Get set to crack out the gaudy memorabilia and dust down your ear piercing vuvuzela, it’s football World Cup time and boy are we excited for the Sunday afternoons roasting like a suckling pig in the pub garden sun as a dimly lit projector beams Japan versus Senegal onto a garden shed.
This coming World Cup has coincided with a rising interest in football kits, and more specifically classic football shirts from the 1980s and 1990s with retro geometric designs becoming as prevalent to the streetwear crowd as the various teams playing in Russia this summer.
“Classic shirts are great for business-as-usual league games, but this historic sporting event calls for a major dollop of flamboyance,” says Simon Doonan, creative ambassador-at-large of New York City-based clothing store Barneys and author of Saturday Night Fever Pitch: The Magic and Madness of Football Style. “Throwing a player into a tasteful solid shirt in a spiffy color is simply not enough.”
According to Doonan Argentina’s winning vertical blue and white stripes shirt from 1978 is a prime example of a World Cup shirt done right. “Vertical stripes – especially like the historic black and white classic shirts of Newcastle and Juventus – never fail to make players appear invincible, and most important, slender.”
To mark the occasion of this coming World Cup we have decided to rank the kits from the World Cup from best to worst, with Doonan by our side as our resident football shirt pundit.
The country that gave us French fries (confusingly) and waffles, much to the chagrin of our waistlines, has now given us quite possibly the most beautiful football shirt in the history of the game. From the elegant royal crest placed bang in the middle to the understated 1980s-influenced geometric pattern and the bold rouge, this is simply majestic. Doonan points out that the emblazoned pattern is very similar to the Scottish argyle diamond, mentioning its place in footballing history: “The Argyle recalls the era – back in the last century – when footballing casuals adopted the argyle pattern as an FU to the golfing upper-classes. It’s fabulous.”
A clear nod to the kit worn by West Germany on the way to winning their third World Cup in 1990, the legendary backstory (cue epic violin solo) only serves to amplify the greatness of this Adidas design. It doesn’t play too heavily on the 1990s maximalism fortunately with the busy pattern across the chest contrasting superbly with the minimalism down below.
Rounding out the top three is another effort by Adidas, which really is the king of the football kit making game. The bold sky blue and white stripes has always been a sweeping fashion statement, and here it’s completed with the Adidas three stripes across the shoulder. Like Belgium, it helps that Argentina have a regal emblem but the classy design is still the real winner here.
Nike had 3 million pre-orders for the Nigeria World Cup shirt, which sold out in mere minutes when released. It is a prized gem after all, with a jagged off-kilter pattern that looks like it has stepped straight off the catwalk and onto the pitch. The contrast sleeves provide some welcome relief from the madness of the pattern so you don’t get full-on motion sickness, while the lime green is bright and vivacious.
Nike has chosen to base all its 2018 World Cup kits on their Aeroswift template, but the French shirt stands out from the others because of the inclusion of the single button just underneath the collar which makes it look like a Henley shirt, and not a tube of sausage casing you’re required to squeeze your sweaty body out of after matches.
Similar to the classic Manchester United kits of the 1980s, this shirt is a testament to Russian modesty but all the better for the white lines bolting across the sleeves like Putin riding bareback through Siberian hinterland. The red also has a juicy vibrancy about it – a worthy kit to play in for the hosts of the tournament.
Like the 8-bit version of that vase/two people kissing conundrum, the side panels on Mexico’s strip add to the retro look rather than distract. The deep green reminds us of Christmas (or maybe the Mexican flag – funny that) while the white accents, especially the thin trim around the collar, serve to clean up what is a very tidy kit.
Adidas – you’re killing us at the moment. There’s something quite David Bowie in the dynamic blue and red zig-zags down the side, while the wrap over collar is a nice little retro touch that doesn’t overshadow the discombobulating shade of yellow. “The Aladdin Sane glam-rock lightening bolts appear to be erupting from the players armpits,” says Doonan. “What better way to intimidate your opponent than by suggesting that your lymph nodes have special powers?”
The Croatian football strip has always caused consternation – whether it’s a checkmate all depends on your love of picnic blankets. Regardless, Doonan is a fan: “The checkered pattern is bold and memorable while the away colour combo – grey and black – recalls the Louis Vuitton ‘Daumier’ pattern.”
A fairly simple design, the jagged icicles on the French shirt are copied here but you’d need a magnifying glass to spot them. So while the main attraction of this Nike template is hiding in plain sight, all we have to admire are the colours. Good thing they’re pretty ones, with a brusque red as rich as port and the surprising pulling off of red and green which we only thought carol singers could rock.
Yes, it’s another lazy kit design from Nike who seem to be focusing on the performance qualities of their football shirts as opposed to how they look, but the Brazil colours really don’t need much interference. Utilising the colours of the scorching sand and the tropical palm trees – nothing symbolises the samba boys better.
