Even the most devoted classical dresser can be coaxed from his worsted and woolen shell when the urge to support a sports team strikes. This is particularly true at the moment; the World Cup has the unique ability to unearth previously unknown allegiances in friends and colleagues, some hotly defended no matter how spurious the connection. Pride of this sort can cloud judgment though; who hasn’t witnessed some less-than trim character squeezed into the newer style of painted-on jersey? Oversized versions are the more common offender, but neither could ever be considered part of an elegant wardrobe, even if rarely worn. So how can the classical dresser participate without compromising a commitment towards personal style?
Firstly, why does wearing sports gear chafe the sensibilities of the more classically oriented anyway? Historically, sports fields and stadia have been a rich source of style. Polo coats, chukka boots, tennis sweaters, plimsolls, pique polos—all of these items began life as solutions for real athletes. The social scene that arises around an event was also fecund ground for personal style; Esquire and Apparel Arts sent reporters to cover (American) football rivalries between various ivy league universities in hopes of spotting the newest fashions for their readers.
The obvious answer is that sports gear has taken a decidedly inelegant turn in the past forty years or so, employing synthetics wherever possible, plastering every available inch with sponsorship branding, and doing away with any element deemed superfluous. Simultaneously a dramatic change in proportion has occurred; shorts have become longer and baggier, jersey’s often the same. It wasn’t that long ago that Mike Tyson entered the ring in unadorned black mid-thigh shorts. He looked menacing and explosive as he surveyed the crowd, most of whom wore tuxedoes for the occasion. Are we surprised that the advent of bill-board shorts goes hand-in-hand with ring-side seats populated by unshaven, sunglass-wearing celebrities?
I almost teared-up when I discovered England’s national kit had forsaken the crisp little collar that made wearing replicas such a pleasure in the past. France fans are fortunate; their team’s jerseys are particularly smart in navy with white collars. But, those, too, seem doomed as collarless compression tops become the default style. I recommend seeking out older jerseys; they may still be synthetic, but even versions as recent as ten years old typically have retained a collar, a tailored silhouette and a less egregious clash of branding. This is a bottomless well though; secondary markets exist for collectors of vintage and rare jerseys and, like any coveted and limited product, prices can quickly become exorbitant for the most desirable specimens.
If you really cannot bare a synthetic jersey, a subtle, low drama effect can be achieved with a badge or pin. The truly dedicated might have an official badge sewn on to a well fitting polo; the effect is surprisingly convincing, and no more noticeable than a polo with any other chest-mounted emblem. I wouldn’t sew a badge on a blazer, but I have worn a pin through the button hole to great effect. In fact, I attended a garden party during the last World Cup wearing ready-to-wear chinos, the aforementioned badged polo and a lightweight blazer with a small pin on the lapel. The combination went largely unnoticed until a fellow England supporter spotted me, revealing his own jersey beneath his blazer. He wanted to know where I found my pin.
Finally, scarves, which would be a perfect fan accessory if they weren’t so season specific. A brightly colored and loudly printed scarf can be worn without fear of looking like a paid mascot. It can be waived around, held up for the cameraman, or, if your team wins in hostile territory, quickly stuffed into an interior pocket during an escape. So useful is the supporter scarf, I’m proposing its summer alternative: the supporter cotton neckerchief, to be worn in a square knot beneath a collared jersey.