Everywhere you look, it’s World Cup mania and it has been since June 14. Rabid fans dress up, get painted up, and offer up some of sports’ greatest…and worst…fashion moments. It’s estimated nearly 3.5 billion people will watch grown men kick a black-and-white ball around for 90 minutes and hope their national team is the ultimate champion of the world’s ultimate sporting event held every four years. Russia is hosting this year’s event, marking the first time it’s held in Eastern Europe. The final is slated for July 15 in Moscow’s Luzhiniki Stadium, sure to be filled with 80,000 screaming fans. Only four teams remain and have a chance to claim the coveted title-France, Belgium, England, and Croatia-but unlike a Super Bowl or NBA champion calling themselves “World Champs,” World Cup winners are truly champs of the world. That’s about all I know.
So, what’s a girl to do who loves sports but doesn’t love the current sport of the moment? Resort to something else she loves and knows: fashion! I recently read an article on World Cup team jerseys and thought, “now there’s a soccer story I can relate to!”
But first, some World Cup background. Consider the following a sort of “World Cup for Dummies.” Then we’ll take a look at World Cup style.
I don’t know a lot about soccer (or football as it is called everywhere but in the U.S.) but I do know Germany won 2014’s World Cup with a 1-0 nail biter over Argentina. The Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, was founded in 1904, governs the sport, and oversees the World Cup. Qualifying rounds involve more than 200 teams worldwide, with the final 32 national teams, including 31 determined through qualifying competitions and the automatically qualified host team, playing for all the marbles. During the month-long tourney, 64 matches are played in 11 cities and there were some qualifying surprises. It’s also a surprise to not have one Central or South American team in the semifinals.
Lots of “firsts” happened this year, including Iceland and Panama qualifying for the first time since the World Cup began in 1930. And, for the first time since 1938, Germany (you know, the defending champs) didn’t advance past the first round and no African team passed to the second round for the first time since 1982. At least they qualified though, which was not the case for four-time champion Italy (the first time since 1958,) or for Cup stalwarts the Netherlands, Chile, New Zealand, Cameroon, and yes, the United States; marking the first time since 1986 that Uncle Sam didn’t send a team to the World Cup.
To say soccer is huge across the world is putting it mildly. Like crazy huge. But in the U.S., it’s still waiting to be “that” sport, lagging behind our beloved NFL, NBA, MLB, and other competitors. I’ve thought for the longest time, considering how many young kids play on soccer leagues in the U.S., that it would take off but it just hasn’t. Experts say the U.S. has so many other options for kids and that soccer’s global attraction is partly because anyone anywhere can play it with only one piece of equipment: a ball. I’ll never forget seeing a group of young French boys while riding the train from Reims to Paris last month who were playing soccer on a basketball court complete with two hoops. Bingo I thought. There’s the proof. Even though they could have used that one ball to play hoops, they chose soccer. It’s in their blood. And now I can’t imagine how excited those little boys are that their country is in the “final four” of the World Cup.
That being said, a soccer fan I am not. To me, the matches are too long and too boring. Sit for hours to watch your team lose 1-0 is not what I call an exciting afternoon. And the constant drones and chants coming from the crowd hurt my head and make me crazy. Enough already. I guess that’s what you resort to though when there’s not a whole lot to cheer about on the field. And what’s up with the clock? It seems to go backwards and there’s always that random and somewhat mysterious amount of time at what seems like the end of the match. The game clock winds down, match appears to be over, and yet players play on, game goes on, and then suddenly, it’s over. Just like that. Done. You win. I don’t understand it and I don’t understand much of the game other than like hockey, the goal is to score a goal in the net. About all I know is soccer players usually have great legs, Mexico lost but advanced thanks to South Korea, and Spain was eliminated during a somewhat controversial shoot-out against host country Russia. Maybe they need to call Robert Mueller.
But enough of that, let’s talk fashion. World Cup fashion.
What better way to start a fashion discussion than to consider accessories. At the World Cup, the best accessory is the trophy, which is truly a gem.
Designed by Italian artist Silvio Gazzaniga, the 13 pound beauty is made of 18 karat gold and has a stunning malachite base. The design is two human figures holding up the Earth and on the bottom is a plate engraved with the names of all previous winning countries. Since 1974, six nations have won the trophy and by 2038, there won’t be any more room for new engravings. FIFA requires that every World Cup winner receive a gold-plated replica of the trophy. Gold and malachite. What’s not to love?
As for the actual jerseys, the article I mentioned above that caught my eye was by Susan L. Sokolowski of “The Conversation.” Ms. Sokolowski not only writes for various publications and news services, she is also Director & Associate Professor of Sports Product Design at the University of Oregon and spent 20 years working for a major sports manufacturer. When it comes to team jerseys, she knows of what she writes.
First of all she notes that there are many FIFA guidelines teams and designers must adhere to. For instance, all jerseys are required to have sleeves and the sleeves must be free of logos except for event badges. In addition, unless a jersey is striped or checkered, it can’t have more than four colors and all jerseys should avoid looking even the slightest bit like a referee’s or risk being banned.
As for logos and patches, there are strict guidelines for them too. I’m looking at your PGA: please pay attention! Your players are beginning to look like NASCAR drivers and it’s not a good look. FIFA is precise and stern on the size and placement of logos, including the manufacturer’s, as well as players’ names and numbers. You won’t see any UPS or UniQlo logos on these players. Golf clap please.
From there, it’s on to functionality, after all they are athletic wear first and foremost. Teams will labor over cut, fit, fabric, and ventilation of a shirt as well as comfort and fluidity of shorts. Socks must stay up but not be too tight and they of course need to coordinate with the rest of the uniform.
Once rules are followed, it’s up to the manufacturer, its designers, and each country’s national soccer federation to agree on a design. Some countries like Argentina rarely stray from their traditional and practically trademarked blue and white stripe while Brazil customarily wears yellow and green but this year went another route…and went right out of the tourney. Others take more risk and hope to stand out doing so. Case in point this year: Nigeria.
The country’s unconventional and striking lime green shirts with black-and-white sleeves of jagged stripes are hands-down the most popular of this year’s Cup and sold out within hours. The Nike-designed shirts are a hit even if the team is no longer in the tourney, proving a clever design is sometimes all it takes to be a winner.
And speaking of winners, other than Nigeria, here are my winners for “Best Dressed” 2018 World Cup teams:
Spain. If the U.S. isn’t playing I’m rooting for Spain and I rooted for these red with with bands of yellow and navy diamonds running down one side. Ole, ole, ole, ole!
Iceland. They qualified for the first time ever and these cobalt blues with a vertical off-center red-and-white banner stripe qualify for “best dressed.”
Germany. Although the defending champs didn’t make it past the first round, a round of applause please for these slick white jerseys with embellished with a black and gray graphic print of different sized stripes. The jerseys also boast four stars for the country’s four World Cup titles and are a throwback to the ones the team wore in 1990 when they won the Cup.
Belgium. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that the argyle-patterned red jerseys of the somewhat surprising semifinalist team from Belgium make my list of best dressed. I die for argyle.
Croatia. I love me a check, plaid, and even checkerboard and I love these jerseys. They’ve been known to rock a red check too and not only did the team send Venezuela and star Lionel Messi home, they also beat fellow best-dressed Iceland and Nigeria as well as home Russia. Check mate!
With Belgium and Croatia still in the hunt, I can’t wait to see what they come out with for their next matches. Who gets your best dressed?