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Alt Uniforms


BallWonk

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I find that I usually hate alt uniforms. I used to think this was based on principle -- a truly distinctive set of home and road uniforms doesn't need an alt, so any uniform set that is improved by adding an alt is likely a poor uniform set to begin with. But as I've thought more about it, I realize that my dislike for most alternate uniforms isn't based on any general principle of design. It's just that most alt uniforms aren't any good.

So I've been thinking about what differentiates the very few alternate uniforms that I don't hate from the vast majority that I do.

1. Subtlety. The Cardinals, for example, are wearing their alts right now and I love them. You can't improve on the Cardinals home jersey, and so the Cards wisely don't try. Instead they wear a fun cardinal on their cap instead of the normal StL cap. This works on several levels: First, it doesn't disrupt the look of their already just about perfect uniforms. Even in terms of color, the big red shock of color on the cap logo and bill prevents the blue caps from looking out of place. Second, it's a nice reference to a classic old Cardinals cap with the bird. Third, it gives the many Cardinals fans who don't live in or come from St. Louis a choice of on-field cap that represents the team rather than the city. I think this may be my favorite alt uniform ever, but the principle here is the subtlety: Changing only a single element to make a major, positive impact.

2. Throwback. Do I despise the old ball-in-glove-days Brewers uniforms? Yes. But I also know that "I don't think it's pretty" is a weak design criticism, and in fact I really like the way the Brewers use their old uniform as an alternate. The 2006 White Sox also showed how turn-back-the-clock can be the basis of an alternate uniform that adds tremendous character to a team's look. If only the Brewers would drop their navy alt shirts and make the throwbacks their sole alternate uniform element.

3. Real variety. The worst alternates are those that are just the regular uniform with different colors. It's lazy in a way that insults the fans. But take the old Minnesota Wild third jersey. Yeah, it was a thinly veiled attempt to shoehorn a red jersey into the scheme. Yet the distinctive retro look and alternate logo made it more of a complementary alt than a plain recoloring. I've never been a fan of using the red as a dominant color for the Wild, but nonetheless the alt jersey works well with the overall team look.

So, for example, I don't much care for the Nats red alternate uniform. It's just a red shirt with the normal striping and the DC logo on the chest. But if the Nats were to adopt an alt uniform in the style of the Homestead Grays, with "NATS" on the front instead of "GRAYS", I'd love that. Or if they adopted a Sunday pinstripe uniform with a navy curly-W on the left breast, a sort of updating of the longtime classic Nationals/Senators uniforms of days of yore. Or even just wearing the DC cap on Sundays with the regular uniform.

And I think that my three criteria here are principles of a sort, in that I find that I regard as successful some alt uniforms I would never choose for the team to wear -- Milwaukee's throwback alts -- and I absolutely hate some alt uniforms that I actually think are attractive -- Minnesota's navy blues, which I think are attractive jerseys but that come very close to ruining the Twins uniform set.

Makes me curious: What are the standards by which others judge alt uniforms, and what are some examples of alt uniforms people regard as good design or bad design. And does anyone else have examples of alt uniforms they don't like on an "is it pretty?" level but do regard as successful alts (or vice-versa)?

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This is a good question to bring up and I ask myself this as well. It's odd, because in baseball and football, alt uniforms are usually just color changes. I'm not really a huge fan of this, unless it brings something aesthetically. But for the most part, I think every red jersey in baseball (Red Sox, Angels, Nats, Pirates, etc) is hideously bright. And navy blue jerseys are all too common. So I don't really like baseball alts in general (though I do appreciate the throwbacks). Football is the same thing. I HATE the red Giants jerseys, and the orange Bears jersey, and the orange Dolphins. I just don't see a need for alts in football, but I know it's all for marketing $$.

The other two sports do alts better (but sometimes hideously worse). I have to admit, the Wizards gold/black jerseys are either completely hideous or plain fantastic. It's really one or the other. You get a good amount of variety in basketball, like the Mavs, Kings, Nuggets, etc. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Same with hockey. I love the Rangers alts, and the Wild alts, but really, do the Islanders need an orange jersey?

I think any time a team wants to wear throwbacks, I'm for it. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.

