I never thought I would be writing about fashion when I started working with an MLS club, but here we are... Soccer kit culture has taken the world by storm even within circles of people who aren’t fans of the sport.
The quick version of why that is? They are simply more fashionable. Now, that’s a pretty bold and broad take, but let’s look at it objectively.
What the heck is a kit?
That’s the typical reaction I get when talking to people who don’t follow soccer. It’s a perfectly natural response as Americans since it’s a word that is never used in American sports... or really, just in general.
However, when it comes to soccer, it’s a word you’re going to hear all the time, so you best get familiar with it.
The kit is the whole uniform a soccer team wears from the jersey to the shorts down to the socks.
But, ironically, the term “kit” is technically misused in most soccer circles. Really, the common usage of the word is the equivalent of the word “jersey” in American sports. I’ll use these words interchangeably throughout because saying only “kit” will get repetitive.
You’ll hear a soccer fan saying, “That’s a sick kit!” which just refers to a team's top and not necessarily the entire uniform.
The different terminology doesn’t stop there though... Instead of “home” and “away” kits, it is “primary” and “secondary” kits. When a soccer team plays, they usually play with their primary kit unless it clashes with the opposing side while playing away.
A leaguewide manufacturer for jerseys is a customary practice in American sports and MLS is no different. Adidas is the leaguewide manufacturer for MLS, so every kit you see will be manufactured and designed by adidas.
Now that we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, we can get to what really matters: the unique culture surrounding soccer kits and why they’ve blown up in recent years.
When you think of the biggest sports in the United States such as football, basketball, hockey, and baseball, their jerseys all have peculiar fits. Football and hockey jerseys are excessively oversized. Basketball jerseys are practically tank tops and baseball jerseys are a button-down, t-shirt hybrid-sort-of-thing?
None of these are particularly wearable in settings outside of sports unlike soccer kits. They’re built and look more like a colorful, high-quality t-shirt.
Because of this they are versatile to wear with an array of different things ranging from more casual jeans to even fancier suit pants. You can wear them to work (dress code permitted), to hang out with friends on the weekend, or for a family reunion.
Kits are wearable for everyday life and it’s this main factor that has influenced even non-soccer fans to wear them simply because of their fit and design.
Initially, soccer kits were just a means to differentiate the teams playing on the pitch. Design wasn’t a priority since all you needed were a few colors to set yourself apart from the other team.
As kits were made available for fans, design all of a sudden became a whole lot more important. As a club you wanted your fans to be proud of wearing your kit as it is a representation of not only the team but also the community.
Kits are now designed with the fans and community in mind for lifestyle wear. Designs have become flashier, more intricate, and in many cases more focused on local elements from within the club’scommunity.
A perfect example of the blending of local culture and design into a kit is the Jimi Hendrix jersey for the Seattle Sounders. Originally from Seattle, Sounders fans keep his legend alive by singing his rendition of “All Along The Watchtower” before kick-off every game.
The kit pays homage to him and connects the club with not only fans but all other fellow Seattleites.
Contrary to American sports, these soccer kit designs change on an annual basis. So, fans have fresh kit designs to look forward to every year.
In some cases, clubs will get up to four unique kits for a season. Generally, this only happens for the biggest clubs in the world but having a third alternative isn’t rare for most teams abroad.
In MLS, the max number of kits a team can is three. To receive a tertiary kit a certain jersey sales threshold needs to be met by the club.
The third alternative kit is normally used as a canvas to get particularly creative in the design. It rarely uses the club’s main colors and tends to be an original, one-time-only design.
Eye-catching designs along with fit have been the leading factors in the rise of popularity of wearing soccer kits for lifestyle wear.
Sponsors and Achievements
Even sponsors play an integral part of soccer kit design. The best jerseys of all time are recognized by not only their manufacturer or pattern but also by their sponsor.
Many of the iconic soccer jerseys in history have a recognizable sponsor that defined the era the jersey was used in. For example, the Arsenal x O2 partnership when Arsenal dominated English soccer or even Charlotte FC’s inaugural home match opponent: LA Galaxy and their partnership with Herbalife.
The sponsor is important to tying the entire kit design together as part of the whole package.
Charlotte FC’s first ever jersey sponsors will be Ally and Centene. Ally with be on the front of the kit while Centene will be on the sleeve.
The sponsor on the front of the kit is the primary sponsor for a soccer club. Ally has been a partner of Charlotte FC since before they were even an official Club. Now, they will be forever tied to the Club's inaugural kits and history.
Charlotte FC’s first ever kit that fans have anxiously been waiting for will finally be revealed on December 9th.
And whether you call it a kit or a jersey it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. What matters is that you know what it represents.
It represents more than just your favorite team. It is a way to represent your community, its values, and the legacy it will leave.
P.S. Or you just wear the kits because they look cool, that’s fine too.