No sport has produced as decorated and nostalgic a uniform as baseball.
Today’s major league baseball uniforms look nothing like the New York Knickerbockers first blue wool “pantaloons” (baggy full-length trousers), white flannel shirts and straw hats.
Essentially, every article of the baseball uniform, from caps to shoes, has evolved through the years. Here are some highlights of changes that have taken place. (See Louisville Slugger Debuts New Logo.)
Early 20th Century uniforms were not particularly comfortable. Made of either 100% wool flannel or a wool/cotton blend, they were heavy and difficult to wear, especially in summer heat and humidity.
After the Second World War, the fabric changed due to the introduction of synthetic fibers. Lighter than their predecessors, uniforms tended be made from a blend of wool and acrylic flannel.
In the 1970s, double knit fabric was introduced. Still used today, the material is lighter, cooler and more durable.
Traditionally, most home uniforms were white and visiting teams wore gray, blue or black.
Over the years, there have been a few notable exceptions. In 1912, several teams started using wide pinstripes. The 1963 Kansas City Athletics adopted a gold and green combination. And briefly during the 1970s, light blue road uniforms became common. Recently, teams have adopted alternative third jerseys in a rainbow of colors.
Introduced for function, the baseball cap was designed to block the sun. The first hats were made of straw. Several cap styles have emerged since that 19th Century style.
The “pillbox” or “Chicago” style cap had horizontal stripes like a layer cake. The “Brooklyn” cap had a higher, fuller rounded crown. The “Boston” style was similar to modern caps, with a rounded close-fitting crown. Today’s baseball caps have slightly fuller crowns and larger sun visors.
Teams have based their names on sock colors. Prime examples are the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings.
In the early 1900s, stirrup socks were popular. Over time, it became more fashionable to lower the pant legs until the socks were hardly visible. However, recently there’s been a resurgence in higher pant legs and visible socks by some players.
Early baseball players wore simple black leather shoes. In the 1960s, the Kansas City Athletics bucked the trend by becoming the first team to wear white shoes. Since then shoes have been worn in multiple colors.
Removable cleats were used until they were banned by the MLB (in 1976). Modern footwear uses plates attached to soles under the toe and heels.
Numbers appeared on the backs of jerseys only sporadically until 1929, when the New York Yankees decided to use large numbers on the backs of the players’ jerseys.
At first, the player’s team number reflected his position in the batting line-up. By 1932, all major league teams had numbers.
The 1952, Brooklyn Dodgers introduced numbers on the front of their home uniforms, a pattern soon copied by the rest of the league. By the 60’s and 70’s, numbers were appearing on players’ sleeves and pants as well.
The Chicago White Sox first started to put names on the backs of players’ uniforms in 1960. Use of names was slower to be adopted by the rest of baseball, but eventually it became almost universal.
The main exception is the New York Yankees. Even today, Yankee players are identified only by their numbers.
Want more baseball stuff? See STACK’s Baseball Product Guide Presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods.