Friday, January 27, 2012

The Changing Face of Rugby Fashion

Remember the good old days? Pristine cotton rugby shirts flapping in the gentle breeze at Twickers with no sponsor in sight; collars turned up if you were a fly half and ripped off if you played in the back row; sleeves rolled up for wingers and cut off for the props; and the short Cotton Oxford drill shorts with button flys.

Now, let's look a little closer. Those pristine cotton shirts' that used to weigh as much as the player after a sharp downpour or a tackle in a muddy puddle; those shirts that used to inflate in the wind like a parachute, great if you had the wind at your back but made running into the wind akin to resistance training; and those shorts that were..well..just far too short to hide any modesty!

Fortunately those days are long gone and with the advent of technological advances in man-made fabrics virtually anything is now possible with a rugby kit. The moisture wicking fabrics not only keep the players dry from the external elements, but also wick any sweat away from the body, keeping the player dry and comfortable. These moisture management fabrics not only mean that you start the game with a lighter shirt, but also that you finish at the same weight.

The 2003 Rugby World Cup saw perhaps the biggest change in design for rugby shirts when Clive Woodward and co. introduced us to the skin tight rugby shirt, designed to make grasping a player's shirt in the tackle more difficult. There were the inevitable teething troubles and in the first game, several shirts had to be replaced due to being ripped. However, further advances in these fabrics have now meant that these types of shirt are now even stronger that the traditional cotton type shirts.

It wasn't long before the clubs were following suit and now teams at all levels throughout the rugby world can be seen in these types of shirt, which can vary from skin tight to semi-fit. Never fear though, for those of us who don't like the prospect of running around for 80 minutes breathing in, the more traditional fit shirts are still available in the new technical fabrics.

Lastly, let's look at the visual change in design of the rugby shirt. Historically, there were two choices: hooped or quartered, choices limited by the fact that the shirts had to be knitted by machines. Nowadays, with the introduction of a process called sublimation, any design no matter how outrageous (and Stade Francais have certainly been pushing the boundaries), can be printed on the shirt. All the logos are added to the shirt at the same time as the design, which means that this tends to be a favourable option if you have lots of sponsors. The downside to these types of shirts can be the long lead times, particularly during busy periods such as in the run up to the new season.

The humble rugby shirt has come a long way in the past 15 years and most suppliers now offer a wide range of options including choice of fabric, style, fit, design or even collar and what's right for you is largely down to personal preference. We await with interest to see what further advancements can be made in the next 15 years.



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