Elements of Style

Ever wonder why baseball players wear stirrups? Or which pro kicked off the endorsement gravy train? (Hint: Pantyhose got it all rolling.)

Updated: March 11, 2011, 12:44 PM ET
ESPN The Magazine

AP Images1974: Namath pushes fashion envelope.

1888: BASEBALL GETS ITS STRIPES
The National Baseball Hall of Fame traces pinstripes to the 19th century, when the Washington Nationals and Detroit Wolverines of the National League and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the American Association added the detail. But baseball uniform scholar Marc Okkonen credits the 1907 World Series champion Cubs as the likely first wearer of the thin, vertical lines. (His database goes back only to 1900.) Either way, the most famous member of the pin crowd -- you know, the Yankees -- wouldn't take the field in that style until 1912.


1905: COLOR ME BAD
Cleveland's Nap Lajoie was spiked in his left ankle and missed five days with an infection. After doctors incorrectly blamed dye from his blue uniform socks (rather than bacteria) for contaminating the wound, white sanitary socks were introduced. When players complained that two pairs of socks made their spikes too snug, the stirrup was born.


1928: HEADSTRONG
More than half a century after Boston Bruin George Owen became the first hockey player to regularly wear a helmet, the NHL made lids mandatory in 1979. Players who had already signed contracts when the rule was imposed got a pass. Four-time Stanley Cup-winner Craig MacTavish took full advantage of the grandfather clause, going helmetless until he retired in 1997, the last of the bareheaded NHLers.


1951: TAILOR-MADE
Bill Stewart, a veteran National League ump, complained to The Sporting News about baseball's longer-pants trend because the strike zone was harder to define without knee-high socks setting its lower limit. Pitchers were similarly perplexed. That explains why hitters continue to stretch it out. Or maybe not. "When it comes down to it, it's just about style," says Tom Shieber of the Hall of Fame. "If a mediocre ballplayer does something, it's not going to catch on. But when Barry Bonds wears his pants long and hits all those home runs, guys say, 'I'm doing what that guy does.'"


1964: THE ORIGINAL GLOVED ONE
The Kansas City Athletics' Ken Harrelson, expecting the night off, played 27 holes of golf before an evening game. When he arrived at the park, Hawk learned the Yankees had switched their starting pitcher to future Hall of Fame lefty Whitey Ford, and that he'd be in the lineup. Needing protection for his blistered left hand, Harrelson pulled out a bright red golf glove. The Yanks' taunts followed him to the plate. "Whitey hung me a curveball and I knocked it 450 feet over the leftfield wall," the White Sox announcer remembers. He says the Yankees were still mocking him as he rounded third. Later, he hit another one out. The next day, the entire Bombers roster walked onto the field and gave Hawk a wave, with red glove-sheathed hands.


1965: PORTABLE PLAYCALLER
Whether it's color-coded (Carson Palmer's), double-paned (Tom Brady's) or holding so many plays it blankets an entire forearm (Tony Romo's), play-sheet bands -- typically worn on a QB's nonthrowing arm -- have helped signal-callers make the right choice since LBJ's administration. As with most inventions, it was born out of necessity. In 1965, after the Colts lost their first- and second-string passers to injuries, coach Don Shula turned to halfback Tom Matte, a former college QB. To help Matte remember plays, Shula had him scribble the calls on a card that was taped to his wristband. (Matte's writing was so messy he asked his wife, Judy, a teacher, to write the crib sheet.) After losing his first start, Matte tossed the cheat sheet into the stands, where local sportswriting legend John Steadman found it. He wrote about the novelty, and a trend was born.

"I cheated my way into the Hall of Fame," Matte laughs. Today, about half of the league's QBs wear them, for a slightly different reason: Plays are heavy on verbiage. If a coach calls "Thump to west right halfback short, fake 19 Philly, naked right," by the time the QB repeats it in the huddle, there's barely time to read the D. "Instead the coach can say, 'Wristband play No. 3,'" says Texans(QB Matt Schaub.