The more we squint at this shirt the more it starts to resemble a birds eye view of the M25, but it’s still a stylish design that we could imagine working with a bit of athleisure. (Apparently it’s meant to resemble an ancient Japanese stitching technique called Sashiko.) Whatever it is, it contrasts well with the plain blue sleeves and the little red accents around the collar.
Australia is a wild country filled with humongous creepy crawlies and cans of lukewarm Fosters, and yet now the most wild thing in the whole nation are those green veins popping out of this shirt’s sleeves. Shockingly it works, mainly because the green is a deep, luxurious hue and gold is such a winning colour.
A little simple, granted, but red and black is a killer pairing in all walks of fashion. The trim also extends beyond the collar and onto the hem of the sleeves which is a step further than some other snore-fest showings at the tournament.
X marks the sport for the Danish in this World Cup. Despite resembling a team shirt for Wolverine and co. there’s enough to love in this shirt from the contrasting raglan sleeves, to the arrows sloping down the shoulder which makes a change from the Adidas three stripes smothered across most of the other shirts in the competition.
As a nation England has become used to underwhelming performances at international football tournaments, so it is only fitting that our disappointing form is echoed in the football kit. It’s not bad, just unnervingly safe. The only embellishment is a thin red line around the collar, which some might call minimalist, but is so boringly fine it should come with its own PG rating.
It’s a bold move to just slam a massive lion right in the middle of your kit, and the Senegalese kit has a Versace feel in all those intricate spirals and squiggles. Also, green and white are a beautiful pairing, but maybe the green could have been a little darker? Just a suggestion for next time, Puma.
Look we like grey when its bold and knows what it wants to be. But all this faded grey on white shirts just makes it look like it needs another run in the washing machine. Having said that, the red trim on the collar is dynamic and punchy, and Poland has a powerful emblem that helps the shirt stand out.
Switzerland – makers of great watches; football kits, not so much. “Loving the wood-grainy squiggles,” says Doonan. “But what is with the strange faded band across the upper chest. This odd design decision makes it look like every player is wearing a darker red bustier top.” A great look for in the bedroom; on the football pitch, not so much.
Why has Iceland skinned a snake and wrapped it around what is meant to be a football shirt sleeve. They’ve not even cleaned it, preferring to leave the blood splatters dribbling down onto the grassy field, like a threatening viking warrior bellowing “remember the Euros” at Harry Kane dressed as St George. The rest of the kit is a nice shade of icy blue though.
“I love Peru, the country,” admits Doonan. “My husband, the designer Jonathan Adler, gets lots of his pots and pillows fabricated there. So it pains me greatly to throw shade at the Peruvian shirt. The problem is that diagonal stripe is very treacherous. You think it’s going to add the gravitas of an ambassadorial sash, but all its does is exaggerate the area below the stripe and – horror of horrors – create the illusion of a beer belly.”
Red is the colour of passion, power and war, so it’s no surprise that when our footballing ancestors sat down to decide on their team colours, the empowering shade won out the majority of the time. The shade is enough to get this South Korean kit by but the rest is an absolute ghost town. Where’s that Korean streetwear flair gone to?
This will be the first World Cup for Panama, but unfortunately they’ll be entering the tournament in a kit that looks like it is covered in Lego bricks. It doesn’t even cover the whole shirt, with a bare patched V-shape circumventing the midriff. The neck saves the day somewhat with a shape similar to a Grandad collar.
Sweden has foolishly left its football shirt on the Ikea griddle for too long and the grooves have left unsightly diagonal marks up and down their kit. If you’re going to do stripes just do them, none of this messing around with borderline translucent lines. The colour is also treading a fine day-glo line and making us feel a little queasy for it.
Oh dear, arguably one of the best teams in the tournament goes in to the World Cup in one of the worst kits. “Call me obsessive compulsive, but I will never be able to come to terms with the fact that the ziggy zaggy folkloric design motif only adorns one side of the body,” says Doonan. “Remember – symmetry, symmetry, symmetry.”
This kit looks like a child has gone to town with a protractor and compass on your nice new rug. To make matters worse there seems to be faint vertical stripes running up the shirt like an enraged maths teacher reversing over road kill. It’s a nice rounded collar though.
Very similar to the Eygpt kit in the contrasting trim on the sleeves and collar, but white is too plain a colour for you to play it safe and classic. There’s also a strange dotty zig zag down the side panels, which has absolutely no idea what it’s doing or what it wants to be – kind of like us before our Monday morning coffee.
We understand that maximalism is coming back into sport kit design (and back out the other side if you look at the England strip) but the supposed sun on this kit doesn’t even look like the one on the Uruguayan flag, or the one in the sky for that matter. In fashion terms, the V-neck is also out after a brief return last year so we can’t even applaud that. A poor showing from the South Americans.