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It Was Fifteen Years Ago Today

Toward the end of 1998, I got an idea.

I had spent the previous five years writing about detail-obsessive aspects of consumer culture, marketing, advertising, branding, and design, and I had spent most of my life maintaining a detail-obsessive interest in sports uniforms. At some point it began occurring to me that I could — that I should — combine the two.

The idea took shape in stages. At first I thought I’d write a short piece about baseball stirrup styles. (I think I actually pitched this idea to The New York Times Magazine, where it was quickly declined.) Then I thought, “No, that’s too limited” and decided to write a long, feature-length piece on baseball uniforms. I spent a few weeks tinkering with that.

Then I thought, “Why do just one article? Why not create a column devoted to uniform and logo design?” True, nothing like that had ever been done before, but that made the idea all the more intriguing. It fit squarely into the realm of what I called “inconspicuous consumption” — the small details that infiltrate our brains and shape our lives, often without our even being aware of them. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that a column about uniforms was the ideal project for me. On Jan. 1, 1999, I made the first (and still only) New Year’s resolution of my life: “I will create and place a column devoted to sports uniforms.”

I had plenty of contacts at design magazines and could have pitched the idea to them. But I didn’t want to create a design column that focused on sports; I wanted to create a sports column that focused on design. I wanted to make the world of uniforms and logos into a legitimate sports beat.

So I began cold-calling sports editors. Some of them dismissed the idea out of hand. A few were interested in the concept, but only as a one-off novelty or as comic relief, which wasn’t what I had in mind. Weeks turned into months, and by the spring of 1999 I was getting a bit frustrated. I still believed in the idea, but I was having trouble finding a sports editor who was willing to take it seriously.

I had been focusing primarily on big, high-profile sports media outlets — Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, The Sporting News, The New York Times, and so on. Since those weren’t working out, I reluctantly decided to set my sights a bit lower, which meant it was time to contact Miles Seligman, the sports editor of The Village Voice. The bad news was that the Voice was a local alternative weekly with a teeny sports section that was buried amidst the phone sex ads in the back of the paper; the good news was that its sports section was unusually creative and intelligent. They had a column devoted to hockey fights (that may not sound like a big deal now, in the blog/YouTube era, but in 1999 it was a brilliantly demented idea), they had some of the smartest baseball writers I’d ever read, and they routinely called bullshit as bullshit.

As it turned out, Miles was familiar with my work and loved the idea of a uniform column. He had only one concern.

“We can do this once every four weeks,” he said. “But are you sure there’s actually enough uniform-related material out there to support that?”

“I think so,” I said, trying to sound confident. In fact, I had no idea.

The column needed a name. I don’t remember the specifics of my discussions with Miles, but I do recall that I suggested “Uni Watch” sort of as a fallback — something we’d use only if we couldn’t come up with something better. I know we kicked around a few other possibilities (one of them was some sort of riff on “The Emperor’s New Clothes”), but none of them seemed better than Uni Watch, so that’s what we used. I remember feeling a bit disappointed by that at the time because I thought it was a rather boring, cop-out name. (I’ve since come to like the name just fine.)

So that’s how Uni Watch was born. The first installment was published on May 26, 1999 — 15 years ago today. It was essentially the first iteration of my annual MLB season-“preview” column, even though it was published nearly two months after the season had already begun (click to enlarge):

Thanks to assorted developments in the media world, Uni Watch eventually moved from the Voice to (in 2003) and then to (2004), and along the way it spun off this blog (2006). While I’ve always believed in Uni Watch, I never imagined it would turn out to be such a durable project, or that its frequency would increase to bi-weekly, and then weekly, and then daily. (With each jump in frequency, there was a editor who said, “Are you sure there’s enough material out there to support that?” And each time I responded, “I think so,” trying to sound confident, when in fact I had no idea.)

After doing this for 15 years, have I achieved my goal of turning the uni-verse into a legitimate sports beat? Yes and no. On the plus side, uniforms get much more attention — from fans, from broadcasters, from the rest of the media — than they did 15 years ago. Unveilings are big events, teams routinely tweet photos of the jerseys they’ll be wearing for upcoming games, and so on. And of course the mere fact that I still have this gig (and that the gig has kept growing) indicates that the project has achieved a certain legitimacy.