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I think that having read your post and given some critical thought, I think I prefer alts that focus on a part of the team's idenitiy that the regular homes and roads either can't or don't.

To use the Brewers example... since their regular unis emphasize "Brewers" over "Milwaukee," then in theory, the alts should either emphasize "Milwaukee" or another part of their something else about their identity such as the historical route their current alts take. Another example would be if the A's introduced a button down version of their kelly green or yellow jerseys.

Although I really wish the Brewers would've at least stayed with their previous jerseys (the ones with the germanic lettering) for more than 5 damn seasons before they swtiched to the current "we're sponsored by Miller" monstrosities. Had they done that, the current arrangement with the retro Firday alts would be perfect, IMO.

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i generally like alternate uniforms as an alternate to the same home and away. I like them especially in baseball because it breaks up the league wide monochromatic white/gray schemes that all 30 teams have. It also makes it easier for me to see if i'm interested in a game. My vision isn't that great and alot of times watching white home and gray away makes it very difficult for me. Where as teams wearing white and colored alts makes the games much easier for me to watch.

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3. Real variety. The worst alternates are those that are just the regular uniform with different colors. It's lazy in a way that insults the fans.

Completely agreed with you here, especially in hockey. When the first wave of NHL alts came out around 10 years ago, I loved the Rangers alts (even though I hate the team), and I even liked what the Bruins were going for with the Pooh Bear (don't start).. but the teams that just said "duh.. lets make our jerseys black", i.e., the Sharks, Flyers, and Blackhawks.. just terrible.

That said, it varies by sport. In hockey, its not hard to have an alt that is truly different. But in football, I don't think you can really do much more than have a third color (throwbacks aside).

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I like a variety of alts for various reasons.

A throwback can be effective for some teams, such as the Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks or Montreal Canadiens and the Minnesota Wild. Boston, Vancouver and Montreal becuase they actually used to wear them and Minnesota's because it's a tribute to the long history of hockey in the state despite the fact the team hasn't actually been around that long.

I also like the Blackhawks since it's just making a secondary color the primary. It's just a color swap with their home and away (I know the red home stripes are different). Simple and effective. Same goes for the LA Kings, but to a lesser degree since I'm not a huge fan of the home and away to begin with, but the three work together for what they are.

Most of the time when a team does something completely off the wall when compared to their home and away I usually don't like it much at all. Edmonton, Islanders, Flyers, Predators, Thrashers light blue all make me shake my head in disbelief, but then again the New York Rangers, black Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators are all really nice on their own and I like them.

In baseball, I like a dark colored version of the home or away as long as it's not red. For some reason the red alts in baseball all really just somehow manage to suck royally. Vests are a mixed bag. Some can be cool, but just don't do like the Twins and cut the sleeves off your home jersey. Do something to make it unique.

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My only concern with alternates is some examples of being clumsy with their team identity, from large issues like the Ottawa Senators (3 jerseys, 3 designs) or small like the Toronto Blue Jays (The lack of an extra white outline on the script to match the hat outline)

I don't think it's a matter of mixing the colours around, but it is a matter of being clumsy with it.

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Baseball alts can get out of hand (Cubs blue -- thankfully gone now, Mets/Marlins black also come to mind) if left to the pitcher to decide or some other random choice, so I like it when they're scheduled, like I read the Diamondbacks are doing this year for all their new jerseys, but also for the Sunday Braves' red, the Cards' cap, or the Friday Brewers alts, etc.

I also like what the White Sox have done in the past (haven't noticed if they are doing it this year), sticking with what works. Wear a jersey until you lose in it. I'd have never complained about seeing the Cubs blue all season at home if they had an 81-game win streak.

Each baseball team should be limited to one alt for home, one on the road max, and I think even that is pushing it. Basketball and hockey seem to regulate their alts OK so that they don't dominate.

For football, I don't really see the need for alts, but I liked the concept of a Thanksgiving week throwback that they did for a couple years.

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Sometimes in hockey, a recoloration works just fine because the design is already good. But for others, the different design is okay with me because it's supposed to be an alternate way of representing the team.

And regarding the Flyers orange alts, I hated them at first, but they've grown on me. I can live with the weird logo and the striping. And the fact that they're orange is a huge plus.

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I'll be the first, and probably only one to say it: I don't like alts--at all.

