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Some Thoughts About the Word ‘Chassis’ as It Pertains to Uniforms

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Good morning! Hope you had a good weekend, as I did (more on that in a minute).

Now then: Tomorrow night is the MLB All-Star Game. As you probably know by now, the jerseys for the game will be rendered in a new tailoring template, which all teams will start using next season. The headline on MLB’s press release for the new template, as well as the text of the release itself, referred to the template as a “chassis.” And they weren’t the only ones using that term: CBS Sports, The Seattle — chassis, chassis, chassis.

This nomenclature is neither new nor limited to MLB. The first use of it that I recall came in 2017, when the NBA switched from Adidas to Nike. At the time, the league said it would be “using a version of the Nike Aeroswift basketball chassis.” That same year, I had drinks with an Adidas designer, who explained to me that the NHL wouldn’t have any alternate jerseys in the 2017-18 season “because we’re still busy getting all the home and road jerseys to fit onto our chassis.” In the years since then, I feel like this term has gained more and more currency throughout the uni-verse — “chassis” creep, if you will. Retailers even use it to describe licensed jerseys.

Let’s be clear: A chassis is a supporting frame, usually of a wheeled conveyance. Sports jerseys do not have frames (or wheels). They do not have a chassis.

But it’s easy enough to see why the leagues and uniform manufacturers like the word chassis. It makes it sound like the jersey is an engineered piece of industrial technology that’s manufactured on an assembly line by guys wearing leather gloves and welding masks to protect them from all the flying sparks, rather than a few pieces of cloth fastened together with thread on a sewing machine by underpaid women in an Asian sweatshop. Iron Man’s armored costume — that has a chassis, and that is precisely the type of superhero connection that the leagues and manufacturers want us to think of when they talk about their products. Or to put it another way, it’s easier to call your template the Elite Vapor Avenging Untouchable F.U.S.I.O.N. Electro-Premier Transformatron Mach III if you’re also claiming that it has a “chassis.” It’s all so transparently pathetic.

Allow me to anticipate a few possible responses to this essay:

“Chassis” seems appropriate, or at least not so inappropriate, because Nike and the other uni makers do high-tech stuff like making body scans of athletes and using the latest modern fabrics.

Guess what: Normal apparel makers use body scans and modern fabrics too! But they don’t throw around words like chassis because they’re not trying to sell a sci-fi fantasy to a bunch of man-cave bros. (To be sure, regular apparel makers are very much in the business of selling other types of insipid fantasies, but that’s not Uni Watch’s concern.)

Duh — it’s called marketing.

I know. But why does marketing so often have to insult our intelligence or treat us like 14-year-olds? It’s degrading and embarrassing for everyone.

This seems like an awfully big fuss over one word.

Fair enough. But sometimes a single word can feel like a symptom of a bigger problem, or an encapsulation of a bigger trend. That’s how “chassis” feels to me — it feels like a lot of the uni-verse’s problems rolled into one tidy unit.

Dude, you’re not wrong, but come on — just let it go!

I’ve been trying to do more of that lately. And for the most part I’ve been succeeding — you have no idea how many things I have let go! But something about “chassis” just reached a critical mass in my brain until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.


I should say here that “chassis”  is a perfectly fine word, and I have nothing against it on its own. In fact, its singular and plural versions are spelled the same (one chassis, two or more chassis) but pronounced differently (“cha-see” vs. “cha-seez”), which is a pretty neat trick! But it has no place in the uni-verse and deserves to be called out as the bullshit that it is.



The Yellow Beak Strikes Again

In my recent “Ask Me Anything” column, I addressed the odd phenomenon of cardinals being depicted with yellow beaks — not just by sports teams but also in non-sports contexts — even though real cardinals have red beaks. I thought of that yesterday when I saw this woman with a cardinal tattoo — complete with a yellow beak! I asked her why she had it done that way and she said she’d never thought about it before.



And Speaking of Animal Depictions...

My friend Dan spotted this graffiti during one of his bike rides through Brooklyn. I like how it shows a pig leg and a peg leg! Also love the lettering, especially the way the question mark wraps around the “T.”



LAST THREE DAYS for the Teespring Sale

The folks at Teespring are still picking up the tab for a site-wide 20% sale, but only for three more days. This sale applies to everything in our Uni Watch, Naming Wrongs, and Uni Rock online stores. In order to claim your discount, use the checkout code SUMMERVIBES20 (I know, I know) by this Wednesday, July 12. Thanks!



Can of the Day

Incredibly enough, I can’t recall ever seeing a red light integrated into the word “Stop.” Seems like a gimme, right? Very nicely done on this can.