On the other hand, much of the uniform coverage out there from the “regular” sports media still carries an undertone of condescension or even apology — like, “Okay, we’re going to talk about this now because apparently somebody cares about it, but we’re not going to take it seriously.” And when I tell people what I do for a living, they often do a double take and then need a minute to sort of process it. I guess that makes sense, because I’m still the only full-time big-media uniform journalist. There’s no counterpart to me at SI, or at Yahoo Sports, or any of the other major sports media outlets, a state of affairs I find both surprising (you’d think someone else would have come along by now) and disappointing (additional voices would create some healthy competition and would help to further legitimize the beat).

Compare that situation to the role of sports media critics — the guys who critique the broadcasters. A generation ago, the notion of paying someone to watch games on TV seemed absurd. Nowadays, just about every major newspaper has a guy who does that. That beat has been accepted as legitimate sports journalism. But the uniform/logo beat hasn’t yet achieved that status. So while Uni Watch has come a long way, I’d say it still has a way to go.

But anniversaries are for celebrations, not ruminations. Uni Watch may not have achieved everything I was hoping for, but it has nonetheless been a tremendously successful and satisfying project — much more so than I had any reason to expect when I launched it.

A lot of that success, of course, is due to the amazing contributions of Uni Watch readers, who’ve served as my auxiliary eyes and ears almost from the start. So that 15th-anniversary logo you see at the top of this entry isn’t just for me — it’s for all of us, including you (yes, even the trolls). I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. Hope you are too.

I’ll have a bit more anniversary-related news tomorrow — stay tuned.

(Doubleplusthanks to Scott M.X. Turner for designing the anniversary logo.)

+ + + + +

Today is also Memorial Day. If you’re mourning a fallen military member, please accept my condolences on his or her loss. If you’re working, thanks for keeping the world spinning while the rest of us have the day off. If you fall into neither of those categories, count yourself fortunate and enjoy the day. ”” Paul

Comments (89)

    The anniversary logo should have been predominately green with yellow/gold text and a red number 15, so it actually matched the site logo. C-

    /congrats on the 15 years :)

    There were reasons. Unfortunately, any hows-and-whys of graphic design devolve into Nike-speak. Base reason: Paul likes green-and-gold, I wanted to honor that with the numbers, and that meant making the surrounding lettering burgundy. Also, switching the colors gives the emblem it’s own place while still being part of the main aesthetic.

    Maybe it is good you have the monopoly right now on uni watching since it may indicate you are the best.

    A monopoly is never good, it would be nice to read another viewpoint about uniforms, one that doesn’t mind purple in sports or gets worked up over some of the stuff paul does (but does get worked up over other things).
    I mean no offense but I don’t agree with 100% of everything paul says, its great he does this everyday but I would like to read a different viewpoint and different verbage/nicknames about stuff lol.

    It was 2006, and I was watching the World Baseball Classic. I noticed that the Americans had a “backwards” flag patch on their right sleeve! How could that go unnoticed, and how could EVERY member of the team have the same mistake? I had read the Uni Watch entries on, and I couldn’t believe they weren’t talking about it.

    I then noticed that there was a daily blog for Uni Watch, and voiced my opinion there. I quickly found out I was in the wrong, and that the patches were indeed put on the correct way, and I was in the wrong.

    After perusing the site for a while, I couldn’t believe how many people there were just like me. Looking at all the nuances, and details of sports and sports uniforms. I’ve been a daily reader ever since.

    Thanks for this blog, and thanks for all the hard work the everyone does to keep this thing going.

    John, I still get emails about that very thing on a fairly regular basis. “How come the flag is backwards?!” So you’re not alone in that regard.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I’ve been a reader since the Village Voice, but only an occasional commentator. Congrats on the anniversary & thanks for all of the excellent work.

    Congratulations on 15 years! My morning doesn’t start off right unless I visit this page.

    Happy 15th anniversary to Uni Watch! It’s been my homepage when I get online since 2007.

    Congrats on 15 great years!!
    Through your efforts, you’ve given all of us an outlet and a voice to share our mutual appreciation of the aesthetics of athletics.
    Many thanks….my day can’t start without a dose Uni Watch.

    Congratulations on 15 years, Paul. I always enjoy checking out Uni Watch, I admire your work, and I wish you all the best for another 15, 30, 45, 60, or however long you wish to continue. Cheers.

