The Phenomenon, The Trend and The Beauty of Retro Sportswear

“I believe there will always be a market for original, retro sportswear. I think it’s just human nature to enjoy reminiscing about stuff. It’s all about the memories really.” – Tom Allen, founder of classic eleven football shirts.

A sensation where 30-year-old football shirts can be sold for close to £200. A phenomenon where your rotten, broken and miserable football boots can now be sold for 5 times the value they were purchased for 15-years-ago. A trend which see’s teenagers searching, probing and delving into every corner of their local charity shop to try and unearth a hidden 1990’s Adidas original shellsuit. Retro sportswear is ironically nothing new, but the beauty of it has created jobs, businesses, trends and worldwide fashion tendencies.

When you boxed away your 1994 AC Milan strip to the dark and damp confides of your attic only to be protected by the irremovable cobwebs you probably didn’t expect to one day see your son desperately digging it out, you didn’t expect to see teenagers walking into nightclubs proudly sporting the same Fila tracksuit tops that you used to wear, did you? But we live in a time where so many of us didn’t expect to be spending our weeks wage on shirts that smell of our Gran’s curtains. But that smell is the smell of history, a nod to the good things in life, a nod the things that don’t exist anymore. A nod to Johan Cruyff’s hips, a nod to the very tears that dripped from Paul Gascoigne’s rosy cheeks in the summer of 1990, a nod to Ole Gonnar Solskjaer’s right foot on a late evening in Barcelona in 1999, a nod to heritage.

We live in a world where sportswear and particularly retro sportswear has become a trend far external to the world of sports. A world where the likes of superstars such as Jonah Hill and Drake can be seen wearing a very certain pink away Juventus top for no other reason than because it’s fashion.

In 2006 friends Matt and Doug who both studied at University in Manchester founded a business in their student home on the foundations of credit cards and student loans. This business was built entirely on the principle and idea of selling classic sportswear, and so Classic Football Shirts was born. Fast forward to 2011 and the business that started in their bedrooms had now moved into a 15,000 foot warehouse which contained over 50,000 items of kit room stock from AC Milan through a deal from the previous year. By 2013 they were working with 50 clubs and 20 brands worldwide and in 2016 they found themselves with over 100,000 followers on all social media platforms and with 25 individuals working for them.

Danny Taylor who now handles the marketing for Classic Football Shirts told us “Trends in fashion often work in cycles and nostalgia and retro sportswear has become more and more popular but we anticipate that growth to sustain itself rather than fade away.” Danny adds, “People want choice and not everyone wants to look identical at the game but still be able to show off their team colours. So for fans who want to make an investment that offers individuality and value for money then retro will always be a popular alternative. It’s also a gentle nod of appreciation to the past, reminiscing about a proud history or successful seasons from a year gone by.”

When discussing certain trends Danny notes “The late 1980’s and early 1990’s seems to be a very popular era due to the growth in TV coverage raising the game to new levels and the designs really stepped up in terms of style. Iconic shirts like the West Germany 1990 shirt and Holland 1988 are still regarded by many as the greatest shirts of all time.”

Tom Allen who is the founder of Classic Eleven Football Shirts also adds, “1990s shirts are the most emerging, and that’s due to the generation that lived through it now wanting a taste of it again. In the 2020s I would expect the 00s to be the most emerging, and on it goes. Aside from that, the legend of yesteryear are always going to be the shirts that people want; Del Piero, Batistuta, Beckham, Zidane, etc.”

While Classic Eleven Football Shirts was set up in 2013 Tom tells us that “its origins go back go back to 2006 when I started collecting football shirts with a view to simply saving some ‘future classics’ for later years. The World Cup in Germany was in full swing so the first shirt I bought was a France 2006 away with Zidane on the back – and talk about beginners luck because that shirt is now worth around 4 times the original retail price! After a few years I sold a few and realised I had a little money on some, and that’s where it started to get more serious. Fast forward a few years and I set up and we now have 1000s of original old football shirts in stock.”

Similarly, Mike Maxwell who set up the football shirt collective which is a community and a marketplace to trade vintage shirts and products inspired by classic moments, tells us that it also started from humble beginnings “My mates and I have always collected football shirts. But as we got older we had less chance to wear them. Couldn’t wear them to work, played less football and our wives didn’t let us wear them on a Saturday night. So I set up the site to give people a chance to show off their collections. It started on Instagram and then grew into a blog sharing stories of people’s first shirts. And we realised it was very emotive. Whether a footballer, journalist or fan everyone has a memory of their first shirt.”

Mike goes on to tell us, “The biggest trend we’ve seen is that vintage sportwear goes beyond just vintage football shirts. There is a growing market in t shirts, hats and art work.” This is certainly true with so many now looking to fill their wardrobes with retro trainers, tracksuits and caps.

19-year-old University of Swansea student Jamie Lovell sighs deeply when we meet him and almost regretfully tells us “I must of spent something silly like nearly £200 on just tracksuit jackets alone. But that’s my thing, that’s my look. People know me for my classic and slightly outrageous original jackets. I’d rather spunk my money on classic streetwear that represents and reflects an era. Why wear some boring rubbish from high street places like Topman? Do you really want to be out there looking like every other Jack, Jill and Mary?”

Jamie also gives a nod to the classic football shirts; “I spent almost an entirety of a festival last summer in one of my Dad’s old AC Milan tops. When it comes to my own team, Hull City, I’d much rather be spending my money on classic Hull tops from previous decades then ridiculous money on shirts being released every season.”


Billy Hodder

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