1970: MASK APPEAL
Eleven years after Montreal Canadien Jacques Plante was the first goaltender to regularly wear one, Boston Bruin Gerry Cheevers made goalie masks a fashion statement by painting stitch marks on his each time he was struck in the face. Since then, NHL goalies have adorned their masks with everything from a pirate ship (Cam Ward) to Mike Tyson (Ray Emery).


1972: HOOSIERS GET A SWEET TOOTH
Despite his no-nonsense rep, Bob Knight let down his guard when his IU players took the court in candy-cane-color warmup pants for the first time. According to the school, the design was chosen simply because it was a popular one of the era. Were they loud? Yes. Unlucky? No. In only his second year in Bloomington, Knight led his Hoosiers on a stylish trip to the '73 Final Four.


1974: DUDE LOOKS LIKE A LADY
Joe Namath's antics, both off and on the field, were well documented throughout his NFL career. But the future Hall of Fame QB garnered the most attention in 1974, when his Hanes Beautymist pantyhose commercial debuted. The men-in-hose phenomenon didn't quite catch on, but Broadway Joe did go on to endorse several other products, including Noxzema shaving cream. He also introduced several fads among football players, including full-length fur coats on the sidelines and his trademark white cleats. Alas, today, flashy furs are banned from the field, and players are fined for wearing shoes not coordinated with team colors.


1976: SHORTS-LIVED
The first game of a doubleheader against the Royals on Aug. 8 resulted in a forgettable White Sox win, but the debut of Chicago's navy shorts left an indelible mark in uniform history. Widely mocked, the shorts lasted three games before being safely retired to obscurity.


1979: THE KING DONS A CROWN
Richard Petty figures it was 1979 or so, sometime after his son opened the Kyle Petty Boot Barn down the hill from the race shop, that he first wore The Hat. The Barn sold cowboy boots and hats, and one day a salesman for Charlie 1 Horse hats walked through the door. An endorsement deal was born. These days the headband inside the famous hat is stamped in gold lettering with the message: "Made especially for Richard Petty." But Petty says the legend was born sometime in the early '80s, when an employee, Bob Livengood, created the iconic silhouette logo. "That cemented it," he says. "That's when me and the hat became one and the same."


1982: PANTS GET A COLD RECEPTION
They play a game that involves sharp blades and flying pucks, so pants seemed a logical uniform choice for the Philadelphia Flyers and Hartford Whalers. Because the skate-length pants were lighter than the traditional shorts-and-tights combo, hockey theoreticians figured skaters would move faster. But they didn't factor in that players wearing the pants, called Cooperalls, would slide farther and faster when they fell. Dangerously so. The NHL banned long pants at the end of the season.


1983: ATHLETES UNDRESSED
With a first-place finish in the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials, pole vaulter Tom Hintnaus hoped he'd be known for his athletic feats. But it was his underwear that eventually grabbed people's attention. Bruce Weber's iconic photo of Hintnaus, wearing only a pair of tighty-whities on the beach in Santorini, Greece, debuted in a Calvin Klein ad that hung above Times Square for more than seven months in 1983.

Other athletes followed in his briefs, er, footsteps, including volleyball gold medalists Karch Kiraly and Steve Timmons, not to mention actors and celebrities. American Photographer magazine included the Hintnaus photograph in its collection of the 10 Pictures That Changed America. "It was the first time men were looked at as sex symbols," Hintnaus says, "rather than as breadwinners."


1983: VISIONARIES
When Liberty Sport introduced Rec Specs in 1978, the eyewear manufacturer had no idea it would start a love affair between fans and players in goofy goggles. Future Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, who picked up a pair as a rookie with the LA Rams in 1983, was an early adopter. Bulls forward Horace Grant and Reds third baseman Chris Sabo soon followed. Another first: "Four-Eyes" became a compliment.


