The 90’s. Bill Clinton, AOL, the dotcom boom, grunge and alternative rock, etc., etc. They were great days to be alive. As a child of the 80’s growing up in the 90’s, I couldn’t help but look back at the previous decade and smirk at how much better our music was (90’s vs.80’s), our fashion was (90’s vs80’s) and our general everything-ness was . But in retrospect, there is something the 90’s got terribly, terribly wrong: pro sports uniforms.
Some statistics for you: in 1992, there were 103 teams spread between the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. Among all those uniforms, there were precisely 3 teams with purple on the jersey/logo, 3 teams with teal , 5 with silver, 2 with gold, and a whopping 8 teams using navy blue. Most teams used old fashioned colours such as blue, red, yellow, white and green. But that all changed starting with the 1992-93 seasons.
Between 1992 and 1998, an incredible 30 teams, over 29% of all franchises, made significant changes to their uniforms. In addition, there were 15 expansion franchises during that time period to go along with 3 franchise relocations/rebrandings, for a total of 48 brand new uniforms over 6 years. Note that the craze was much more prevalent in the NBA and NHL than the more conservative MLB or NFL.
And what did those teams do with their new unis? They gave a middle finger to the establishment, creating sophisticated, modern jerseys that would redefine the future of sports. 14 teams used navy, far edgier and more menacing than regular old blue. 13 teams brought in teal (or something like teal), 8 used gold, 9 used purple, and 11 used silver. Weird polygons or other shapes were added by 8 teams, and 7 gave themselves a futuristic look by adding red trim . Questionable anthropomorphic logos flowed like water.
It was a bold new era in uniform design, when the shackles of traditional colour schemes were thrown off. Having avoided and learned from the neon catastrophe of the 1980’s, sports teams in the 90’s were appealing to the erudite, modern sports fan.
How did that work out? Not well. Of the 30 teams that significantly changed their jerseys, 18 have since returned back to one of their original designs, or a very close approximation. A further 13 teams have changed their uniforms since, sometimes more than once. Only 17 of those mid-90’s uniforms remain, a success rate of just 35%.
But the statistics don’t do it justice. Let’s take a quick look at some of the more notable jersastrophes. First, some honourable mentions that got in early or didn’t qualify for the major update criteria:
Let’s face it; the Hornets were 1990’s visionaries. Before the decade began, they already hadnice teal jerseys with sharp looking pinstripes with purple thrown in for good measure. However, not content to rest on their laurels as other franchises caught up, the Hornets upped the purple content as 90’s wore on. This wasn’t enough to qualify as a major change, butthey sure looked nice. The pinstripes and purple disappeared with the move to New Orleans, though the pinstripes did reappear for the 2008/09 season.
San Jose Sharks
A 1991 expansion franchise, the Sharks were early pioneers in the decade’steal craze. Then, in 1998/99 they switched from a somewhat classic hockey sweater design to acrazy striped circular thing (which I think my memory blocked out completely), which amazingly lasted until 2007/08 when the team restyled the jersey. Unlike many of their 1990’s peers, they are still rocking the teal.
Now, the most notable 90’s jersey changes, by league.
More notable for what was left behind than what came after; in 1993/94, the Nuggets retiredtheir classic 80’s rainbow jerseys for simplenavy/yellow/copper jerseys with red highlights, foregoing substantial Pride Week jersey sales over the coming decades. The new jerseys were retired in 2003/04 in favour of alight blue jersey that more closely resembles theoriginal Nuggets jersey.
In what will become a familiar trend (see 76ers, Philadelphia; Wizards, Washington; Capitals, Washington), in 1995/96 the Pistons retired theirclassic red/white/blue jerseys andbasketball logo for ateal and gold jersey with a flaming horse logo. This lasted for 6 years; the old colourswere reintroduced in 2001/02 and an update of the old logo replaced the horse in 2005/06.
In 1995/96, the Rockets switched from their traditionalred/yellow/white to a red/navy combo (including pinstripes), with anobnoxious anthropomorphic rocket logo. Eight years later, they changed again to today’s simple red and white unis.
