The History Of Women's World Cup Kits Shows Just How Much Things Have Changed
In 1971, the FA revoked its 50-year ban on women's football. Two decades later, the first Women's World Cup took place in China in 1991. In the years since, the women's version of the sport has grown in popularity. And although female footballers are yet to earn anywhere near as much as their male counterparts, other elements of their job are taking gender equality more seriously. As the history of Women's World Cup kits shows, this is particularly true of their outfits.
A great football kit translates the heart and soul of a country and its team into a pretty simple design. Each team is able to have a home and away kit, but designs must stick to FIFA's lengthy list of regulations. As Fast Company reports, a maximum of four colours is allowed, home and away kits must contrast, and reflective materials are banned.
Even though kit manufacturers are allowed a relative amount of freedom, women's uniforms have stuck to the same old tropes. According to The Guardian, historically, female footballers have received cast-offs from the men's team. Eventually, kits that better fitted their bodies were created, but these still stuck fairly closely to the design for men's kits.
But in the run-up to the 2019 Women's World Cup, women's teams across the world are making their own mark on their kits. The likes of Nike and adidas have taken players' thoughts and opinions into account, designing bespoke women's kits for the very first time. To fully appreciate this move, let's take a look at what female footballers have worn in the past.
"There is no discernible difference between the evolution of men's and women's football kit since 1991 as far as I can see," says Dave Moor, owner of the Historical Football Kits site. "This applies both in terms of the way the material is cut — shirts were loose fitting in the '90s but gradually changed to today's more tailored fit — nor in design." As you'll see later, keeping the fit in line with the men's side hasn't exactly been ideal for female players.
Looser jerseys were paired with a V-shaped neckline. (Some countries had collars; others did not.) In 1991, graphics were simple compared to today's look. As Moor notes, manufacturers were trying out "heat sublimation printing", resulting in the occasional appearance of stripes.
Things became slightly more elaborate for the 1995 Women's World Cup. Germany and Japan adopted the colours of their flag in diagonal designs; China and Denmark were similarly complex. This year is also believed to be the first time that a women's team — the USA bunch — wore something different from the men, states Moor. "It seems to me entirely appropriate that the [U.S. team] has a distinctive visual identity given their achievements when compared to those of the men's team," he adds.
Simplicity became the focus once again in the noughties. According to Moor, this was all down to the domination of three kit suppliers: adidas, Nike, and Puma. "The major influencing factor during this period was the development of the global market for sports leisurewear," he explains.
Think bright block colours and straightforward stripes. The 2007 Women's World Cup kits introduced a more rounded neckline for some teams with nondescript wavy patterns making an entrance.
It's the past decade that has allowed women's teams to really begin to set themselves apart when it comes to kits. In 2011, Japan's women's team looked to be wearing the same kit as the men — but a hint of pink distinguished it from the male red.
The 2015 World Cup was the first to feature 24 women's teams, allowing for a variety of styles to come to the forefront. Differing necklines (V, round, button-up shirt types) appeared along with a mixture of colours and prints.
But it's the upcoming 2019 tournament that has hit headlines for all the right reasons. As the reports the New York Times, for the first time ever, numerous women's teams have had input into the creation of their own bespoke kits. England's Lionesses have chosen a deep red rose-printed jersey for their away kit, Netherlands' team have swapped a lion crest for a lioness, and Australia's artistic look is inspired by Melbourne's street art.
As well as colour and pattern changes, the styles have also developed to become more female-friendly. As Fast Company reports, Nike seems to be leading the new era. Cassie Looker, senior product line manager for Nike's global football division, told the publication that drawstrings on shorts have been replaced by an elastic waistband to prevent sweating and friction. The brand also found that female players tend to have more muscular glutes, hamstrings, and quads, adjusting the fit of its 2019 shorts to suit.
Necklines are different too. Higher crewneck-like jerseys are now in play, appealing to players' modesty requirements. Shirts are also not as tight as male players, allowing women footballers to put them on without catching their hair. And, as the BBC reports, these kits are almost 25 percent lighter than the ones worn by women in the 1999 World Cup.
"It’s not impossible to figure out how to size for women," U.S. player Megan Rapinoe told Out magazine, praising the fact that modern jerseys are "becoming part of" players' bodies. It's a shame that it's taken this long for the sport to warrant such gratitude.