First things first, I know nothing about golf. I have never in my life spent a clear Saturday out on the links, and it’s probably been just about a decade since I last picked up a club, and even then it was probably just to play a round of putt putt. Despite my glaring lack of hands on experience, I’ve always found the sport fascinating. There’s something about the singularity of golf – how one player, one stroke, one slight shift in the wind can change everything, that I can’t help but love. For a sport that relies so heavily on decorum and it’s methodical pace, I’ve also always enjoyed watching golf. So this weekend, I like so many others will be watching the U.S. Open live from Ardmore, PA. While I do relish a good match-up, the one thing I do abhor about today’s golfers is their regrettable attire. In my opinion style is never more evident than in sports, when a player’s internal feelings are most outwardly perceivable, which is way I’ll always revere Arnold Palmer.
What’s a Sunday without football? What’s a hardwood court without a team to inhabit it? What’s America without it’s national pastime? These might seem like impossible scenarios, questions not worth asking with answers not worth contemplating, but they’re the lingering ideas that I was left to consider this weekend after reading Michael Mooney’s article for SB Nation on the death of Jai Alai in America. Until reading that article, what little knowledge I had of Jai Alai I’d picked up from two equally off kilter episodes of Mad Men and Jackass, which meant that I remembered two things – in the sixties the sport made a push for a rightful place in American athletics, and the game is fast enough to inflict serious (read: humorous) bodily harm.
On Monday I mentioned that I didn’t think it was right to start the week out by writing about Brunello Cucinelli’s soccer team, but as the week wore on I figured why not round the week out by giving some love to A.S. Castel Rigone. Founded in 1998 and located in the central Italian town where he was born, Cucinelli only owns the team, but plays with them several times a week. The team and Cucinelli’s life long love of the game are a key part of the now famous philosophy that Cucinelli has used to guide his brand since it’s inception. Tucked away in the middle of Italy, Cucinelli has gained notoriety not only for his world class cashmere, but also for his ability to run an incredibly successful business free from almost all conventional industry practices. Cucinelli attributes his success to a belief system that advocates for enjoying life over everything else. By balancing hard work with down time Cucinelli and his employees have thrived in both work and life for decades. Which is where A.S. Castel Rigone comes in, a team that Cucinelli and his staff not only watch, but take part in as well. Not to mention the fact that the team’s off the field outfits are Cucinelli suits, making them easily one of the best dressed soccer teams in the world. I mean there’s a damn good reason why they all so happy in that team portrait.
It’s hard to argue with the purity of soccer. Two halves, ninety plus minutes, rabid fans, no pads, twenty two players. There’s something about that stripped-down nature of the game that puts the emphasis on what’s in front of you. There’s no frills, it’s just two teams and the moment. Yet the game wasn’t always this clear cut or streamlined.
Although soccer wasn’t always this orderly, initially it was just groups of friends that came together to play the emerging game. During this period clubs didn’t have set uniforms which lead to mass confusion on all sides of the ball. These players would wear either cricket shirts if they had them, or just throw on whatever they could piece together, and were separated into teams by small items such as hats or scarves. As soccer went professional in England during the early 1870′s both spectators and the press called for some uniformity in the sport (sorry I had to.) As soccer was largely an upper class sport, early jersey colors were mainly based on school or club colors. For players that weren’t lucky enough to be on wealthy squads, they were left wearing plain white shirts, as the expense fell upon the team itself, not the individual players.
This worked for a while, but it couldn’t keep up with the sport’s expansion, and pretty soon soccer outgrew this simplistic uniform system. Around the start of the twentieth century clubs were becoming more legitimate, and their uniforms followed suit. Low quality soccer shirts were replaced with tough, slimmed down jerseys, and clubs began sporting full matching unifoms. The details of the shirt were still largely up to the club itself, with many teams opting for laced crew necks (think Michael Bastian’s rugby shirt without the collar) and various stripes to make the players more noticeable.
Professional soccer was shelved at the start of World War One, and when it returned after the war, the laced neck was gone, replaced by a straight collar with a v-neck. Over the next several years teams continued to tweak colors and patterns to set their players apart. In 1939, this ingenuity reached a new level as British teams began putting numbers on the back of their jerseys for the first time. Unfortunately, just as this move was being made, World War Two began and it was over half a decade before numbered jerseys actually became prevalent on the field. After the Second World War, the numbers and details that had become an integral part of British jerseys spread throughout Europe, allowing teams to create jerseys that represented their respective regions.
Around the mid twenty first century teams began experimenting with new materials, shifting away from cumbersome cottons to lighter synthetics that allowed for greater movement. Long sleeve shirts were replaced by short sleeves, the v-neck was switched out for a crewneck, and the modern jersey shape was finalized. During the next few decades, more technical materials were introduced, and sponsors began slapping their logos across the jerseys. The jerseys of today are loud and in your face, covered in brash colors, big logos, and unmistakeable patterns. While on the field jerseys shift further into becoming intense statement pieces for the players, the influence of more the traditional soccer jersey can still be seen in menswear today. The long sleeved, striped cotton shirt can still be seen in many collections today, harkening back to the early English clubs and their primitive unis.
There was a time, during tennis’ early days, when the entire sport could be described as simple. Casual games were played between friends on country clubs’ grass courts during the weekends. They dressed in basic white shoes, wide legged pants, long sleeve button downs, or the occasional polo shirt, and tennis sweaters in the cooler weather. The competitive sphere was fragmented and difficult to make a living off of, which kept pro tennis is relative obscurity. And then in the early seventies, the sport experienced a major shift. The professional circuit became more organized as “The Open Era” was ushered in, allowing players to travel along the tour circuit and live off their tournament earnings. As tennis was legitimized, public interest in the sport rose sharply, and television networks began broadcasting matches.
These televised games introduced the modern tennis star to the American public and by the late seventies, tennis was dominated by players that were noteworthy not merely for their prowess on the court, but for their larger than life personalities. It was a time when players were unforgiving and unforgettable, when pros proudly wore Fila headbands, striped polos, long hair, and Nike sneakers as they won championships. Players such as John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg were idolized not only for their skill, but for their personalities as well. This was an era when audiences would sit on the edge of their seats, as games would come down to that final point. And then as that last hit would land just so, turning pro into champion, that player would fall to his knees and let out a defiant victory cry. It is those moments that define the golden years of tennis - extraordinary athletes playing the once simple game with legendary style.
In 1973 when Bill St. John founded Boast, the company’s name was not just a word, it encapsulated the very spirit of American tennis during that era. The early’s 70′s were a time of American dominance on and off the court, when players with big personalities would win games with authority and then go out for a few beers after. During that year, St. John was working as a resident pro in Greenwich, Connecticut when decided to start a company that would emulate this bold era of American tennis. Boast’s tennis sweaters became an instant success, not only on the tennis courts but in golf and squash as well. Boast tapped into the attitude of this period, when athletes were brash and creative, and creatives dabbled in sports. For Boast, this was a time of dominance in their own right as, everyone from the Yale squash team, to tennis pros, to John Updike sported the company’s maple leaf logo.
While that maple leaf emblem might have fallen out of the public eye for a few years now, the brand has recently seen a revival as entrepreneurs John Dowling and Alex Tiger have worked to reintroduce Boast to the modern market. Inspired by their love for the brand that they used to wear as kids, the two men decided to contact Bill St. John to bring the brand into the 21st century. Boast’s recognizable Pervuian cotton polos and maple leaf logo remain, but with the support of creatives Partners & Spade, and Ryan Babenzien, the designs have been updated for the contemporary man with that same brash spirit of 1970′s tennis pros.