Little known fact: Northwestern University pioneered one of the most popular elements of the college football uniform. Strike that. Northwestern pioneered one of the most popular elements of the football uniform period.
In the early-1900s, the Chicago-area school debuted a jersey with stripes. Yup, that common arm accent on so many jerseys started with the Wildcats. Their shirts also featured a distinctive stripe across the chest, a simple, powerful mark that gave the team a real identity.
2012 sees a return of Northwestern's iconic look. With a freshly inked deal with Under Armour, Wildcat football plans to "Reclaim the Stripe."
Adam Clement, Under Armour's senior design manager, relished the fresh challenge. "Any time we sign a new school," he says, "it's like Christmas."
When designing a uniform, Clement notes that it is important to build visual cues visible at different distance.
Clement and his team hit the Northwestern campus for inspiration. They noted the Gothic architecture, pulling patterns from the stone work and incorporating them into the jersey numbers, thus tying the power of the school's buildings to the strength of the team. They also took from the forgotten tradition of the stripe, building it back into the jersey and base layer through a fully complementary system.
When designing a uniform, Clement notes that it is important to build visual cues visible at different distance. He sees 500 feet, 50 feet, and 5 feet as the key experiential markers. So, the stripe functions at great distance, the stone pattern of the numbers at 50 feet, and subtle detailing gives the players reminders of the programs legacy.
Aside from aesthetic concern, Under Armour (of course) challenged the basic notion of a football uniforms function. They've developed the "Compfit," a compression system of high stretch fabrics intended to lock down pads and provide greater reach only where absolutely necessary. Where required, the four way stretch fabric has been turned, which ensures maximum stretch at key stress points. Mesh panels allow players to "heat dump" and a wishbone panel at the back of the pant leg provides comfort for players of varying leg sizes. Under Armour has also removed the fly of the pant for a more streamlined garment and twisted the seams back to reduce abrasion.
Performance elements extend to the belt system. Doing away with d-ring belts, Under Armour employs a unique ultralight clasp that holds its place and minimizes any need for in game adjustment.
Baselayers, as noted, integrate with the jersey, and that key stripe (another little known fact: the common jersey arm stripe is known in the industry as the "Northwestern" stripe) flows naturally between the two garments. As Clement suggests, its a "Neoclassic" vision of the uniform, reinventing the past through contemporary fabric and design.
The football uniform is the first new design from Under Armour for Northwestern's athletics program, which will aim to up the equity of Wildcat sports, "Reclaim the Stripe," and bring the distinct personality of one of the Big Ten's most overlooked school's back into public eye.