan “Protect This House.” Especially when they failed to protect it twice.

    Anyone ever read Desmond Morris’ incredible 1981 book The Soccer Tribe? There’s a chapter on uniforms, including colours, patterns, and the meanings behind them. Also includes a bit about ads on uniforms, which were starting to happen at that time. He was definitely ahead of his time regarding all this uniform stuff.


    I really like your analysis this morning and was thinking the same thing in recent months.

    Too much of a good thing is not good. This is an imperfect analogy, but look at how we have ever-longer sports seasons (the World Series in November, the Super Bowl in February, college basketball about to start). Everyone thinks more is better, but it’s all too much. It drains the magic out of the game. We love it more when we have less of it, actually.

    The same goes with uniforms. It was cool in the 1970s when one day the A’s would wear green and the next day gold, or a college football team would occasionally come out in a different jersey (see Notre Dame-USC, 1977). But when every day or week teams are in different threads, it loses its allure.


    The Iowa Senior High School in question about the GFGS is Dubuque Senior High and why you would want to showcase gray over their Columbia Blue and Red is beyond belief. I think you would prefer the other city school, Dubuque Hempstead with their green and gold colors.

    Frosted mug? Tsk, tsk, Mister Barkeep. Still, congrats on regaining the all-important ability to hoist it properly!

    “It is not good to be too free. It is not good to have all one needs.” — Blaise Pascal

    I’m pretty sure he was talking about the Oregon football uniforms, and all that sweet Nike cash the Ducks swim in.

    In the paragraph about getting your cast removed you’re missing the word “range” when talking about the elbow’s movement.

    I think there’s something to the “has succeeded too well” argument. But the course of uni design might also follow the same kind of aesthetic dynamic as the course of, say, architecture and music. In plenty of art forms like the latter two, one sees an eternal cycle of gradually increasing ornament & complexity, followed by a oversated reaction back to minimalism; rinse and repeat. Wonder if that could also help explain the kinds of uni-design trends we see.

    I’ve often thought that Uni Watch’s contribution to the downward spiral of uniform design is in driving web traffic. It’s sort of a corollary to cliche “the only bad publicity is no publicity.” When there’s a “look at this awful/embarrassing/offensive/etc design” post, everyone clicks on it. If a design is driving traffic to a site (and in many case, resulting in ad views), it simply encourages the behavior, regardless of the public opinion of the design itself.

    I’ve gotten to the point that I rarely click on ticker links for camo or flag-desecration designs (among other tropes) anymore because a) I don’t want to dignify them with a page view, and b) it’s become tiresome and uninteresting, regardless of your opinion on the design itself.

    I used to click on every ticker link, even if I didn’t think I’d be interested. Just in case.

    These days, if I see a link for Star Wars, camo, flag or pink jerseys, or most of the minor league promotion jerseys, I just skip it. Not saying those items shouldn’t be on the ticker, but I do relate to Mr. Jacket’s second paragraph.

    If NDSU is going to wear green hats, I hope they wear the green britches. That would look awesome.

    The stuff that’s been happening in uniform design is driven not by online commentary, but by advances in fabric design, increasing competition, and consumer affluence. MAnufacturers make crazy uniforms because they can, and because there’s a market for them.

    Uniforms are only a part of it: they’re the brisket on the fatted calf of American overindulgence. Look at what’s happening in collegiate dormitory design, where schools are installing luxury bathrooms and climbing walls and offering epicurean dining hall experiences, in an effort to attract students. Everything is getting over the top, and more than a little ridiculous.

    Most people don’t take two seconds thinking about anything. They just buy stuff, and go places. Why is there Thursday football, when it clearly poses a health risk to the players? Because the public wants it, and the advertisers underwrite it, and who cares if some running back is knocking 20 years off his life, anyway?

    If anything, UniWatch has been a governor on uniform excesses. It’s one of the few places where thoughtful, intelligent people can say, “Wait a minute. That’s horrible.” It’s important, and it’s important that people in the athletic apparel industry are reading here, not because Lukas, et al set the trends, but because maybe, just maybe, it makes them occasionally stop and say, “Let’s rethink this, folks. Because what we’re doing right now, it’s garbage.”

    Also, if UniWatch went away, where would I read about funky old bowling alleys? And meat?

    but if a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to blog about it, how are we to know it successfully fell?

    “… schools are installing luxury bathrooms and climbing walls and offering epicurean dining hall experiences…”



    . . . . .

    “Why is there Thursday football, when it clearly poses a health risk to the players?”


