Welcome to Uni Watch on Bulletin, where we’ll be discussing uniforms, logos, and other aspects of athletics aesthetics. I’m your host, Paul Lukas.
Although Bulletin is new, Uni Watch is not. I’ve been writing under that banner for over 20 years now, on a variety of different platforms, and I’m excited to be part of the Bulletin rollout.
For those who are already familiar with Uni Watch, thanks for following me to this latest venue. For those who are new to my work, greetings! One of the most intriguing aspects of Bulletin, at least for me, is how it will use Facebook’s social media muscle to help connect writers with new audiences, so I’m hoping that lots of people will discover Uni Watch for the first time via this platform.
If you’re one of those new readers — or even if you’re a longtime Uni Watch fan — you probably have some questions, so let’s shift into FAQ mode.
Writing about uniforms seems like such a strange specialty. How did you get into that?
It’s definitely an unusual niche (and very geeky one, obviously). Even after more than 20 years of writing about uniforms, I still encounter people who are surprised when they hear what I do for a living. “Wait a minute,” they’ll say, “you write about what?”
The backstory: I’ve always been into uniforms and logos, ever since I was a kid. I remember how excited I was to get my first Little League uniform and how I made sure my stirrups were positioned just so. And I was that kid who was always doodling team logos in the the margins of my notebook instead of paying attention to the teacher. Along the way, I accumulated a lot of knowledge about uniforms — and a lot of opinions, too.
I spent much of the 1990s writing about very granular details of consumer culture, often in ways that pertained to design — package design, brand design, industrial design, and so on. At some point I realized I could take that same detail-obsessive filter and apply it to the visual culture of sports. So I pitched a column about uniforms to various media outlets, most of which turned me down. But The Village Voice — an alt-weekly newspaper in New York, where I live — said yes. That’s where the first edition of Uni Watch appeared, on May 26, 1999.
If you want a longer version of this backstory, you can check out this piece I wrote a few years ago for Uni Watch’s 20th anniversary. It goes into much more detail.
Can you make those hyperlinks a different color than they are now, so they contrast more with the regular text?
We're working on it. It’s one of the tech glitches that inevitably arise when launching a new platform. I’m told it will be fixed soon.
Why do you care about uniforms so much? Why should anyone care about them? It’s just clothes!
Think of it like this: You’re familiar with the concept of “brand loyalty,” right? With most consumer products, brand loyalty really means product loyalty. To explain what I mean by that, let’s say I really like the breakfast cereal Cheerios (which, in fact, I do). Now, over the years, I’ve probably internalized a set of positive emotions and good feelings centered around the yellow Cheerios box, the typeface on the package, the supposedly heart-healthy benefits of the product, and so on. So when I see Cheerios on the shelf at the supermarket, I get a little rush of pleasant familiarity, like I’m seeing an old friend. That’s brand loyalty.
But the real reason I keep buying Cheerios, of course, is that I like how they taste. If they changed the flavor or the texture or whatever, all my positive feelings about the yellow box would not be enough to keep me buying the product. Ultimately, I want my cereal to keep tasting the same more than I want all the other trappings of the brand. That’s an example of how product loyalty tends to trump brand loyalty. (This is basically the lesson that Coca-Cola learned back in the 1980s with the New Coke debacle.)
Or at least that’s usually how it works. But in sports, the product — by which I mean the roster of players — is constantly in flux. The players get traded or injured, they retire, they opt for free agency, and so on. So your favorite team can be really good one year and really bad the next year. Yet most of us keep rooting for (or against) whoever’s wearing the team’s uniform. This is what Jerry Seinfeld has famously referred to as “rooting for laundry.”
To demonstrate how powerful this psychological mechanism is, let’s say I love the Mets and hate the Yankees (which, again, happens to be true). Now let’s further say, just hypothetically, that the entire Mets roster gets traded straight-up for the entire Yankees roster — 26 guys for 26 guys. Who would I root for going forward? To me, the answer is obvious: I’d root for the players who are now wearing Mets uniforms, even though I hated them the day before.
