Most football fans have noticed a robbery. The shirts you see on match day – the sort worn by everyone from the unnecessarily angry man in the family enclosure to the children he’s causing to sob – have gone beyond the stadium. They’re now on Instagram, on the backs of celebrities that don’t play in stadiums but play to them, on the runway. The World Cup starts next month and, with very good timing, football shirts are a fashion grail proper.
At the spring/summer shows earlier this month, facsimiles of football shirts were everywhere from Burberry to Barragan and Ahluwalia. Elsewhere, the football shirt is a key player of Palace’s collab with Gucci (the name, in block typeface, is backed with a photoprint of super-sized strawberries), and more collabs between actual football clubs and fashion brands are to come. AC Milan worked with Paris Fashion Week brand Koche and Puma this year, making a range of shirts from upcycled old jerseys, while Ajax’s third kit this season is a collaboration with Adidas and hypey Dutch streetwear brand, Daily Paper. Meanwhile Nigo, the newly installed creative director at Kenzo, has created Japan’s World Cup kit. Using a combination of pink and green, it’s a thing of beauty already tipped to make like a 2018 Nigeria kit and sell out (and appear in bootleg form on eBay). But most recently, the fever pitch has been stateside: Brooklyn designer KidSuper released bubblegum pink football shirts in collaboration with Coca-Cola just four days ago. There’s none left in stock.
These collabs are only likely to increase as fashion, like football, turns tribal. A clothing item that signposts our club and our aesthetic and is in-step with the zeitgeist is a win-win-win. This is a trend that goes beyond multi-hyphenation, though. The idea of a football shirt as a fashion item – something that might be seen as an anathema to the Surrey dadcore that dominates mainstream sports culture – has been coming for a while. There have long been cult kits for fans, like the bruised banana at Arsenal, the Liverpool grey kit and Newcastle’s Brown Ale design, while Brazil’s yellow and green has transcended football.
None of this is really down to what’s happening on the pitch. Martine Rose, the buzzy London designer behind a bestselling football-inspired shirt, has said she isn’t actually a football fan. Instead, the designer told Vice last year that its “characters within the culture that I really draw on”. And football is full of them; one of the last sources of fuel for fashion at a time when IRL subcultures are merging into one homogenous blob. It’s not just skaters that wear skatewear, and actual skaters wear preppy stuff, and punk has gone artistic and old school hip-hop is in everything now. But football fan culture still feels like a ring-fenced entity with a relatively untapped reserve of inspiration.