Football Flashback: Discussing 1940s American Football Dress

It’s College Football Bowl game season in the U.S.! Every year in December and early January, American collegiate football teams compete in post-season bowl games based on National ranking, culminating in a play-off for the National Championship. Inspired by a slight detour in our seminar last week, as well as a love for American football, I wanted to discuss the dress of American college football players and cheerleaders from the 1940s in comparison with contemporary uniforms.

The football uniform of the 1940s differs greatly from the ones seen on the field today—the padding underneath the jersey is lighter, and the helmets much less protective. The players in the image below are seen without metal face guards or mouth guards, greatly contrasting with American football players today, who have multiple layers of massive and enveloping padding and protective gear. The players in the 1940s have plain jumpers and shorts (without team names or sponsorship logos!) with a relatively simple cut and style that does not differ between teams. The style is much looser and less form fitting than the contemporary football uniform.

Rose Bowl 1944, Image via the PAC 12 Website

American cheerleaders of the 1940s also wore jumpers, typically with collared blouses underneath, and flowing round skirts. The saddle shoe, worn with white crew-length sport socks was extremely popular, and became a classic feature of the cheerleader uniform. The 1940s cheerleading uniform was significant in function; it allowed for more mobility and movement while performing in uniform. The contemporary cheerleader uniform now ranges in style: shorter skirts, cropped tops, shorts, or dance dresses. Thankfully, the pom-poms have remained the archetypal cheerleader accessory.

University of Maryland Cheerleaders, 1949

Stylistically, American football and cheerleading uniforms have changed drastically in the past 80 or so years. The contemporary football and cheerleader uniforms developed in a direction valuing safety and freer movement.

Good luck to my football team, the USC Trojans, who are playing in the 2017 Cotton Bowl on the 29th of December!

By Arielle Murphy