Sell all of the mash ups and re-colorizations and whatever else is the flavor of the day, but limit your on-field identity to your established home and away uniform.

Sure, once in a blue moon trot out your throwback for a day of celebrating the team's history. But make it an event, make it special. This throwbacks-on-Friday-nights business is just weird to me, a ploy.

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Here's my .02.

I like alts, but I sorta like them opposite the way people are replying to this post.

For instance in hockey...I think the Blackhawks do a great job. They have a white, red, and black version of the same sweater. It's consistent. I think it's dumb to have a different jersey (Wild) than the home/roads or to move the shoulder patch to the chest and vice versa.

In football, this is a bit harder since you have to match helmet color, but I like reversal of colors (Broncos).

I absolutely hate the throwback trend. It is beyond played out. If you have a throwback night to honor a player or championship, that's fine, but if you like your throwback unis so much (Sabres/Brewers) then just go back to them full time or come out with a modern update of them like the Jets did.

The problem with alts are when they become more used than the primary. I'm not sure if people even know that the Marlins have a gray road jersey or (prior to this year) the Cubs had grey too. There are also very few NBA teams wearing their roads this post-season. I'm not sure (since the redesign) if Cleveland ever wore the wine colored roads in the playoffs.

Alts can be good if designed well and used in moderation. (I don't even think I need to mention people adding an alt of NOT a team color ahem Miami Hurricane's black stuff).

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Yeah, I admit it, I am a bit stuck in the past and prefer white vs. grey for the most part in baseball. I very much disagree with the cards alt cap assessment. I just cannot look at the alt cap with the home uniform. It very much disrupts it.

I agree 100% with your statement that just recoloring an existing jersey is not a good way to make an alt. (I'll go with my home teams) The Twins have two alt jerseys that do just that and they don't really add anything. The T-Wolves alt is absolutely horrible and uninspried. A black version of a the jersey. Woo Hoo! I hated the Wild alt, but yeah, at least it was different.

Here are my thoughts...

1. An alternate should be just that, alternate. Teams should wear them, at most, 10% of the time. 16 games in baseball and 8 in hockey/basketball. There is no need in football, except maybe a throwback for anniversary seasons every few years. Some teams wear alts more than primaries.

2. Baseball teams should have only one alt.

3. Alts should add something to the identity aside from a recolorization. If the twins, for example, had one with a "TC" on the chest, it would at least be different.

4. Alts should not divert from the team's primary color scheme. See Edmonton Oilers.

5. In baseball, if the home team wears an alt, the road team should not do so (I have been to a blue vs. blue Padres/Brewers game and it was horrible).

Although I really wish the Brewers would've at least stayed with their previous jerseys (the ones with the germanic lettering) for more than 5 damn seasons before they swtiched to the current "we're sponsored by Miller" monstrosities.

I am glad to see a Brewer fan agree with me on this. Most people here like the current set and then they battle about the ball in glove. But the set in between was great (once they changed the cap from "MB" to "M"). Great, classic-yet-modern uniforms. They should have kept them.

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Technically speaking, just changing the cap can be considered an alternate baseball uniform. However, I never really considered the Cardinals as having "alternates," since they still only have white and gray uniform tops.

Similarly, the Phillies either do or don't have an alternate uniform, since the team only has an alternate interleague cap.

The list of MLB teams with only two uniform tops is short.

Yankees

Tigers

Dodgers

Giants (black alternates ditched)

Cardinals

Phillies

Cubs (provided the blues have been officially jettisoned)

The list of MLB teams with only two uniform tops AND just one official cap is even shorter.

Yankees

Dodgers

Giants

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Although I really wish the Brewers would've at least stayed with their previous jerseys (the ones with the germanic lettering) for more than 5 damn seasons before they swtiched to the current "we're sponsored by Miller" monstrosities.

I am glad to see a Brewer fan agree with me on this. Most people here like the current set and then they battle about the ball in glove. But the set in between was great (once they changed the cap from "MB" to "M"). Great, classic-yet-modern uniforms. They should have kept them.

