Wednesday, April 14, 2010

fashion critic is critical

(Warning: in this post I turn into Bruno the fashion guy, only without the, uh, flamboyance. Skip it if you're the kind who doesn't care if the team comes out in lacy tutus as long as they win the game. Uni Watch fans may be more appreciative.)

We at UVA are not Michigan, Penn State, or Alabama: the football uniform changes. Nothing we have in that realm is so traditional or sacred as to be untouchable, and so, the general pattern has been more or less that when you change head coaches, you change uniforms. It's easy to identify the look by head coach: you've got Early Welsh, there's Late Welsh, there's Groh, and now there's London.

As it turns out, "Oregon of the East" was a massively inaccurate way to describe the uniform changes. We may not have a traditionally unified look throughout the ages, but we do have a tradition of not looking like we were outfitted by chimpanzees with ADD and a crayon, so the idea of copycatting Oregon was not real enticing. And the team is outfitted by Nike, so you never know if you're going to wake up in September and your team is suddenly wearing sports bras; Nike's really ugly like that sometimes. Fortunately, the look is exactamundo opposite of Nike's usual bizarredom. It's throwbacky. I ganked a couple pictures off the official site so you can use them for reference from here on out instead of flipping back and forth:

I like the look. I liked the old look, too, but this was the kind of coaching change where you just need a clean break and a totally fresh start, and keeping around the hugest visual reminder of the old regime wouldn't have been healthy at all. What do I like?

- First off, I have plenty of nitpicks, and there are a few mistakes. But the overall approach is a winner: a little too plain and boring is way, way preferable to going overboard with the wackiness. Gotta appreciate the simplicity.

- I love the orange jersey, especially with the blue pants. That's gonna look pretty cool. And since orange-on-orange is not a likely combo (good thing because we'd look like traffic cones), I suspect it'll become a favorite look of mine.

- I like that we can do a lot of color combos and still look like Virginia. Once again in contrast to Oregon, which might at any given time wear silver and black, but not to pick on just them: plenty of schools out there are in the habit of wearing things that make you look twice just to make sure who's playing. No matter what we'll still look like Virginia.

- We kept the helmet basically the same. I'm one of the few who liked the goat horns, but the main thing is the V-sabre, which remains one of sports' coolest logos; keeping it on the helmet was critical.

- The switch to black shoes. White shoes looked fine with the old unis but they wouldn't have been real good here.

- Blue pants that at least match the blue jersey. I hated those old blue pants. Good idea, poorly executed.

- Keeping names on the jersey. Groh put them there and as a still-new UVA fan, I was glad he did. Some think non-named jerseys foster a sense of team over individual - I think it makes you look like you can't afford custom nameplates.

- Keeping the single, blue helmet. The helmet is a much stronger piece of the program's brand than the rest of the uniform and I prefer having just one. Helps keep things unified.

What I could do without:

- The butt-stripe. It's just unnecessary and kind of ugly.

- Monochrome combos. There's a good reason Jeff White suggested orange-on-orange isn't likely, and thank God for that. But blue-on-blue or white-on-white isn't going to look a lot better, because the pants are way too plain for it. The old white-on-white looked good because of the classy-looking stripe on the white pants. These aren't gonna look as good.

- All this PRO COMBAT! hype about stupid shit like the titanium belt buckles. Really? There's this huge noticable difference in how fast the team runs and how hard they hit because their belt buckles are three ounces lighter? Bite me.

I'm not just Mr. Criticism here. I have ideas, too. A couple things here - let's call them missed opportunities - could have made a very good thing even better:

- Blue numbers outlined in orange don't look great for the white jersey. Orange outlined in blue is the way to go. Blue helmet, blue pants, white jersey, orange numbers - that looks sharp.

- Sticking with the numbers theme, the block numbers do look nice. But UVA's been on a little bit of a common-branding kick lately - that's why the men's basketball team changed unis a couple years back to look the same as the women. That "VIRGINIA" font they're using shows up all over; in fact, you can see Mike London up there ensuring the world can see it prominently displayed on Marc Verica's butt. (OK, back of his waistline.)

But anyway, numbers. Seems to me they missed an opportunity - the basketball numbers would have looked pretty good on this uniform, for a little bit of style. UVA football still has never dressed better than 1998 and 1999 when those fancier numbers were on the jersey. (Also, the collar and sleeve accents on those unis were really cool.) I was juuuust a touch disappointed when I walked into Scott for the first time, saw kids and folks with those #6 Thomas Jones jerseys with the cool numbers, and then the team came out in boring block numbers. (And they ditched the blue pants that season, too.)

But nothing's perfect. And the neat thing about this is that everyone's gonna have a favorite look. Some will prefer the standard blue-on-white - what with the lack of goat horns on the helmet and the orange-outlined numbers, it bears a very strong resemblence to the 94-97 look. Me, I like the orange-on-blue. Nine different looks means something for everyone.

Bottom line is, the whole deal is a near-perfect combination of the fresh start that UVA needed and yet a continuation of a tradition of looking classy on the field. Thumbs-up from this observer.

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