Football Kit Design: 1880s-90s

Posted on: August 21st, 2020 | by Laura Murdoch | No Comments

We know that picking the right football kit for your club is a big deal. You want all of your players to look good when they represent their team on the pitch. However, uniformity wasn’t such an important issue in the early days of the sport. Things have certainly come a long way.


The Royal Engineers Football Team picture in 1872

The Royal Engineers, 1872
Unknown Author, Public Domain



No uniformity

When football started to rise in popularity, teams wouldn’t have a standard kit design. Players would often wear different colours and styles. For example, the width of hoops would differ between players. Many teams were made up of cricketers, so they would resort to wearing their cricket whites. Different teams would be identified by wearing coloured caps or sashes.


Eastbourne Football Club team photo from February 1892

Eastbourne Football Club, February 1892
Unknown author / Public domain

Colourful Shirts

In the 1860s and 1870s, football was almost exclusively played by members of the upper classes. Players would be responsible for buying their kit and it was only the wealthy that could afford to do so. Kit colours were associated with the schools or sports teams of the players and football kit designs certainly favoured very bright colour combinations.


Forest School Football Team from 1884

Forest School football team, 1884
Unknown author / Public domain

Limited Designs

As more people took up the sport, kits were sold by sports outfitters but there was a limited choice of colours and styles. Your main choices would have been a single colour, a hooped design, or a halved design. Confusingly, the half-shirt design was often referred to as “quarters” and the term “harlequin” was used to describe the pattern we now call “quartered”. Vertical stripes did not appear until around 1883 when the term “shirts” also appeared for the first time.


The Blackburn Olympic F.C. team which won the 1883 FA Cup Final

The Blackburn Olympic FC, 1883
Unknown author / Public domain

Professional Football

Towards the end of 1880s, football was becoming a professional sport, which meant the club became responsible for buying kits. Due to cost-cutting, kit design became simpler and cheaper. This meant saying farewell to some of the more exciting colours and styles.

Burnley Football Club, 1889-90

Unknown Author, Public Domain


Registered Designs

In early games, colour clashes were common. In 1891, after Wolves and Sunderland both turned up to play in red and white stripes, clubs were instructed to register their kit colours. This meant each of the teams would have a unique shirt design. If two teams wanted to register the same colours, priority was given to the one that had been in the league the longest. In the example of Wolves and Sunderland, Wolves swapped their red and white striped design for black and gold.

The Wolverhampton Wanderers team that won the FA Cup. The team poses with the trophy

Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Team, 1893
Unknown author, public domain


Second Division

Once the Second Division was added in 1892, the rules on kit design were relaxed and, instead, teams were asked to keep a set of plain white shirts to be used in the event of a clash. To make the process easier and to prevent teams having to carry extra kit to every away game, the home side would be made to change.

Newton Heath FC (current Manchester United FC) team for the 1892-93 season

Newton Heath FC, 1892-3
Unknown author / Public domain

Modern Day

Towards the end of the Victorian period, football kit design was slowly starting to resemble the kit that we are used to seeing now. However, there is still a long way to go before we get to the unique and exciting new designs we see now. At Pendle, we’re always looking for modern designs that will make sure clubs stand out on the pitch. Be sure to check out our range of designs.


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