[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry by Tim Newcomb, who has written an ode to what he feels is an underappreciated color. — PL]
By Tim Newcomb
Brown has never been the “new black” in uniforms. Never has been and, quite likely, never will be. Even teams that have brown in their name (the Cleveland Browns, Rhode Island’s Brown University) often relegate their eponymous color to benchwarmer status.
Having worn lots of brown and yellow while growing up as a Padres fan, I understand why that combination is often viewed as dated. But brown is more than the old San Diego color that Steve Garvey famously called a taco look. It has personality. If given a chance, it could develop a future.
Alas, brown is so unloved that it’s never even had a heyday. If we look at the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB, only three teams have featured brown: the St. Louis Browns (they didn’t have a lot of options, now did they?), who played for over 50 years in brown and orange before moving to Baltimore and switching the brown to black; the San Diego Padres, who wore brown from the team’s inception in 1969 until 1991; and that aforementioned team from Cleveland, who didn’t wear their brown jerseys even once last season (although that’s apparently going to change this year).
As for the NCAA, Wyoming wears brown well. And Lehigh. The list isn’t much longer than that. Brown University uses silver and red as its primary uniform colors, saving brown for a few highlights. Two other schools that claim brown in their color palette, Western Michigan and Bowling Green, put it on the back burner in favor of gold and orange, respectively.
Todd Radom, a graphic designer who has created everything from minor league baseball uniform designs to Super Bowl logos, says brown’s first issue, if you don’t count the “inevitable bathroom comparisons,” stems from its lack of versatility. “Orange and brown go really well together, and that’s about it,” he says. “Maybe beige or tan, some golds and yellows, or some reds. Combining cool colors with brown doesn’t really work most of the time, and brown as a dominant color has to be pretty dark in value to carry the day.”
Radom says brown’s most prevalent use was in the 19th century, before the advent of modern marketing, focus groups, and broadcast television (where brown often looks like black). So it’s not surprising that the few remaining brown bastions can trace their brown roots back to the 1800s. Lehigh, for example, has worn brown since 1865. And Wyoming’s brown/gold color scheme was inspired by an alumni banquet in 1895, when decorators chose brown-eyed Susans to garnish the room.
Wyoming football went for a mix-and-match redesign in 2011, and brown stayed in play. In fact, the Cowboys even emphasized the brown angle, adding a brown helmet for the first time since 1976 and changing all the facemasks to brown. Timothy Harkins, an athletic department spokesperson, says brown merchandise now sells on par with gold.
Harkins says that folks in Wyoming love the brown and “take great pride” in the color. The school has tweaked and toyed with the golden hue over the last century-plus, but never touched the brown.
While Wyoming and Lehigh love their brown, the Padres banished brown from their color scheme in 1991 and have never revisited it. Although a certain vocal faction of the public has called for the team to bring back the brown, other fans have been just as vocal in their cries to keep the color locked away. The debate may be moot, because Anne Occi, MLB’s vice president in charge of design, says brown was never considered as an option during the team’s most recent redesign. “It was not even brought up.”
That’s a shame. As franchises look to carve out a marketing niche, brown could project a classic look — or a funky one, if paired with the right “cool” hue — that others can’t provide. We’ve all seen so much blue and red that those colors run together, and we certainly know that teams can add a black jersey for no good reason. If teams would just be willing to take a bit of a chromatic risk, they’d find that brown — if executed with a modern flair — can push a more daring agenda than it’s generally given credit for.
Tim Newcomb is a contributor for Time, Sports Illustrated, Popular Mechanics, and other publications. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.
French Open Round-up
By Brinke Guthrie
The fans are flocking to Roland Garros once again for the French Open, and as usual the players on court are exhibiting a wide variety of styles. Men’s top-ranked Novak Djokovic has debuted his new line from Japanese maker Uniqlo. Turns out that Uniqlo isn’t a core sports outfitter, but more of a Japanese mass-marketer selling “basic and affordable clothing,” according to the New York Times.