At the time, I never liked the turn-of-the-century Brewers uniforms. I still think both caps -- the MB or the M -- were pretty poor. And I absolutely love the current Brewers uniforms. But the more time passes, the more I like the color scheme and scripts of the turn-of-the-century Brewers uniforms. I actually worked up my own near-copy alphabet of that Brewers script set, and it really made me appreciate what a great bit of script that was. It even has a sort of structural brick-and-iron feel to it, like exposed I-beams, that reminds me of Miller Park. The M is easily modified into something with the rough proportions of the original Milwaukee Braves block M, which looks terrific.

I used to rate the turn-of-the-century Brewers uniforms right behind the Disney-era Angels as the second-worst worst failure of 1990s baseball redesign, but now I think of those Milwaukee uniforms as a near-miss at uniform greatness.

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While I obviously don't like all alternates equally, I love the idea of having alternate uniforms. It really breaks up the monotony of seeing the same uniform every single game. The simple re-colorization are, in general, boring. However, I think some work fine (Blackhawks, Carolina Panthers, Heat). I prefer when a team sticks with the general color scheme, yet adds new striping and/or a new logo or script. It has to look like it belongs in the set, but it doesn't have to look obvious.

I think one of the best came out when a team that had too much tradition to really get away with a full-blown redesign made an alternate that has a more modern feel - the Rangers' navy sweater. I wish my Red Wings would do something like that.

I don't really like when a team makes an alternate just to have an alternate, and they barely even bother to differenciate from their normal set. Like the Celtics green jerseys with black numbers - that's just stupid. What to they have, three green jerseys? And the Avalanche's third looks pretty much just like their normal purple one to me. On a lesser level, I have the same problem with the Leafs' and Bruins' thirds. They get away with it because of the vintage thing, but it's still unnecessary.

Finally, I like alternates because it gives fans who may not like their team's normal primary color as much another shot. For example, I like black more than blue, so I don't mind the Lions' black shirts at all.

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The problem with alts are when they become more used than the primary. I'm not sure if people even know that the Marlins have a gray road jersey or (prior to this year) the Cubs had grey too. There are also very few NBA teams wearing their roads this post-season. I'm not sure (since the redesign) if Cleveland ever wore the wine colored roads in the playoffs.

Part of it, at least for the major leagues, may be the fact that no one has the Cool Base jerseys in road gray yet, but everyone has them in alternate colors. As far as I know, the players like those uniforms better than the traditional double-knits, and may be looking to wear them whenever possible.

Speaking in a traditional case of baseball, in college baseball, teams wear alternates on the road, because they don't want to wear the previous days' road gray unis, since it's a hassle to wash them. No problem with alt baseball unis on the road, but teams should wear home whites every chance they get at home.

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alts...this is something that hits close to home, because three of my absolute favorite teams (the Blazers, the Ducks and Arsenal) all have slightly different things going on representing the vast world of alternate unis.

the Blazers have a historical color-switch that at first seems a bit bland (home uni with red instead of white, and a white stripe instead of red) but keeps the team's iconic look (sash and stripes down the side of the shorts) AND brings in the old color used for the away uniforms into the set. Slightly bland? yes, but it brings tradition in while keeping the current set look.

the Ducks are something altogether different: palate swaps a-go-go, with tops and pants interchangeable. the colors are alright (arguable, but roll with me) but the interchangeability AND the addition of black for a team that hasn't traditionally used black is all that's wrong with football uniforms. add in the diamond plate to all the unis and we have a train wreck.

now, Arsenal in English soccer are different entirely again because they are more a true first and second-uniform sort of scenario. They use their homes on the road when it's not a clash, so their other uniforms must not only clash but also clash against other teams' homes, and doing a design for that can be tricky. In the recent past they've used yellow and blue to contrast with their red and blue, and some people have found luck in each kit - yellow shirts meaning we win, blue shirts meaning we lose. Now they want to switch possibly back to a white and red away, which A. might not clash enough with others and B. looks just like the uniforms of one of our biggest rivals.

The interesting thing here is that the alternate uniform - which changes regularly and also is *truly* an alternate in the truest sense of the word - rises such emotion from the fan base.

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in more general terms, I only have a few rules for alternates: 1. they bring in a different color that isn't normally used, 2. they look like they belong in the uniform set with the home and away, 3. they're not bad so long as they don't suck. If they don't suck and are fairly true to the uniform set, they're fine with me in moderation.

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