    Happy 15th Anniversary! Just think, MLB is celebrating the occasion by wearing camp accented caps and jerseys…

    It’s amazing to have gone from a sports world where I could go to see the Utah Jazz and be shocked to see them wearing green in the early ’80s to the current situation, where i could see green dots on some helmets in the Hall of Fame Game and know that if wasn’t covered in the Uni Watch comments that night, it would be in the next day’s article.

    Happy Anniversary Paul! What a milestone! I’ve been coming to this site at least since 2007 and I always come back. Always interesting, always entertaining, and always a guilty pleasure, really.

    Thank you for all your hard work!

    Paul…here’s to the next 15 years…thanks for your dedication and passion…!!!

    Congratulations and, more important, thank you. Uni Watch is one of my ADLs. Bathing, dressing, eating, . . . Uni Watch!

    Had to look up “ADL” (figured you didn’t mean “Anti-Defamation League” or “advanced distributed learning”), but now I see. Thank you!!

    I stumbled across the blog 5 years ago and was immediately a daily reader. It amazes me that occasionally I’ll see something that I think might be “Ticker”-worthy so I’ll get ready to shoot an email to Paul and then, nope, it’s already there. Great work. Congratulations.

    A big CHEERS to Paul and all of the contributors, readers, & comment-leavers who make Uni Watch such a fun and informative place to gather each day.

    Here’s to 15 More!

    Thanks for sharing the history of uni watch. Best wishes for as many more years as you decide to keep doing it. BTW, did yowget a chance to watch Cafe de Flore?

    It is because of Uni Watch that the Gridiron Uniform Database exists. Were it not for the tremendous help of Paul and Phil and the tremendous support from the UW faithful, I don’t know where the site would be, or if it would even exist.

    For that and many other uni related reasons, Uni Watch has left a permanent and positive mark on my life.

    On behalf of Bill S, Rob H and the GUD, heartfelt congratulations on this milestone anniversary!

    When I first discovered this site it was called uniwatchblog, was there ever an official name changing or just a simple switch?

    Happy Anniversary to Paul and UW.

    We changed the URL a few years ago. (The old URL still redirects to the new one.)

    I wish we could just use (no hyphen), but some guy in Panama owns that. I’ve repeatedly offered to buy it from him, but he’s not interested in selling it. Dang….

    Regarding the “” URL, a quick Google search revealed that his rights to the domain name expire 7/19/14. Something to look into perhaps!! Cheers and keep on keepin’ on Paul!!

    Happy anniversary Paul! I’ve been a daily reader since 2007. I’ve learned a great deal from this project of yours, and not just about sports uniforms, and I thank you for that. Here’s to 15 more years!

    Slate was 2003? Dang, I’ve been reading Uni Watch when I was 16.

    Happy 15th, Paul!

    Happiest of anniversary wishes to you Paul, and the rest of the crew keeping this amazing place afloat!

    Uni Watch is my first stop on the web in the morning, and the comments keep me coming back into the late evening. No other website/blog could ever dream of holding my attention like this one.

    As others have already said, here’s to another 15!

    Congratulations on 15 years of athletic aesthetic obsessiveness. Big thanks to Phil, Vince G., John Ekdahl, and the intern who work behind the scenes to make this such a great community.
    Am I the only one, though, who was fearful of the “all good things must come to and end” hammer that felt like it was coming at the end of the post?

    Paul and the Uni-Watch team,

    Congratulations on 15 years. Many more to come I hope.

    Happy Anniversary Uni Watch! My thanks to Paul, Phil and all the contributors for all the hard work and the passion you all put into this.

    Great work, Paul. I go to the site for my fix and you never seem to disappoint. Congratulations on fifteen great years!

    Congrats on the 15th anniversary! I’m a short timer, only been reading for about two years after Howie Rose mentioned the site during a Mets radio broadcast. I immediately checked it out and have been hooked ever since. Keep up the great work!

    Happy anniversary to Uni Watch and to you Paul. Thank you for your vision and hard work. It is a must read every day!

    As my Polish friends would say “Sto Lat” (may you live 100 years) to both Mr. Lukas and his unique project.

    Congratulations, Paul. That Village Voice sports section was really something else, wasn’t it? I clipped and still have a copy of my all-time favorite piece of sportswriting, “The Bob Dylan Baseball Abstract,” which appeared there in 1991 or so.

