So I was looking through the membership card gallery the other day, and I was suddenly struck by something I’d never noticed before: Most of the drop shadows and block shadows fall down and to the right — call it the five o’clock shadow.
As I started looking at photos, I realized that five o’clock shadows are standardized throughout most of the sports world. The primary exception among current teams is the New York Rangers, whose block shadows go down and to the left (a protocol that holds for all their jerseys). For everyone else, it’s down and to the right, down and to the right, ad infinitum.
I was curious about how this phenomenon became so entrenched. Was it because we read from left to right? Was it because the sun sets in the west, casting an eastward shadow? Was it a something designers consciously considered when coming up with uniform designs, or did they just reflexively go with the five o’clock format without even thinking about it?
I posed those questions to Todd Radom and Scott M.X. Turner, both of whom have designed a few uniforms in their day. Here’s an edited version of their responses:
Todd Radom: Agreed, drop shadows traditionally fall off to the bottom right, and I can only assume that this is a logical function of [our culture’s] left-to-right thing. Are there any drop shadows in the new Israeli baseball league that go from right to left? [I don’t think so. — PL]
My 2 cents: Bottom-right is the way to go. And the shadow should be connected to the top layer of lettering, as opposed to just being set off. Also, I think any drop shadow should be darker than the layer on top, so white drop shadows on a black background, for instance, make no sense at all.
The 49ers numbers achieve drop shadow perfection for my money.
Scott M.X. Turner: What Todd said, basically. The Rangers’ bottom-left look has become so iconic that it doesn’t strike me as odd (though it does feel counterintuitive when I do Rangers treatments for Uni Watch cardbacks).
I agree block shadow is a better idea than drop shadow. … I’m not as sold that the bottom layer needs to be darker, however — the St. Louis Browns stuck orange under brown back in the ’40s, and Cleveland did it in 1970 with red under navy [and let’s not forget this — PL]. I guess it depends on whether you’re trying to convey a shadow or a block. If it’s a shadow, then Todd’s right, should be darker; block, then most anything goes.
Unlike the well-documented histories of pinstripes, certain colors, and logos, I’m not sure there’s a way to know for sure why shadows came out lower-right. Just that most of us designers agree that’s the way it feels right. And nine times out of ten, the feel’s more important than the math.
Todd also pointed out what may be the oddest configuration of all: the one used by the late-1950s Washington Senators, whose block shadow ran up and to the right. I’m unaware of any other team having done this. But then again, until a week or so ago I hadn’t given much thought to this topic to begin with.
And that’s the thing — once you start thinking about a subject like this, all sorts of things start jumping out at you. With my “shadow radar” more finely tuned in recent days, I’ve suddenly noticed a few more left-leaning shadows. During my recent visit to Lelands, for example, I turned over this New Jersey Knights jersey and immediately fixated on the nameplate. And when preparing yesterday’s ESPN column about “one and done” designs, I was got a little rush of excitement when I saw the shadow configuration on Wisconsin’s one-day design from 1995.
My feeling is that while drop and block shadows often look good (especially on a membership card), they can also add unnecessary clutter to a design. And while I haven’t done a formal tally, my sense of things is that more teams are employing shadows these days than in the past, because they’re so easy to execute digitally. I’m fairly certain teams like the Mets, Dolphins, and 49ers, all of which added drop shadows within the past decade, wouldn’t have done so if it hadn’t been so easy for a designer to call everyone over to his computer and say, “Look, what if we just did this…” I’m not saying there’s no place for shadows, but most of them these days come with the distinct echo of “Because we can.”
Raffle Results: I’m happy to announce that the winner of the Helmet Hut raffle for a free college football helmet is Vertically Arched member Mike Brodsky. Mike, please get in touch with me pronto to claim your prize.