    Does the risk increase on Thursdays? I mean, the teams that are playing therefore aren’t playing on Sundays. If the players don’t get hurt (or do get hurt) on Thursday, does that mean there is more/less risk they won’t get hurt on Sunday (or Monday…or Saturday during the last couple weeks of the season)?

    Of course the risk is marginally higher on Thursday, all else being equal. There’s a reason they only play weekly, not every other day or so like a real sport. If you’ve last played on Sunday, then you’ll be playing Thursday on three fewer days of rest and practice from your previous game than if you played on Sunday. If there is any benefit whatsoever to resting and practicing after an NFL game, then Thursday games will be more dangerous to play. Now that the NFL is doing this so regularly, and without the ability to give every Thursday-night team a bye the previous weekend, we should start to see meaningful data to quantify the danger. But of course we should expect some danger; if not, then the NFL is wrong to play so few games in a season.

    “If there is any benefit whatsoever to resting and practicing after an NFL game”

    But is there, though? In the “dangerous” sense? I wonder how one quantifies that.

    Most of the WNBA fans I know are underwhelmed by the Dallas Wings name and logo. I wonder if all the good sports team names are already taken.

    I love how the philisophical and introspective lead article goes right into Collectors Corner and a big colorful photo of a handmade Canadiens sweater with the first sentence that reads, “Some people like to argue about whether a hockey “jersey” should actually be called a “sweater”.

    A beautiful juxtaposition.

    It’s why this site continues to fascinate — and keeps me and many others coming back each day.

    I wouldn’t consider the uniform industry to be succeeding at this point. When you lose focus on what a uniform’s purpose is – to outfit a team in a manner that clearly indentifies said team and to make it easy to accurately spot individual players – then in some aspects it’s failing. Saying the industry has become “too big to fail” might be more accurate, if you believe in such a concept.

    a curler’s freak face-first fall last week has led to a call for protective headgear

    It’s already available.

    Also, both philosophically and pragmatically, if an injury can properly be called the result of a “freak” occurrence, then it is a mistake to make sweeping changes to rules. No pun intended. As the saying goes, “Hard cases make bad law.”

    Would have titled this one “The End of the Uniform.” They only exists one place at one point in time. Hardly worthy of being called a uniform.

    absolutely positively loved todays entry. and as a side note, it looks like i got the all clear on my brain injury the same day you got your cast of, and we celebrated the same. go figure.

    on the later, not muh brain-pan but your left arm. i am starting a helmet sticker program for bikers in the stinky onion. essentially you earn municipal devices, stars, onions, bones, dogs or squirrels, snow flakes, etc based on your riding experience that you would apply to your skull-tection to show what a bad ass you are. anyway, when i finalize the stickers, i’ll send you two bones, you’ve earned them. actually as i type, comes to thinks of it, you gots a sticker guy?

    “…essentially you earn municipal devices, stars, onions, bones, dogs or squirrels, snow flakes, etc based on your riding experience that you would apply to your skull-tection to show what a bad ass you are…”


    Would this be based upon miles ridden, objects avoided (or struck), things that hit you (cars, squirrels, foul balls, etc.), time?

    Sounds awesome, but curious how one earns pride stickers…

    RE: the “white” Panthers helmet….

    MNF uses a LOT of digital glare on their graphics. At one point last night it looked like the Colts helmet logo was white on the top half, and blue on the bottom.

    Unnecessary for unnecessary’s sake.

    I’ve never had a hard cast for any injuries I’ve suffered, so it freaks me out a bit to see that saw they use to cut one off.

    It seems like it should have some sort of depth guide on it. That one in that photo doesn’t look like it has one. Not a safe one anyway!!

    My last break (a wrist) required three casts to remain tight as the swelling decreased with time, so I got a lot of experience with getting casts removed. I don’t think the cast saw can even break skin.

    DC United’s logo has always made me uneasy: lessee, what other logo, by an organization that used red and black as primary colors, used an eagle with wings spread like that?


    Nice post Paul, I’m one of those cranks that like those traditional uniforms. i.e. I want to see the Mets play in their pinstripe jerseys, not the blue batting jersey, etc….I could go on for hours.

    Paul, I think succeeded too well is spot on. Like the other examples you provided, unis are the same. If it is worth doing, it is worth OVER doing and it is overdone because it succeeded too well. It’s like tattoos even. They became too successful now you have another spin off business that’s quite successful in removing tattoos. Excellent piece of work there PL.