1984: FUTURE'S SO BRIGHT...
Now a recognizable trait of one of the NFL's most successful running backs, the visor had a utilitarian introduction to football. Vikings defensive end Mark Mullaney suffered an eye injury early in the '84 season. Minnesota equipment manager Dennis Ryan considered protecting him with the visor from a motorcycle helmet, but then he went a step further, enlisting a plastics manufacturer to customize a design. Fashion inevitably trumped function, though, and Nike, Oakley and Under Armour have all profited from Ryan's idea. The Darth Vaderish shields have been produced in smoked, blue, gold, rainbow bursts and other variations. Nothing was off-limits, until the No Fun League enacted a rule in '98 requiring a doctor's note to wear anything but clear.


1984: STERN BANS AIR JORDANS
The shoes -- black and red, with the winged basketball that marked the brand pre-Jumpman -- almost didn't make it onto His Airness' feet. Going into Jordan's ROY season, Nike honchos hoped to woo him into signing with their company by showing him a drawing of the now-iconic kicks. MJ's response: "I can't wear that shoe. Those are the devil's colors." He got over it. Jordan inked a $2.5 million endorsement deal and took the court in the offending footwear. The NBA commish promptly said the sneaks violated the league's dress policy (with no white on the uppers, they didn't match the Bulls' unis) and fined Jordan $5,000 each game he wore them. Nike picked up the tab. Propelled by the "Banned" TV commercial, in which the shoes were blacked out, Air Jordan brand sold more than $100 million worth of apparel by the end of the next year. Call it a deal with the devil.


1987: BREAKING THE COLOR BARRIER
When Liverpool signed John Barnes, an electric left wing of Jamaican heritage, he became one of the first black players to join the roster. As if he needed to garner more attention, Barnes broke the time-honored tradition of wearing black boots by sporting red kicks to match Liverpool's red kits. While one Brit announcer called the look "ridiculous," it wasn't long before soccer's biggest shoe companies were following Barnes' lead. What was the least popular boot color at the recent World Cup in South Africa? Yup, black.


1988: BALD IS BEAUTIFULl
By his fourth year in the league, Michael Jordan was losing his hair. He chose the most dignified solution. Soon, sponsors were fawning and peers were imitating his shiny dome. Even entire high school teams shaved their heads in tribute.


Lance Dawes1990s: Turner takes skaters to school.

1990s: PUNK TO PREP
Tony Hawk ruled the loud, punky 1980s skate scene with his McSqueeb haircut. Christian Hosoi, Hawk's androgynous archrival, was famous for wearing fluorescent spandex shorts while skating bare-chested. But it goes without saying that what one generation considers the height of cool, the next will consider the depths of lame. Enter the '90s. San Francisco -- then the mecca of the skateboarding world -- saw skaters shun the McSqueeb for a decidedly preppier and more urban aesthetic. Well before "prep-school gangster" was a youth-culture norm, Embarcadero was overrun with shaved-headed boarders in short-sleeve plaid shirts, khakis, Polo, even the odd cardigan. Jovontae Turner, one of the first to rock the collegiate look, regularly executed graceful 360 flips sporting several facial piercings, pager, North Face jacket, hanging braided belt, backpack and white tennis visor -- upside down, backward and cocked to the side at a rakish angle.

"Even though we were wearing somewhat expensive clothing, we made sure ours fit dramatically loose," says pro Shiloh Greathouse, who skated with Turner for World Industries. "Wearing the proper size would be giving up on the rebellion we inherited from the skateboarding, rap and punk rock of the '80s. By wearing pricey clothing in an unconventional way we were still flipping the middle finger to society."


US Presswire1991: The Fad Five bid farewell to short shorts.

1991: THE FABE FIVE COURT ATTENTION
Sure, baggy shorts, shaved heads and black socks don't sound particularly menacing now, but consider this: The same week Michigan fielded the best freshman class ever assembled, Michael Bolton's "When a Man Loves a Woman" ruled Billboard's Hot 100 and Ice Cube's Death Certificate album was banned in Oregon. Since then, a whole generation of hoops fans has matured without knowing a time when shorts were short and hip-hop was revolutionary. Future pros Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber and Jimmy King were each ranked in the top 10 of their recruiting class. Along with Ray Jackson (No. 84), they led the Wolverines to back-to-back national championship games. Though they lost both times, gear sales at the school jumped from $2 million before the quintet's arrival to $6.2 million following their second Final Four.