Thanks to all who entered. And I can absolutely promise, incidentally, that next month’s raffle is gonna be a mind-blower.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Creepy Nike product placement of the day — and one of the best ever — here (with mega-thanks to Chris Dominiak). … The Jets, who were originally known as the Titans, will be having a, uh, Titanic throwback game on October 14th. Lots good Titans info is available here (and be sure to check out the JetsTV video link, which features some fantastic Titans footage — special thanks to Mike from Queens for that link). … Cool-sounding exhibit of military uniforms currently on display in Delray Beach, Florida. Details here (with thanks to Jeff Fishman). … Speaking of military unis, check out this. … Yesterday Todd Radom e-mailed me an article about various lowlights in Phillies uniform history (it’s not web-accessible, alas), and one passage in particular caught my eye: “June 10, 1972. Trying to inject some life into a 19-29 club at the start of a homestand, gimmick-obsessed team vice president Bill Giles suggested that, since the Phillies had been playing better on the the road than at home, they ought to try their road uniforms at the Vet. Giles’ plan bombed. The Atlanta Braves’ 15-3 victory included Hank Aaron’s 649th home run, a grand slam.” The Braves were wearing the “feather” design on the road that year, so it wasn’t gray-vs.-gray, but still — two teams wearing road uniforms? I’d never heard about this before. Anyone else? … When not serving me cocktails, doing my laundry, and changing Tucker and Caitlin’s litterbox, Uni Watch intern Vince Grzegorek moonlights at a dental office. And who should come in for a root canal yesterday but a VP of Sales for Reebok. “He was dressed head to toe in Reebok stuff,” reports Vince. “Shorts, shoes, socks, and the logo was EXTREMELY prominent.” While he was in the chair, Vince slipped him some nitrous oxide and nabbed this Cleveland Browns cap from his briefcase. Then he put a Uni Watch temporary tattoo on his arm, etched a Nike swoosh onto one of his front teeth, and doubled his bill. All in a day’s work. … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: Major hosiery development Wednesday night, as Esteban Loaiza was wearing special stirrups with the A’s logo on the side. Best photo so far (provided by Roger Faso) is here — you can just barely make out the logo on Loaiza’s left ankle. Anyone got a better shot? I can’t do screen grabs from my backup computer (main machine’s still in the shop, grumble-grumble), but I’m told that there were some close-up views in the first inning. … Here’s a quote for the ages: “It was an interesting lesson to learn in how quickly a fire can happen.” To appreciate the full context, look here (with thanks to Peter Bliao). … The Trenton Thunder unveiled a new identity system yesterday. … And Cleveland State unveiled a new logo (as noted by Josh Yetmar). … Golf report from Dan Sherman, who writes: “At the first round of the FedEx cup, close to 50 golfers were wearing blue belts with silver buckles inscribed with ‘IFF,’ for ‘Ian and Friends Foundation.'” Details here. … I’d heard about the Denver Bears’ “strike zone uniforms” before, but I’d never seen them — until now (with thanks to George McClure). … Can someone please tell the Mariners to stop wearing their BP jerseys in actual games? They did it again last night. … Here’s one I hadn’t been aware of: As you know, the Steelers switched from block numbers to their current font in 1997. But for the first game of that season — and only the first game — they kept their old block lettering for the nameplates, before switching to their now-familiar rounded font in Week 2. … Tired of seeing your favorite team’s baseball cap rendered in all sorts of weird colors? You’re not the only one (good find by Dave Miller). … Latest MLBer to wear toe socks: Brendan Ryan of the Cardinals. This and several other uni-related tidbits can be found in the last four paragraphs of this article. Meanwhile, the second text section of this piece reports that Ryan has some unusual taste in eyewear. (Both items sent my way by Elena Elms, who I’m pretty sure has a crush on Ryan.) … Mike Lowell has been wearing a Jeff Bagwell-style padded batting glove lately. “It was made by using an old piece of catching equipment, an idea conceived by the Red Sox trainers,” says AJ Chalifour. … Got an e-mail last night from Jay Gordon, who’s the editor-in-chief of Uniforms magazine (!), which features lively columns like “The Uniforms Laboratory” and “Ask the Uniforms Guy” (who, for some inexplicable reason, isn’t me). Granted, none of the uniforms are sports-related, but it still looks pretty damn cool. … Jason Cruz notes that there sure seems to be a lot of stuff going on on Lauren Jackson’s shoes. Anyone know what the “153” is for?