    Apologies if this is a rerun: but today’s date is significant in the life of another link too.

    Hardly a way to celebrate this auspicious day but …. 50 Worst Football (Soccer) Kits. Get the eye bleach ready! link

    Only 46 were truly bad. I liked Dundee’s tartan, Malaysia’s truncated stripes, Chelsea’s grey and orange and Newcastle’s yellow experiment.

    Love that the first Uni-Watch article is “Reds-centric”. Congrats on 15 years!

    Happy 15 ! This is one of the first web pages I read every morning. Glad it exists and keep it up!

    There’s an obscure Barenaked Ladies song that includes the line, “I guess you know I lied to you when I told you I like baseball/It’s not so much the game I like – it’s the hats.”

    That sums it up for me. Thank you, Paul, and Phil, and the interns, and the colorizers, and the conceptualizers, and opinionators, for making this a home for those of us who are more interested in squatchees than squeeze plays.

    Many congratulations on 15 years of work very well done, Paul. While I can’t say I’ve been around that entire time, I did discover Uni Watch back in the pre-blog ESPN era and, fascinated, went back and read all of the previous columns in their various sources. Thank you for supporting and indulging or collective obsession.

    I was somewhat disappointed when I discovered Uni Watch back in 2004. I was happy to find access to such info, but I felt I had lost some unique element about myself that no one else shared. True definition of bittersweet. Emphasis on sweet.

    Congrats on 15 years of Uni Watch! I’ve been a fan of yours since the Page 2 days. I appreciate all of the hard work you put into this blog. It’s always one of my first stops in the morning. Thanks for all you do.

    Congratulations, Paul. You’ve created not just a journalistic niche, but also a virtual community.

    I can’t begin to calculate the amount of lost productivity associated with 15 years of Uni Watching.
    Keep up the great work of workplace diversion, Paul!

    Congrats on the 15years of great work with the hope of more to come.

    15 great years!! And here’s to 15 more (Paul willing, of course). I, too, have been a fan since the Page 2 days. Not exactly from the beginning but for more years than I care to think about. I’m usually only active during the week for big news/unveilings because I tend to only get to read a week of the blog on Sundays (I’m behind so I still have Fri-Sat-Sun to get through today). But it’s certainly a highlight of my weekend and always gives me something to look forward to. Even if my style and what I tend to like usually differs from most of the readers.

    And I also must say that is a fantastic logo by Scott. It’s a shame more of the teams don’t put out logos for important dates that are as nice.

    I hope everyone that celebrates is having a save & a good Memorial Day and took the time to think about those that have made it possible!

    Paul –

    Happy anniversary! Big thanks for devoting your time, passion, and talent to the site. For me, it has also PDL.

    As long as you continue to enjoy publishing Uni Watch, I’ll continue to enjoy perusing it.

    Happy Anniversary, and congrats on successful entrepreneurship.

    To become a daily uni-critic would tend to be overwhelming, I think, especially when dealing with comments, something I have never allowed on any site I have attempted. The only site I have and that has continued for a period of years is based upon the dark side of econ and I really hate writing/researching the downside of the current landscape of economics (very depressing) and sort of feel like a “fear monger” while writing; thus it has been sitting for two years, largely ignored (by me, although the views continue to climb each year). That site is about a decade old, focused upon economics for about the last 6 years.

    I have attempted a uni-centric site but axed it and decided I can defeat the reason for not doing it rather than try to struggle to work with it (them, actually). (Lack of specifics in that description is for a reason and may lead to a much larger announcement in the coming years.)

    I do have one website on the back burner, though. I’m much more interested in the historic aspects, rather than the day-to-day commotion of keeping up with every Star Wars-themed uniform and military appreciation design. So, in that aspect, I wouldn’t be a competitor, but I do have plans for something along those lines, and no doubt will touch on today as well as history. The name of the site is lame, I know.


    So, we’ll see how it works as I continue to clean my plate from all of the things I currently juggle and am (and have been for a year or better) finishing up to make more time in my life for new projects so things don’t end up half-assed (my apologies for the mixed metaphors).

    I’m still fleshing out exactly what it will be (although if it is meant to be it will take on a life of its own once started). Additionally, I’m still deciding whether or not to actually proceed once I get current projects wrapped up (some which have been dragging on for years and are nothing but a pain in the arse I’ll be glad to be rid of for once and for all).