    Paul, on another subject entirely…steak. I saw where you pan seared steak the other day and finished in the oven. Same thing I do. Then I read that the opposite works better. Put the steak in the oven first, use a meat thermometer to pull it out at the desired temp level inside, then sear it last. I haven’t tried it but it did intrigue me. Something you might want to consider since you’re a good meat chef.

    Yup, that way works too.

    It’s in the 70s here in NYC today (or it will be shortly), so I’m grilling tonight! Not sure I’ve ever done that before in November….

    holy clown-balls. this is the first time i read the comments in 6 months, and it was after i posted, so pardon me please for my finger in your sphincter on a second thought, but are you people serious about giving the luKas shit on this? it was insightful, to the point, interesting, blah blah blar. i swear to the great cornmother in the sky that graces all of us with life, i purple curse you with the 888, that being the number of the true beast. you guys are like clown college sad and troll… southwest C A&T, judas friggin’ priest. is it like this every day?

    you just gloss it, you have to, i am sure you get it everyday. i guess it was relatively benign considering, but i stopped reading this end of things for a reason. i mean i drink water out of a faucet, not the toilet by choice, mostly. it was good wirting dickie dunn, very colour of the sweater against the blue ice.

    Yeah, I read thru them because of what you said in the CorC thread and I’m not seeing any of the PL-bashing you alluded to.

    Or has a certain Skipper sanitized things for our protection?

    Nothing has been sanitized/curated/edited/etc. today.

    Frankly, I think the discussion today has been pretty good. Not sure what got RPM’s goat.

    Thanks to Jared Wheeler for the ’47 discount code, which I used to pick up a couple of nice hats, one ordered via their “mystery” grab bag order system (UCLA powder blue showed up, not a bad draw!). Also had a good customer service experience, so thanks again.

    This reads as the first in a series of “I’m getting out of the business” posts, but maybe it’s just the think piece it’s intended to be. And a think piece I very much enjoyed.

    This hits close to home for me as I’m a college professor and my brother’s in the business of graphic design for college athletics. I hate when people use the phrase “more and more,” but I do feel that, more and more, all kinds of material objects (uniforms, classrooms, degrees, hell, schools) are becoming appropriated for use by the capitalistic machine. It’s hard to get worked up about outrageous college dorms when everything that is included in a college tour or tied to athletics is outrageous. Outrageous college dorms exist not because they improve students’ experiences( there’s no data on that) but because colleges have a very narrow window of opportunity to lock-in a student and his/her $$$$$$ and research shows that campus tour flash is effective (there’s data on that).

    Much of the issue here, be it uniforms or dorms, is our tendency is be mesmerized by the shiny (as Paul as said main times before). We’re so mesmerized by it that we are unwilling to go any further in depth. That shiny dorm might convince a student to go to a particular school without any thought given to if it’s the right school, seeing as that dorm is going to have so little consequence on the student’s education or experience. But it’s shiny, and snazzy, and operates very effectively in the buy-it-now marketplace.

    Once a college student or college athlete appears on campus, he or she is mostly forgotten. Time to recruit the next wave of consumers.

    Free college, well, that would change things.

    Here’s my take on today’s interesting topic:

    Sports uniforms are a culturally acceptable way for grown men to play dress-up. The transformation of Halloween to an adult event is another example. Dressing up is fun and meaningful, and has been part of many cultures for many purposes: religious, military, theatre, etc., of a way of explaining how that culture works.

    But dressing up for men, even in roles where such a thing is considered appropriate, is still considered unmanly. Because of this, I believe the ever-expanding availability of sports uniforms is filling a pent-up demand for ways for men to play dress-up in a culturally acceptable manner.

    I saw this a lot as a recreational goalie. When the new gear came out, everyone spent a lot of money on custom colour-matched gear, and playing goal became much more popular. At a certain point I realized we were all playing dress-up as much as we were playing goal.

    Interesting insight. I think there’s a lot of truth to this. Until near the end of the 18th Century, Western European men’s clothing tended to be quite colorful and gaudy. To the point that the dour blacks and browns of Protestant religious extremists like the Puritans were a bold statement of rejection of popular mores. That black-and-white Pilgrim costume? That was not a conservative suit; it was a radical one. (See also George Washington consciously donning plain brown suits as his “uniform” upon taking the presidency. This was the same man who showed up to the Continental Congress dressed, literally, in a home-made soldier costume as part of a scheme to get himself commissioned as an officer in the rebel army.)

