Education

Style Guide

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As NFL players have become obsessed with minimizing the amount of cloth their opponents can grab onto, Uni Watch has noticed jersey sleeves getting shorter and shorter, particularly among linemen and linebackers. Sleeve space has gotten so compressed, in fact, that in 1997 the Packers reduced the number of stripes on their sleeves from five to three—they’d run out of room for the five-stripe design.

Although the NFL’s uniform code doesn’t address sleeve lengths, the league is notoriously picky about uniform standards, and actually requires each team to designate a “fashion police” staff member to enforce those standards at every game. Some of the rules are pretty basic—unlike collegiate players, for example, NFLers must tuck in their jerseys at the waist. But some of the league’s other strictures are, shall we say, a bit more esoteric:


  • Socks—or “stockings,” as the uniform code calls them—must be white from the ankle to “the midpoint of the lower leg,” and a team’s official colors from there to the knee. (This is clearly the league’s most widely flouted rule—just watch any game.)


  • A towel tucked into a player’s pants must be a “white NFL Properties-licensed towel” (an ordinary white towel just won’t do, apparently), and must be no larger than six-by-eight inches.


  • A quarterback can wear a sweatshirt of any sleeve length under his jersey, “as long as both sleeves are evenly trimmed and the edges are sewn and hemmed.” Sweatshirts worn by all other players, however, must extend “full-length to the wrist.”

    And so on. While these dictums may seem silly (don’t even ask about the “Improper Glove Color on Linemen” rule), they’ve resulted in an impressive degree of aesthetic consistency—football unis look very much like they did in the mid 1950s, and are virtually unchanged from the early 1970s. All of which brings us back to sleeve lengths: The game’s only visible design change in recent decades involves auxiliary uniform numbers, which once appeared universally on jersey sleeves but, in the shortened-sleeve era, have migrated up to the shoulder area for most teams. Uni Watch can only hope that those annoying Nike and Puma sleeve logos get squeezed off next.

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