Caroline Wozniacki’s tour nickname is “sunshine,” and that matches this orange/yellow Adidas by Stella McCartney look. Ana Ivanovic’s look, along with other Adidas-sponsored players, is shown here.
PermaRec Update: Paul here. The two women shown at right had a lot of things in common, not the least of which is that both of their Manhattan Trade School report cards ended up in my possession. They both went on to big things, in remarkably similar ways. It was a total privilege for me to tell their stories in the latest full-length installment of Permanent Record on Slate. I’m really happy with the way this one turned out — give it a shot.
Uni Watch News Ticker: I owe an apology to Vinnie Dinolfo. It turns out that former Browns defensive end Joe “Turkey” Jones really did wear a nickNOB, just as Vinnie claimed. That screen shot comes from the opening seconds of the highlight video on this page. … Neglected to mention the Pirates’ G.I. Joe pandering uniforms from last Sunday (blame Bob Brashear for reminding me). … The Twins wore their “M” caps at home last night. “This is the first time since the three games over the 1991 World Series 20th Anniversary Reunion Weekend in 2011 (Aug. 5-7) that they have worn the ‘M’ cap at home,” says Jeff Barak. “They did not wear the M a single time in 2010, and prior to that the M logo was only worn on the road since 2002.” … Marlins pitcher Anibal Sanchez was wearing a standard MLB undershirt with a swoosh on the collar last night. But the shirt also appears to have had an Under Armour logo on the chest. Weird (good spot by Chad Jorgenson). … We all know that “The City” jerseys used to have those great cable car uni numbers. But I didn’t know they also had a very cool light rail design — with a Giants-style “SF” logo — on the back of their warm-ups (great find by Matt Beahan). … Remember Will Johnson, whose baseball paintings were featured here on the site last summer? He has a bunch of new paintings. … New logo for the Denver Cutthroats (from Kelly Hellman) … Here are before/after pics of the new Mizzou gridiron (from Dwight Ternes). … Padres strength and conditioning coach Jim Malone wears a T-shirt that shows a dumbbell-themed version of the team’s logo (from Brian Crago). … Gary Chanko has made our first MLB Cubees, featuring David Wright and Cole Hamels. Look, he even included the little Liberty Bell on the Phillies’ stirrups! If you want to make your own, here are the templates for Hamels and Wright. Very cool, although those squatchees look a kinda big, no? … Nats reliever Drew Storen has his Twitter handle on his glove (from David Grindem). … Jeepers, here’s a very nice set of Twins stirrups complete with the “TC” logo (big thanks to Ben Gorbaty). … The Sugar Land Skeeters — a minor league team in the independent Atlantic League — has been using an old-school bullpen cart (from Matthew Robins). … This is truly awesome: a Chunichi Dragons uni-history coffee mug (gold star to Eric Stangel). … “On Tuesday night’s Rays broadcast, the TV guys pointed out that Hideki Matsui’s pants were an odd length,” writes Dan Wunderlich. “They had the elastic removed and came just to the shoetop without any breaking or bunching. They joked that he was wearing slacks.” … “In the Premiership final this weekend, the Leicester Tigers wore their old-school uni letters, rather than numbers, on their warm-up shirts. Then they wore numbers for the game.” … According to this La Liga season recap, “Villarreal decided that they were going to mark Mother’s Day by playing with the names of the mothers who gave birth to them on the back of their shirts -– an idea so good the fans were reminding them of it for the rest of the season” (from Mark Coale). … Interesting query from Michael McCormick, who writes: “I’m looking for a unique way to display baseball bats vertically on a wall, not in a case. And I’d prefer to not have to drill into the bats. I like my guests to be able to touch and pick them up to look at them. Any suggestions? Ive seen some acrylic hooks; any other DIY ideas?” … Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who wears No. 20, is out for several weeks with a broken hand, but Martin Maldonado was wearing Lucroy’s chest protector last night (good spot by Taylor Meiklejohn). … The Adelaide Crows are asking fans to vote on their clash jumper for next season (from Leo Strawn).