An expansion franchise launched in 1995/96, the Grizz team colours wereteal and red, with aloveable angry cartoon bear for a logo. The logo and colour scheme (amazingly) survived the initial move to Memphis, but were replaced by a more modern bear logo and simple blue/blue colour scheme in 2004/05.
Another expansion franchise debuting in 1995/96, the Raps started with a purple/black/red colour scheme that included both pinstripes and a ferocious basketball playing raptor  featured prominently on the jersey. The pinstripes and raptor disappeared for the 1999/2000 season, and purple disappeared before the 2006/07 season, leaving aremarkably uninteresting jersey.
In 1996/97, the Jazz changed from their traditionalpurple/green/yellow with the music note logo tothis crazy thing. Unsurprisingly, mountains make great background for scenery, landscape paintings, andJames Bond chase scenes, but not basketball jerseys. The jerseys were abandoned in 2004/05; by 2010/11 the original logo was back, with fairly similar jerseys/colour scheme to original.
Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks
In one of the best examples of corporate branding meeting sport, Disney introduced the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993/94, withteal, purple (officially aubergine, or eggplant, but really its purple) and white jerseys. These jerseys lasted until Disney sold the franchise in 2005, and the team was renamed the Anaheim Ducks with new black, orange and gold jerseys.
The team had classicblue/gold/yellow jerseys up until the 1996/97 season, when the colours were changed toblack/silver/red, with a more aggressive buffalo logo. The colour scheme lasted until the 2006/07 season, when the basic original colours were re-introduced along with the much reviled “Buffa-slug” logo. The jerseys and logo were basically brought back to the original for the 2010/11 season.
New York Islanders
This jersocide was a stone-cold classic in terms of shear ugliness, 90’s-ness, and merciful brevity. In 1995/96, the Isles dispensed with their classic blue/orange logo and jersey combo, introducingteal highlights with a wave pattern on the jersey, and thesea-captain from The Simpsons as their logo. The poor cap’n lasted two seasons before being dumped overboard, and the teal lasted just one more year before the old uniform and logo were brought back, albeit in a darker shade blue.
A classic 90’s debut, the expansion Diamondbacks jerseys featured teal, purple and pinstripes. This arrangement lasted until 2007, when the pinstripes disappeared and the colours changed to red/black/yellow. The home jerseys now say‘D’Backs’, which is so close to ‘D’bags’ you can taste it.
A 1993 expansion franchise. Since purple was already claimed by their expansion brethren the Colorado Rockies, the Marlins took the other ‘en vogue’ 90’s colour (teal) with pinstripesto match. Then, in 2012, thishappened.
Tampa Bay Rays
The expansion Devil Rays debuted in 1998 with a classic, if short-lived, jersey that had incredible multi-coloured writing in the logo. The multiple colours, unsurprisingly, included purple and teal. The rainbow in Florida lasted three seasons, and the Devil disappeared in 2008, leaving a much more boring franchise.
Unsurprisingly, the No Fun League was generally not swept up by the uniform change craze. In fact, all the new uniforms that debuted in the 90’s in the NFL are still with us, for good or for ill.
Officially an expansion franchise, though in reality the transported Cleveland Browns, the Ravens debuted in 1996 withpurple and black uniforms.
A 1995 expansion team, they were introduced with ateal/black/gold colour scheme. This one is a prime candidate for reinvention.
New England Patriots
To summarize, the 90’s were awesome for myriad reasons: Tim Allen, JTT (really the whole Home Improvement scene), Saved By The Bell, anything made by Starter, LA Gear, and colour changing t-shirts, to name just a few. However, when it comes to uniforms, the 90’s were a colossal cluster-cuss. What really stands out is the number of teams that desperately tried to appeal to the modern 90’s crowd (mostly through purple and teal) only to quickly realize the err of their ways one to ten years later and revert back to the original jerseys. Awesome! We can only hope that future uniform modernization trends are as spectacularly ill-advised.