Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century
Since the subject matter of this research deals with the twentieth century, we will defer any discussion of nineteenth century precedents. Certainly, the history of baseball jersey is evolutionary and the uniforms of 1900 are a continuation of 1899 but the story of earlier uniforms is even more difficult to develop and we will reserve that information for future additional research. An important finding of such research will be establishing the starting point of use of separate uniforms at home and on the road, which was standard for all major league teams by 1900.
Uniform fabrics in 1900 were either 100% wool flannel or a blend of wool and cotton. Summer temperatures and humidity were no different than now and the idea of playing baseball weighted down with these heavy uniforms seems unthinkable today. But play they did, and with as much vigor and dash as the modern, more comfortably clothed players of the 1980's. The weight of these wool and cotton flannels was gradually reduced in half by the 1940's but the problems of durability and shrinkage had not improved much. The advent of synthetic fibers in the post-WWII era (NYLON, DACRON, ORLON) paved the way for improved blends. The most successful of these was the WOOL / ORLON blend in the sixties — seemingly the "ultimate" material for baseball shirt. But the double-knit fabrics introduced in the early seventies provided so many more attractive and practical features over flannel: lighter, cooler, more comfortable, more durable, etc. etc. Traditionalists insist that the tight-fitting stretchy double knit suits cannot compare with the well-tailored flannel look of the sixties, but the use of the flannel materials for sublimation hockey jersey is "history" — unless some new miracle fabric comes along that more clearly simulates flannel.
FABRIC PATTERNS AND COLORS
Home uniforms for all clubs at the turn of the century were white, while road uniforms were either gray or a darker hue. The material itself was heavy wool flannel which must have been insufferably warm in mid-summer. Pin striping in the fabric first appeared around 1907 — a fine, narrowly spaced line on the road grays that was barely visible from a distance. The Chicago Cubs were probably the first to use this pattern, but the Boston Nationals went a step further with a discernable green pin stripe on their 1907 road suits. The Brooklyn club was yet more daring with a fine blue cross-hatch pattern on their 07 road grays. This checked effect would be used later by the New York Giants and again by Brooklyn (with wider spacing) on several occasions. The wider spaced, more visible pin striping first appeared on several major league team uniforms in 1912. The finer striping on road uniforms was becoming common and by the mid-teens, half the teams were sporting the more distinct pin-stripes on their home uniforms. The Giants in 1916 provided the ultimate an almost plaid effect with a crossing of multiple fine lines of purple.
A popular alternative to the gray-colored travelling suits in the 1900-1915 era was a solid dark blue or black material with white relief — often a negative image of their home whites. Although black and white photography may conceal earlier examples, the color TAN was introduced on the Dodger's 1937 road uniforms (to complement the Kelly Green trim). Charles 0. Finley's Kansas City A's in 1963 challenged the entire tradition of home / road colors with a stunning gold and green combination. By the 1970's, light blue was in common use in place of the gray color on road suits.
Several styles of cap design were worn in the first decade by major league clubs. The "pillbox" or Chicago style usually incorporated horizontal striping much like a layer cake and was a survivor of the 1890's. The so-called "Brooklyn" style had a higher, fuller rounded crown than the more common "Boston" style. The Boston style was the forerunner of future cap styles with a rounded close-fitting crown, more abbreviated than current styles and with the top button tilted more toward the front. Variations of the "cake box" crown resurfaced in later years — the A's of 1909-1915, the Giants in 1916 and the Pirates in modern times. The standard modern cap has changed very little in recent decades — slightly fuller crown and larger sun visor than its antecedents.
Baseball pants, up to the TV age, were like Henry Ford's Model T: you could have any color you wanted as long as it was BLACK. The shoe height dropped from just below the ankle bone to a basic low-quarter style by 1910. The KC A's revolutionary white shoes in the sixties opened the door for color matching and hardly an all-black shoe can be found on today's major leaguers.