That makes absolutely no sense, of course — it’s completely irrational. And that, my friends, is the power of a uniform. There’s really nothing else like it on the consumer landscape.
How would you describe your taste in uniforms? Are you a traditionalist or a modernist?
I’d say I’m more of a classicist than a traditionalist. A traditionalist says, “Don’t ever change anything, because change is bad. Keep everything the same forever.” A classicist says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if you can improve it, go for it!” That’s me.
What are some of your favorite uniforms?
In MLB: Cardinals, Mets, A’s, Phillies, Dodgers.
NFL: Packers, Steelers, Raiders, Cowboys, Bears.
NHL: Bruins, Canadiens, Wild, Rangers, Golden Knights. (You can see a full list of NHL uni rankings that I recently put together here.)
NBA: Honestly, NBA uniforms are in such a state of churn these days that it’s hard to get a sense of what the teams really look like. But here’s a ranking I recently did of each NBA team’s most-worn uniform during the 2020-21 regular season.
What about college sports?
College uniforms, much like the NBA’s, have become such a moving target that it’s hard to get a fix on most teams’ visual identities. (Also, I don’t follow college sports as closely as I follow pro leagues.) But based on the pro teams I listed above, you can probably get a decent sense of which college uniforms I like as well.
Do you cover other sports, like soccer, rugby, cricket, golf, tennis, boxing, the Olympics, etc.?
I’ve written about all of those sports, and more, although not as often as the “big four” (baseball, football, hockey, and basketball). In theory, Uni Watch’s purview covers pretty much anything from any part of the sports world; in practice, I tend to concentrate the big four.
You must have a big jersey and cap collection, right?
I don’t, actually! Just not my thing. Part of it is probably generational — I grew up at a time when team gear wasn’t yet available for sale, so I never got in the habit. In any case, I’m not really interested in the retail/merchandising aspect of uniforms. I care about what the players wear, not what’s for sale. One nice thing about this is that I don’t have to get all worked up (or even care) when crazy-looking merch hits the marketplace. For example, remember earlier this year when fans were going bonkers about some ridiculous MLB cap designs that New Era unveiled? It didn't matter to me one way or the other, because those caps had nothing to do with what’s worn on-field, so I just ignored them. (If you buy lots of jerseys and caps, no problem — knock yourself out! It’s just not the world that I cover.)
What else will you be covering here besides uniforms?
Uniforms go hand in hand with team logos, of course, so I write about logo design. Things like stadium/arena design and field/court/ice design will likely come up periodically as well. (And again, no detail is too small, as you can see in this piece I recently did about the batter’s boxes at Dodger Stadium, which are noticeably thinner than the ones at other ballparks.)
I also hope to use Bulletin as a place where I can showcase interviews with lots of designers, equipment managers, art directors, and other people who work behind the scenes in the uni-verse, as I like to call it. You might even think of this introductory post as an interview with myself.
I’ve heard that some Bulletin content may be available only to paying subscribers. Will that be the case for Uni Watch?
No, at least for now. I plan to make my Bulletin content freely available to all for at least the first few months, and probably through the end of the year. After that, we’ll see how things develop.
How often will you be posting new content here on Bulletin?
Just about every week, usually on either Thursday or Friday.
I’m really into uniforms and can’t wait a whole week in between posts!
I have a question that you haven’t addressed here.
Good! Over on my blog, I have a recurring “Ask Me Anything”-style series of posts called “Question Time,” where I answer readers’ questions, and I’m planning to move that series here to Bulletin going forward. If you’d like to submit a question for me (one question per reader, please), send it here. Meanwhile, you can see the previous installments of “Question Time” here.
Okay, I think that’s enough for now. Welcome aboard, and I hope you’ll keep coming back each week.