It cannot have escaped your notice that professional sportsmen of various stamps are once again showing up to games wearing suits and ties, and leaving afterwards similarly attired.
THE England football team went to the last World Cup in grey three-piece affairs, and that was the best thing about their performance. This is all to the good, but something odd has happened.
I was reflecting the other day on the origins of certain forms of sporting dress, namely that worn for cricket, tennis and snooker. Cricket whites, or creams, were originally cream slacks, white shirt, and wool sweater (sleeves optional), worn with sporting blazer and cap. The blazer and cap were removed prior to play, and made for the accidental uniform of the sport. This is still the case, as seen in the fine-looking captains of England and Australia, below. But when all this was taking shape, men of all stamps who went to look on also wore jackets and ties, and hats.
Ponting and Strauss, this week
Eton v. Harrow, Lord’s 1906
The tennis story is remarkably similar, as anyone who has seen old footage of Fred Perry playing will testify. The uniform of the sport was simply the uniform of the gentleman, but slightly unbuttoned. And the crowd spectated in collar, tie, and headgear.
Snooker, which is now sinking into a mire of sad populism, owes its uniform to gentlemen’s evening wear, the dinner jacket being removed to leave simply a waistcoat, dress-shirt with bowtie, and dress trousers and shoes. Things devolved into the lounge suit, but basically remained attached to gentlemen’s formal attire. And those who watched the game would have looked much the same. Until the 1980s, the front rows of the audience at the World Championship wore black tie.
More generally, the sporting audience of yesteryear went into the public gaze in appropriate clothing regardless of the sport. Baseball audiences of the 1950s, and even football (soccer) audiences up until the 1960s were suited, booted and crowned (and I’m talking of working-class audiences in the main). So why, when so many sportsmen are returning to the suit, do the watchers of sport now attend the fixtures of their favoured sports wearing the clothes in which modern athletes perform? What logic is there in wearing basketball gear to a basketball game? Or a football strip to a football match? So many sporting uniforms owe their existence to a distant relationship with gentlemanly (or at least respectable) sartorial standards, it now seems odd that sporting attire – with all its utilitarian considerations of comfort, the wicking away of sweat, and optimal performance for elite professionals – is informing what Mr. Public wears in the street, around the house, and to sit and watch.
Baseball crowd, Cleveland 1957
The explanation is perhaps wrought through an understanding of who reflects what. The amateur gentleman sportsman of old reflected the values of his society when he took to the field of play. Professionalism was a dirty word, and had nothing to do with the spirit of play. Now, professionalism is everywhere, and its crass tendrils infect us all. Celebrity, wealth, branding: these have become aspirations, and as such society attempts to reflect what it sees on the field of play. This inversion has little to redeem it, so let us hope that sportsmen’s return to decent clothing off the pitch ultimately has some influence on those of us who watch them on it. -VB
Vir Beātum writes for his blog BeingManly @ http://beingmanly.blogspot.com/
“I’m a professional historian with more than an academic interest in manliness and masculinities. I’m heartily glad you dropped by.”