Q&A: How Under Armour created this weekend’s “interpretive throwback” uniforms


Source: Under Armour

Northwestern’s “interpretive throwback” uniform being worked on. The Wildcats and the Badgers are wearing uniforms based on the 1890s on Saturday.

Peter Warren, Print Managing Editor


As part of the 150th anniversary of college football, Under Armour this season created throwback uniforms for 12 of its member schools. This weekend, Northwestern and Wisconsin will be wearing “interpretive throwbacks” inspired by an Oct. 31, 1891 game that ended in a 0-0 tie.

The Daily talked with Nick Billiris, Under Armour’s senior design director for team sports, over the phone Wednesday about the planning, research and decision-making behind NU’s special uniform. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily: When did planning for the 150th anniversary of college football uniform series start?
Billiris: It started probably well over a year ago, maybe like 18 months ago, initial sort of strategy and planning around it. Once we established the Under Armour voice of the 150 story, we then sort of translated it down into the school-specific version of it. In this case for Northwestern, we identified a moment in time that we wanted to celebrate during the course of the year that was unique to them.

The Daily: What made 1891 the moment in time you wanted to choose?
Billiris: Because Wisconsin and Northwestern are both Under Armour schools, we knew they had a date on the calendar for them to play. Both Northwestern and Wisconsin identified that as an opportunity to tell a shared story among them. Once we got that mutual agreement from them that they both wanted to wear a uniform against each other in that contest, we then took it from there and started looking into ways that we could make it a shared story, and not really like it favors one versus the other.

Why we brought it back all the way to 1891 was we wanted to sort of level the playing field. We took a different sort of approach where we said, let’s look at the history of the rivalry that even preceded the Big Ten play, and let’s look at times when they actually tied. Once we started creating that list, we looked at the dates and the uniforms associated with those certain games.

The most unique that they could both agree on ended up pushing us back into 1891, which was the time when the football program was wearing almost baseball-like lace-up jerseys, or vests, and sweaters and things like that with just letters on the front. Northwestern actually had NWU across the front. It didn’t even have numbers on the back. The uniform that’s going to take the field this Saturday is actually a sort of a modern interpretation of what they wore during that time period. We tried to keep as many elements and as much of the feel of that era as possible.

The Daily: What are some of the ways you sort of tried to incorporate that feel into a uniform?
Billiris: It’s a lot of the authentic elements and storytelling elements. We studied a lot of historical pictures. We did a lot of research through Northwestern yearbooks from the 1890s to arrive at what felt like it came from that era. It was a much simpler sort of font and typeface during that time that showed up on the uniforms. We tried to take what was on the uniforms at that time, and then make our best sort of interpretation into what that would look like if we were to add a number. Then NU is also replicated in the helmet. Obviously, at that time, there were no helmets. It was even preceded when they wore leather helmets.

The Daily: Why did you decide to use a Wildcat logo from the 1950s on the gloves?
Billiris: Again, the uniform is based in 1891, but really, it serves as a symbol to celebrate the whole history of Northwestern football. We thought it was appropriate that we could pull different elements during the course of their football heritage to celebrate them. That’s why, even though the Wildcat mascot is not from the 1890s, we thought it was appropriate to include in the gloves and also on some of the sideline, retail apparel as well. When we took a step back from the 1890s approach and the initiative, we said this is really a celebration of Northwestern football from the very early stages of the program, all the way to where it currently is right now. That gave us a little bit of a wider sandbox in which we could play in. That’s why you see the 1950s Wildcat on the gloves.

The Daily: What would you call these uniforms?
Billiris: It’s an interpretive throwback. Because we couldn’t be truly authentic to the 1890s based on NCAA compliance, we tried to keep as many elements and as much of the integrity of that 1891 uniform as possible, knowing that it was a different era with different rules, players and uniform standards.

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