Football: “A modern take on a historic look”: Behind the scenes of Northwestern’s offseason uniform upgrade


Joanne Haner/Daily Senior Staffer

Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his captains, running back Evan Hull and linebacker Bryce Gallagher, lead the Wildcats onto the field before Northwestern’s contest against Southern Illinois. The Cats are 1-1 in their new purple uniforms.

John Riker, Gameday Editor

Creating a new college uniform set is typically a lengthy process, lasting at least 18 months and requiring approval from people across the football program and athletic department.

For Northwestern, a crucial step in its recent football uniform update came late last season, when the team’s leadership council got a sneak peak at the set. According to Eryk Jackson, the equipment manager for football since July 2016, the players loved the new threads. The downside? The seniors would never have a chance to wear the uniforms in game action.

“Anytime they see something new, they’re excited,” Jackson told the Daily. “When we initially showed it to the leadership council last year, there were some guys who were like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to even be able to wear it.’”

The wait has been worth it. The Wildcats’ enthusiasm for their new threads has been matched by overwhelming support from NU’s fanbase in the months since its release. Before debuting the look on the field in Dublin for their season opener, the Cats posted photos of players in the new purple, white and black jerseys to the program’s Twitter account in June. Jackson also confirmed that the gothic alternates will stay in the uniform rotation.

While the changes to the Cats’ uniforms are not drastic, Jackson and NU players believe the nuances make the uniform much cleaner and central to the Cats’ brand.

The most obvious change is that the Northwestern stripe, a staple of NU football since 1909, has moved from the jersey’s chest to the shoulder sleeves. The color of the stripe has also changed to create more contrast, eliminating black all together and placing purple shoulder stripes on the white uniform and white shoulder stripes on the purple uniform. The shift fixes one of the aesthetic flaws of the previous set, which featured a nearly invisible black stripe on the purple jersey.

“If you look at the uniform, it’s a modern take on a historic look,” Jackson said. “What we did was take the opportunity to move the stripe to an area where you can see and made it one color, which is more in-line with our brand guide. We made that stripe pop and said, ‘Hey, this is us. This is our take on our brand.’” 

The update continues the innovation and reverence for tradition that has characterized the Cats’ partnership with Under Armour. When NU switched from Adidas and became Under Armour’s first Big Ten school in 2012, the Cats launched their marketing campaign with the line “Reclaim the Stripe!” and the bold placement of the Northwestern stripe across the chest. In the ensuing seasons, NU experimented with dozens of uniform combinations and alternates — including the wildly popular Gothic set.

Ella Brockway, a former Gameday Editor for The Daily and expert on NU’s uniform history, said the restoration of the Northwestern stripe set the tone for the Under Armour partnership.

“The whole point of that was taking something that had been something that was very iconic to Northwestern and repurposing it,” Brockway said. “If Northwestern didn’t have a huge history of success on the field, at least they did have these cool motifs and historical things they could put on.”

The new set harkens back to past decades as well, with the single-color sleeves on the purple and white jerseys paying homage to the Cats’ look in the 1970s and a white-and-purple stripe pattern on the black alternates that conjures memories of the dominant teams of the 1990s. Jackson said he also took inspiration from NU’s interpretive throwback uniforms in 2019, which emphasized simplicity and contrast.

Graduate tight end Charlie Mangieri admits he’s “not a big drip guy,” but when the Cats’ video team approached him during a pre-camp workout in search of players to model the new uniforms for their social media release, he couldn’t say no. 

“I wasn’t expecting to be one of the models, to be honest with you,” Mangieri said. “I was just lifting at the time, and I was one of the only guys here. I was like, ‘Hey, why not?’ It was a good feeling, and I’d never been part of anything like that.”

Along with senior receiver Malik Washington, senior defensive back A.J. Hampton Jr. and graduate running back Andrew Clair, Mangieri suited up and posed in front of Deering Library.

Washington, who helps pick combinations for games as a member of the Cats’ uniform committee, thought the backdrop was a fitting choice.

“We went in front of the library and stuff, and that shows how Northwestern we are,” Washington said. “Putting that thing on for the first time and being one of the cover models, it felt good.”

NU certainly played well in the uniforms’ first appearance against Nebraska in August, a 31-28 Cats win in which NU donned purple jerseys and purple pants. The uniforms failed to prevent the Cats’ three-game skid in September, but the debut of the white jersey in NU’s road game at No. 11 Penn State could bring much-needed magic. 

“We still haven’t worn all the jerseys yet, but the guys love it,” Jackson said. “It’s a classic take; it’s a timeless piece. It’s something that can stand the test of time for generations to come.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jhnriker

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