The rugby kit has come a long way since the sport began to gain notoriety in the early 1900s. The rugby kits of today are perfectly designed to make play as easy as possible and have developed as rapidly as the sport itself. Over a hundred years have passed since the sport first began, so how did the rugby kit get from where it was then to where it is now?
When rugby first began being played professionally, the kits focussed less on ergonomic design and more on a gentlemanly appearance. Rugby tops actually consisted of long sleeved button down shirts and at the very beginning players even wore a bow tie onto the pitch. Thick baggy shorts and sturdy walking boots were also part of the get up, making the first rugby ‘kits’ something to be desired.
When looking at rugby attire from the early 1900s, it is easy to see how the game gained the title ‘the gentlemen’s sport’. There were very few changes to the kit over the following decades, although some of the more extravagant elements disappeared. By the 1980s, the bow ties were ditched in favour of shirts with unbuttoned collars and the walking boot was substituted for the studded sports trainer.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the older elements of previous rugby kits seem to disappear. The designers still hadn’t got it quite right though, as they swapped buttoned shirts for heavy cotton jumpers. These jumpers were never ideal, as they soaked up thick mud and water on the pitch, making players very uncomfortable after 80 minutes play time.
The shirts, jumpers and shorts were also a disadvantage for many players before newer kits were designed, as they allowed opposing players to easy grab and take down their opponents. Despite this being a big problem for a number of years, it wasn’t until the summer of 2003 that the old baggy shirts were switched in favour of tighter fitting kits.
The tighter fit rugby kits added a new element of difficulty to the game and helped the sport evolve even further. It ensured that opposing team players had to use their skills and expertise to find new ways of tackling players, making the game more exciting.
The new streamlined kits have also changed materials too. Rather than using heavy cotton, kits now use a cotton-polyester blend that moves with the players as they run through the field. This modern design also incorporates breathable patches, to make players time on the pitch a little more comfortable.
New materials, clever designs and a desire to develop the sport have all led to the evolution of the rugby kit. From gentleman beginnings to the sleek modern designs of the 2000s, the history of the kit is a fascinating one.