Football kits: from subculture to the fashion mainstream / by Justin Salhani

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Fans of the game wear football kits as fashion staples in a tradition that goes back years. But today, the subculture has infiltrated mainstream fashion.

No one has facilitated that infiltration more than musicians. Rappers in particular like Pusha T, Migos, Drake, and Tyler the Creator have done their part to make football kits a staple in street wear culture. Often times, a shirt will be donned not because they support a particular club but because it’s fresh.

“Football shirts are a hybrid of leisure and luxury...you can wear it with your jeans. The silhouettes just work,” Pusha T told COPA 90.

One of the most famous photos of a rap star repping football culture is Drake in the pink Juventus kit. Drake is one of the more prominent musicians to feature in various kits. He and Future wore Mexico National Team kits in the music video for the song ‘Used to This’. But he’s far from alone. Tyler the Creator recreated Juventus’ shirts for his brand GOLF WANG simply because of the aesthetic, while A$AP Ferg’s Trap Lord clothing line collaborated with adidas and Undefeated for a kit that fused the skateboarding and football aesthetics. Stateside, new club Atlanta United pulled hip hop heavyweight 2Chainz to unveil their latest kit.

Pushing further into the world of fashion, Kendall Jenner of Kardashian fame and supermodel Gigi Hadid have made notable appearances in football culture gear. Jenner was recently spotted in a retro Kappa Juventus jacket while Hadid rocked a PSG shirt while attending the Parc des Princes during Paris fashion week.

Football and streetwear have collided aggressively with many brands jumping on the bandwagon of football culture. One of the most prominent designers to do so is Gosha Rubchinsky who collaborated with football giant, adidas, to create multiple releases. In fact, adidas has been leading the collab game for years, teaming up with Alexander Wang, KITH, and skateboarding powerhouse Palace (who also has worked with Umbro) just to name a few. Nike has also gotten involved, notably collaborating with Dutch brand Patta and Virgil Abloh’s Off White. This is all evidence of the power of football culture and its influence over popular culture at large.

But before the current boom of football and fashion in the mainstream, there was the casual culture. Casual culture was a starting point for football fashion, thought it focused more on brands like Stone Island, CP Company and Lacoste, rather than football shirts themselves. This Casual culture has left a legacy on the football world from a fans point of view. Emerging in the seventies, this culture was a rebellion of the older generation’s stigma and provided a uniform for club’s fans to wear on the terraces.

While Casual culture was less appreciative of the gear worn on the pitch, a parallel subculture began growing around the kit. Fans, collectors, and even the layman began to appreciate a quality football shirt - merging design excellence with footballing quality on the pitch.

Take the 1986 Denmark Hummel kit for example. The 1986 Danish team, participating in their country's first ever World Cup, qualified top of their group with legends like Michael Laudrup and Jan Molby. While the team had some real icons, it’s hard to argue that they weren’t outshone by the fabulous kit they wore.

 Jan Molby in the legendary Denmark kit.

Jan Molby in the legendary Denmark kit.

 

Sometimes the kit the players are wearing becomes a nostalgic focal point. A football shirt is more than just a uniform for the players. It can recall powerful memories and emotions. But with the commercialization of the modern game, a lot of that iconic status seems harder to obtain at the top level.

This might help to explain why a cultural movement is brewing where football shirts are looked at as fashion pieces. Take the Fiorentina 1998/99 shirt. A classic Fiorentina purple shirt, with the iconic Nintendo sponsor and the bespoke collar. It helps that this was worn by some of the game’s best, including the on-pitch fashion icon; Manuel Rui Costa. This shirt, despite being released 20 years ago, has become a shirt more ubiquitously worn out for a drink than to Stadio Artemio Franchi or a kickabout.

Meanwhile, creative brands, like Guerrilla FC and NivelCrack have launched their own kits, in collaboration with established brands like Red Star FC, Vice, and Umbro. This is just another signal of how rapidly the culture is growing and evolving and new subcultures are emerging within this greater ecosystem.

Football, as a culture rather than a sport, is growing predominantly and providing a movement for creatives to convey their art on a more of a global scale. The subculture has infiltrated the mainstream. And football culture is only getting started.

Words Luke Taylor
Edits Justin Olivier Salhani