    So, even if I do head in this direction, direct competition isn’t likely, but maybe will provide some fodder and differing viewpoints, from time-to-time, in the not-too-distant future.

    (Another thing holding me back, which I hated with my economics site, is that my English sucks, which oddly enough is the only language I speak.)


    Here’s to another successful 15 years of uni watching to you, sir. Congrats again, and…


    Congrats on 15 years. I’ve only been here for a few years, but have recently started going back in the archives to see if any of my opinions on uniforms in previous years matched the blogs. They usually do… Except the purple thing.

    I first discovered some early version of Paul’s column when I was doing a search for images of the White Sox blue away uniforms from the early 70s, which were nearly impossible to find pre-Internet, and in the early days when I did that search. It was exciting to find someone else who shared what I assumed was my own solitary interest in uniform design and aesthetics, a secret realm in which I just kept to myself an 8 year-old’s fascination with that White Sox uniform and the Brewers’ from the same era. I’m always a little bemused by the reliable comments on Paul’s ESPN columns from people who imply this is a sissy’s pursuit as they claim to be unable to even comprehend how anyone could be interested in anything beyond wins and losses and statistical bottom lines. It’s a weird vestige of people proudly espousing ignorance, but above all it illuminates how the often frivolous enterprise of fashion can be smart and connected to the vitality of sports.

    Congrats and happy anniversary from somebody who first read your column in the Village Voice. And it’s still a must read for me every day.

    Congrats Paul = and Phil..and Scott, and all of the contributors!!

    Had the pleasure of treating Paul to a Mets game at Shea a long time ago,and someday I will make it down for a get together….

    This place is never boring, and may it continue as long as we do!

    I remember reading your first few articles in The Voice before I moved down to NC in July ’99. When I found your site years later I thought I hit the jackpot. Your work is top notch and I wish you a happy anniversary.

    Jeez, do we need a logo for every stupid anniversary?

    Congrats on 15! You might be the only one covering your beat, but thank goodness *you* are the one. Here’s to another 15 and beyond.

    Happy Anniversary Paul! So sorry it had to happen on a day of hideous uniforms. I am watching St. Louis and NY now, and am particularly irritated by camouflaged cardinals. The birds are RED, dammit!

    Congrats Paul – That first edition of Uni Watch was quite interesting. It got me thinking… When was the second edition published? and What was that about?

    Also, do/did you cut out all of your articles that were published and keep a scrapbook or something?

    I’ve kept clips (in file folders, not a scrapbook) of everything I’ve ever written that’s appeared in print, including all of the Village Voice-era Uni Watch columns.

    I believe the second installment was about MLB vests.

    Not sure if you would be able to or willing to do this, but it would be great to see a “15 years ago” section here every once in a while so the newer Uni Watch readers (like me) could get a glimpse of what those first few columns were like.

    Dear Paul,

    Congratulations on celebrating 15 years! I’ve been a fan of your work since that fateful day I discovered your column in the back pages of the Village Voice and have followed you through each iteration of the column eventually to the website. It has been a part of my life through a marriage, a cross country move, graduate school, having a child, a divorce and now being engaged to someone who actually gets it. Thanks for my daily fix of uni-centrism. Here’s to you Mr Lukas!

    Congratulations on the anniversary, Paul. Like a lot of people here this site is a daily read. I hope you keep going for much longer as I always enjoy your viewpoint on different matters that are always measured and thoughtful. A small note from an Aussie fan in Perth!

    Congrats Paul! As a writer myself–and a reader of your column/blog since 2006–I can say your writing has certainly been an inspiration to me. Please keep up the amazing work!

    Congrats on the anniversary.

    I wonder how many readers did as I did, and came here from your other blog, which i discovered first?

    I’m a little late to the comment party.

    My first introduction to the obsessive study of athletic aesthetics was in 2005, when I was 15 years old. I had stumbled on your piece about askew baseball caps (glad that fad has died for the most part–though not quickly enough) on ESPN Page 2.

    It was downright relieving to find an article about the phenomenon. I clicked on over to this blog and, to my delight, I found that all my uniform-based questions had a home.

    Ever since, this site has been a part of my morning routine. I hardly ever plumb the depths of the comment section, though I’ve been meaning to for nine years, I swear.

    Congrats, Paul!

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