1997: ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR 'DO
Allen Iverson announced his arrival in the NBA with a game-changing style that defined his career. Sporting cornrows at the 1997 Rookie Game, he took home the MVP award despite a then-record 31 points from Kobe Bryant. Kids on concrete courts across the country had found a new role model. Latrell Sprewell showed up at Warriors' camp the next season with braids and helped AI pave the way for a look that became a league fixture over the next decade.


1999: RAIN-SHORTENED
The late Payne Stewart was a golf visionary. His signature Plus Fours (a.k.a. knickers) and colorful socks made him stand out from all the other blond-haired country club boys on the PGA Tour. But while Stewart's outfits were well choreographed, it was a spontaneous decision he made before the fourth round of the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst that started a fashion fad that stands to this day. With a gentle rain falling and temperatures rising, Stewart took a pair of scissors to his rain jacket, cutting off the sleeves above the elbow. "He felt like long sleeves were going to be too warm," says caddie Mike Hicks. "He went on the course and got into a good groove and kept it on the whole day." Stewart went on that day to win his third major but tragically died in a plane crash four months later. Says Hicks: "Within six months of the Open, every apparel company was making a short-sleeve rain jacket, and now it's all anyone seems to wear."


2002: TO SLEEVE OR NOT TO SLEEVE
Before Geno and Pat started raking in the millions, women's basketball wasn't even a piece of an athletic department's budgetary pie. Its on-court look was decidedly intramural too. "Everyone had shorts and T-shirts with ironed-on names and numbers," says Sonja Hogg, who started the Louisiana Tech program in 1974, then won two titles over an 11-year tenure. For its inaugural season, the school ponied up the money for some real uniforms, but Hogg felt going sleeveless would be unladylike,(so the team kept a little extra fabric on the upper arms. That look lasted until the summer of 2002, when then-coach Leon Barmore cut back the sleeves. The Lady Techsters had been rolling them up anyway.


2005: EYE BLACK GETS PERSONAL
No official birthdate exists for personalized eyeblack tape, but there's no arguing the year the cheekbone message officially made the map. In 2005, Reggie Bush, then a USC Heisman hopeful, inked 619 (his hometown San Diego area code) on each eyeblack sticker. College players across the land copied him, none more famously than Gator Tim Tebow, who used the facial platform to hype Bible passages. The NCAA banned the practice for the start of the 2010 season, reiterating that eyeblack should be used only as intended: to reduce the sun's glare.


2005: FIERCE FEMININITY
U.S. Olympic softball gold medalist Jennie Finch may have grown up a sports-loving tomboy, but that never prevented her from embracing her femininity. She regularly incorporated hair ribbons, makeup and headbands into her game-day rituals. So, when apparel company Mizuno signed Finch after she graduated from Arizona in 2002, it asked what she wanted to bring to the line. "I think it's cool to celebrate femininity and still be a fierce competitor," Finch says. "So I said I'd love to have a strip of pink on the items." Finch says most coaches want their teams to look tough and thus discourage feminine display. But that could be changing. An assistant women's softball coach at Texas recently texted Finch to say the Longhorns had received approval to wear glitter headbands.


2011: TIGHT SQUEEZE
Snowboarding style can best be described as slouchy, in a chic-y sort of way. The sport goes so far as banning sleek speedsuits in Olympic and World Cup events. And when several boarder X'ers rocked skinny aero pants at the 2010 Winter X Games, snowboarders everywhere howled in derision. Flash forward a year. Shaun White turns out for superpipe in -- what else? -- punk rock-inspired tight, black pants and matching black leather jacket. This time, the howls were of celebration -- for his look and his gold medal.