    By the time of the Industrial Revolution, dark colors and monochrome suits had come to dominate men’s clothing across the West. Colorful accents – ties, vests, handkerchiefs, small bits of metal jewelry, walking canes – became the only socially permitted outlets for men to express individuality in their attire.

    Today, there’s no such standard of men-wear-everything-in-black. But there are also no real rules at all, except for a generalized notion that a man shouldn’t look like he cares what he looks like. Sports, broadly, sort of give permission for men to express themselves with their dress. It offers a veneer of utilitarian excuse for flashy attire. I’m not wearing this bright orange vest because I want to wear colorful clothes like some kid of girl; I’m wearing this bright orange vest because I’m going fishing, and it’s deer season, plus the vest has microtechnobabblewhatever to keep me warm/dry/able to perform my heroically physical hobby activity.

    Paul- Appreciated your post today very much. It’s very big-picture; suggestive of the distinction between art theory and art appreciation. Given the number of uniform developments the Uni Watcher has to deal with on an almost daily basis, it’s important to step back at times from good/bad, ugly/beautiful, and other more subjective judgments to consider just how things (in this case, uniforms) function in the whole schema.
    Now, just how many “alternates” does it take before the term “uniform” becomes obviated?

    Thanks for the kind words, dgray — appreciated.

    About this:

    Now, just how many “alternates” does it take before the term “uniform” becomes obviated?

    Just playing devil’s advocate here: As long as everyone on the team is wearing the same thing for a given game, then the term “uniform” is perfectly appropriate. They are all unified (and uni-fied) for that game. Even if they change to a completely different uniform for the next game, and another one for the game after that, ad absurdum, each design can still properly be called a uniform.

    I don’t think that state of affairs would be a good one, mind you. But it wouldn’t negate the term “uniform.”

    “The Canadiens will reveal their Winter Classic jerseys on Friday. “Based on intentionally poorly framed pictures, looks like a white crewneck with a red collar”

    The Bruins are going with a crew neck.

    Yes indeed they are. That’s been released already. The NHL isn’t above using eerily similar templates (see the Winter Classic at the Phillies ballpark), so I’m calling it as I think I see it.

    Paul, nice article today. Not to put too simple of a take on it, but hasn’t everyone read Dr. Seuss? The Sneeches story sums all of this up pretty clearly (again, with oversimplification).

    Regarding today’s topic, while I know there are people here who care a great deal about whether a team is wearing Wilson or Rawlings, I don’t, and I roll my eyes every time I see an item about some player/team/school switching brands. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember the days when it wasn’t the fans’ concern which supplier a team bought their equipment from. The current Browns uniforms would be ugly no matter who supplies them.

    Great lede today! Surprised it hasn’t been written sooner, honestly. I have had thoughts on the topic myself more and more the past couple years or so. The whole “if we keep giving it this much attention is it going to keep getting worse?” idea keeps worrying me. I would hate to have to admit that I had some small part in the decline of the uniform in sports.

    Then again, maybe that’s just what these big manufacturers want, to be able to say “We only did it because YOU wanted it!”… Diabolical, I say.

    Today’s article is tremendous and a real example of why I love coming to this site every day, bravo Mr. Lukas. From a personal standpoint, I think I’m one of the people you talk about at one point; I have no issues with teams having one alternate uniform/jersey and from a consumer standpoint I’ve been a jersey collector since my youth (Yankees and Patriots mainly, with a couple of Islanders jerseys thrown in. All the cheaper level replicas, but jerseys none the less). I’m a big cap collector as well, not fashion caps per say, but on-field/special occasion Yankees and Patriots caps. But all that being said, I think the today’s uniform landscape is absurd. The fact that the Mets wore 4 different jerseys in a five game World Series is crazy to me. I can’t even begin to talk about college sports, as I might have a rage blackout. Ironically the major American sport that I think is closest to getting things right when it comes to uniforms (though for completely wrong reasons) is the NFL. The 3 uni home/away/alt OR throwback model is what all all the major sports should have IMO. Of course they’re letting Nike screws that up with the color stuff for next year anyway. I do wonder if there will be crash at some point. Not one that kills the industry, but a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” moment where simplicity of design comes back into vogue.

    Very good read today Paul!

    I had never thought of the current uniform environment as the equivalent of fast food, but that’s a perfect correlation. We all realize how bad fast food is for us, yet we continue to eat it (some more than others). The same is true for uniforms in today’s world. I’m talking more about college football than anything else.

