Pitch perfect: why vintage football shirts are a game-changer | Fashion
JMuch like fashion, football seasons are all about novelty. In addition to the players, rivalries and offers for the title, three new kits arrive each year for every Premier League club. But the boom in the vintage football shirt market means that could change. More and more fans are crossing the turnstiles on match day wearing old shirts.
They may have been lucky to find one at a local charity store, but most of them are wanted; some particularly sacred shirts are worth thousands of pounds and are presented as sacred objects. Online, the world of vintage soccer jerseys sees many young men (mostly young men) debating the intricacies of the different seasons, graphics, and even the sponsors that appear on the jerseys.
Cult kits include the 1993-95 Manchester City kit (worn by Liam Gallagher), the 1978 Coventry brown kit, the 1999 Manchester United three-time winner kit and the 1990 Arsenal bruised banana kit. The latter has a So big a reputation that Arsenal’s Away Kit for 2019/20 relaunched the model – the club even rolled it out with a campaign featuring Ian Wright, who starred in the original kit.
Gary Bierton, general manager of the Classic Football Shirts website, says it’s not just about aesthetics – the nostalgia is inspired by what happened on the pitch. âOverall, if it was an iconic moment or a triumph, then it will have a solid reputation,â he says. “So the Liverpool 1989/90 kit, the Holland ’88 kit, Arsenal ’05, worn last season at Highbury.” One of these Liverpool shirts is on the site for Â£ 349.99.
As well as feeling nostalgic for a particular season, fans are also moved by their club at a time – and also by their lives when they could have worn the kit for the first time. Michael Maxwell founded the Football Shirt Collective with a few friends in 2014, since when it has grown into a community where people can lyricize old kits. âWe realized it was a really moving thing,â he says. âWe wanted a place for the shirts and the stories behind the shirts. “
Of course, it’s not just about touching. The Football Shirt Collective has a Marketplace section on its site where shirts can be bought and sold. Maxwell compares the growing market to the Hypebeast scene for collectable sneakers, as seen on sites like Grailed and StockX (think a specialty eBay, with nicer graphic design). âAt first I thought the market for vintage soccer jerseys was a bubble, but if it follows the coaching cycle it will only grow,â says Maxwell. Andrew Groves, the curator of Invisible Men, a British men’s fashion exhibit that features vintage soccer jerseys, says it’s part of the collectible culture we’ve seen with sneakers, but is more specialized. âTracking down these really rare soccer jerseys takes a lot of work,â he says.
Indeed. People like Kendall Jenner and Drake have worn football gear, presumably for cosmetic reasons, with Juventus particularly favored. Stylist Steph Stevens – an Arsenal fan – brought a 1971 Gunners shirt to his shoots.
But, overall, the world of vintage soccer jerseys has an âif you know, you knowâ mentality at its heart. It’s a concept that makes a lot of sense in modern football culture, where the fan base (in the Premier League anyway) is increasingly housed in a corporate climate characterized by huge stadiums, endless sponsorship deals and tickets hovering at Â£ 50. Groves says the most popular shirts date back to the late ’80s and early’ 90s, when âfootball as a sport was less driven by huge sums of money. It sounds less cynical than the way soccer jerseys are marketed now. Wearing a vintage shirt to a game shows you’re not just there for a day – it means you know your stuff. Wearing one “shows you’re not a fan of plastic tourists,” says Maxwell.
Eighteen86, a website which describes its offering as “100% unofficial Arsenal merchandise” was created by fans Ed Fenwick and Max Giles in 2016. In addition to the T-shirts bearing images of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira in their youth, and familiar stickers around the Emirates Stadium, they went beyond the shirt market to sell vintage Arsenal merchandise – training gear, fan t-shirts and more. The uniqueness of these pieces is what makes them popular. âThis is the era of merch that we and most of our subscribers grew up with,â says Fenwick. “The only rule we have is that we don’t sell anything with the new patch on it – because we hate it and most of our subscribers too – or the kits themselves.”