    I was recently thinking, what if the current trend in college football uniforms wasn’t a thing? What if teams weren’t allowed (or collectively decided) to change their uniforms. At first I thought “that’d be great”, but then I realized that it would almost be boring (not from the visual impact, rather the conversations and opinions we form). Part of the fun I have on Saturday’s is turning to different games to see what school A is wearing. That wouldn’t exist.

    You did a great job of drilling down to the “it failed because it was so successful” thought. One of your best pieces Paul!

    Tremendous bit of cultural criticism today. Thing is, the “it failed because it succeeded too well” is so universally true that it seems almost by definition to absolve the critic or observer from any responsibility for the eventual decadence of the art. Everything that succeeds carries within its success the seeds of its inevitable, eventual failure. Everything. This is true of literally everything human creation that has ever been, except for those things that are currently successful and thus have not yet failed. But they all will. Many of the things we take for granted today, in fact, will in time be seen to have already failed; we just haven’t noticed. Ask a Roman citizen in the fifth century what it was like living through the fall of the Roman Empire, and he would look at you with utter confusion. “What do you mean, ‘fall’ of the Empire?” he would ask. Even after the barbarian sacks, the Roman state seemed, at the time, to be succeeding quite well, thank you very much. By the same token, there’s a very good chance that in a thousand years, we will be seen by future historians to have been living after the fall of the American republic.

    Anyway, “failed because it succeeded too well” is a clever summary of the Niebuhrian tragic view of human nature. So today’s lede is yet another instance in which Paul’s cultural and aesthetic criticism is among the most profoundly conservative voices in the American media. Why do sports unis fail due to succeeding too well? Because they’ve become merchandise in a highly monetized capitalist sector, and capitalism always fails when it succeeds too well. Why does capitalism always fail by succeeding too well? Because capitalism is a human institution, and all human creations either fail because they fail or they fail because they succeed too well. All of them. Inevitably.

    I’ve come to realize that I hate so many uniforms. The market is saturated, and I’m losing interest.

    The problem is that you (and the teams, leagues, and outfitters) think of it as a “market” to begin with.

    Thirty years ago, none of this stuff was available for sale. It wasn’t a market; it was just part of the background culture of sports.

    That was much better for everyone.

    The uniform theory is solid, and I’m gonna take it to auto racing. I spend most of my time working on the driver suit blog, and half of that time is spend tracking and grading paint schemes. When I started following racing in 1990, the schemes never changed. Maybe some teams ran two different paint schemes, but for the most part, each team had one car design. Nowadays, teams run at least 5 or more paint schemes a year. While some of this has to do with sponsorship issues, the fact that almost all of the paint schemes are made into die-casts and sold to collectors, along with sheet metal, and driver uniforms makes it clear that merch money, or “cloth cash” which I think is a better term for this theory is the driving force behind it.

    Good stuff today. If, admittedly, a little depressing. I get so down every time I go into any store these days…so much garbage, so much detritus…it seems to extend into every aspect of everyday life. It’s a bummer.

    (as I was typing this, my wife showed me a photo of some “NHL Onesies” that the Hockey Sockey people are selling. Groan.)

    Great topic today. I wonder if most cases of “succeeding too well” amount to accomplishing goals (and continuing to accomplish them and then improve upon them) without consideration of consequences. Does succeeding too well come about as a result of, to paraphrase the great Dr. Ian Malcolm, being concerned only with whether or not we CAN do something, and not considering whether we SHOULD do something.

    Stipulate that a company goes into business with the intention to provide delicious food for their customers, perhaps not concerned with nutrition exactly, but not intending to provide unhealthy food in the process. They succeed, and continue iterating on that success until, with their focus purely on taste and not on consequence, they’ve filled the food with unhealthy additives and chemicals. Even assuming they didn’t go in with bad intentions, they focused on their goal and did not consider the consequences. Same applies to a company that builds cars or catches fish to put on your plate….they’re focused on their goal, not the consequence.

    Why is this? Why this blind disregard for consequences? Cynically, one can say that the food manufacturer, the car company, and the fish canner only care about profit and not about consequences. That’s a simplistic explanation – true in some cases, but certainly not all. I think this is because people usually dismiss future-thinking as pointless, as irrelevant in the context of the needs for the present day. Future-thinking that predicts bad consequences is often ignored on the grounds that anything that predicts the future is ultimately uncertain, and therefore is not something to base a here-and-now decision on. Any argument that predicts bad consequences is immediately banished as an slippery slope argument, even if it is based on logic, science, or even the position “this could have bad consequences, or it might not, but if the bad consequences do happen, they’ll be so bad that maybe we should re-consider”.

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