What Paul Did on Saturday Night

People, I had a fucking epic weekend. Saw live music on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, made a quick visit to the beach, went to one of my favorite bars and also two favorite eateries, went on a short but beautiful nature walk, and more! But the highlight was on Saturday night, when I saw Yung Wu (a side project of of the great New Jersey band the Feelies) at a venue in Paterson, N.J., called Prototype 237. P237, which I’d been unaware of until going there to see this show, is a communal living/working/performance space that’s housed in an old garment factory and run by a bunch of young, smart creative types, several of whom I spoke with and really liked and even found inspiring. The place is filled with endearingly weird art, and the whole project has the homespun feel of something Special. If it’s possible to have a crush on a place, that’s what I have for P237. Definitely looking forward to going back for future events.

However you spent your weekend, hope it was a good one!

Comments (58)

    I totally agree with your take on chassis. It is a word that I will only accept when discussing motorized vehicles, otherwise the word frame will do if not motorized. The can of today has a 30s sci-fi/ monster movie look: Attack of the 50 ft Traffic Light. Terrific.

    So if “Chassis” has basically replaced “Template”, it reminds me a lot of that blue-collar washing that teams occasionally do.

    Ok. I 100% agree that chassis in the context of uniforms fails the “Is this cool or stupid” test. But so does throwing the word big in capital letters in front of something to instantly signify that it’s evil. Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, Big Uni.
    Also, maybe it’s just because I’m old, but I despise the All Star Game costumes. I much preferred the player wearing regular uniforms. Regardless of which chassis they’re on.

    I don’t use “Big Uni” to connote evil; I use it as a shorthand because it’s easier/faster than writing “the leagues and uniform manufacturers.” But in this post, I’ve removed the two instances of it in response to your comment, just to demonstrate my good faith!

    As someone who works for a team dealer and spends days designing for schools and organizations, I think “Big Uni” is a great way to describe them and I vote to keep it if possible. It’s not that they’re evil, but the fact is that the shoe companies are using BSN to get all these exclusive deals with schools, leagues and programs. We met with one coach who asked about a uniform I designed “Where is the Swoosh or UA?”. My explanation that these would be made by the same company that does the on field manufacturing for the NFL was met with “the kids will want a swoosh”. It’s maddening the way logo creep has replaced quality standards.

    I’m all for labeling anything Nike or these other manufactures do in the name of self aggrandizing as Big Uni, because it annoys me how they try to complicate what should be a simple thing with such heaping doses of bullshit story telling to sell us on buying stuff we didn’t need or didn’t ask for.
    City Connect and the multiple NBA jersey designs? The work of Big Uni.
    The constantly changing soccer kits every year? The work of Big Uni.
    All we want is for our teams to look like our teams and for it to not look bad, it shouldn’t be that hard to deliver that.

    I wish I’d read the article when the “Big Uni” references were still there, but I’m pretty sure I figured out where they were. I vote for the continued use of “Big Uni.”

    I disagree with Sean that “Big” whatever automatically connotes evil. I’d characterize it as a convenient shorthand for a consolidated industry that acts in such a way to consolidate its interests, power, and profits even more. Is that inherently evil? Well, I’d say that a value judgment that we all have to make individually. But the fact that such industries exist, particularly in an American economy that has operated without much fear of enforcement of antitrust laws for the better part of 40 years, is hardly up for debate.

    It all just seems a way of avoiding “Template”, which has connotations of sameness. “Template” implies the same uniform with different colors and little special to the variants. “Chassis” is something you can’t see, it’s underneath, so if it’s the same for everyone, people won’t feel like they’re all the same, because it’s just the chassis. (Obviously that makes no sense for a uniform.)

    Even “template” is a fancier way to say “pattern.” Because a “pattern” is about sewing, which is something that women do, and is therefore uncool.

    You’re on a roll today, Paul! Great observation about “template” and “pattern”. It makes me wonder if they’re starting to worry about the fact that all these templates make the uniforms all look like the same thing but in assorted colours?

    Do you really think that “man-cave bros” care about pattern vs. template vs. chassis? They aren’t reading the marketing materials and don’t care about (or notice) changes to the chassis.

    I think they try to avoid ‘pattern’ because of the sameness connotation you mention, the sewing-being-for-women-thus-uncool might have been an afterthought but I don’t think it was at the top of their minds whent they came up with the term chassis. I would use the word ‘model’, as in : what is the latest baseball jersey model? But I am not a marketing genius.

    “Chassis” is one of my favorite words. I like the way it looks on the page and I love the way it sounds.

    But yeah, that use of it is friggin annoying…

    P.S. Does anybody know why most houses (at least where I live in North Carolina) use the same font for house numbers? How did it come to pass that this the font that is used about 90% of the time?


    On the house numbers, I’ll bet it has something to do with the market share of the company that makes them. I haven’t been in home improvement in a number of years, but I only remember one vendor making those. It’s kind of like how in the past if you ordered a baseball uniform from Wilson for your team or league, it always had the Tigers/Yankees/Braves font. That was the only one they used outside of a very special order request.

    Grazie, Brian and Todd. This is a topic I’d love to deep dive. When I run in neighborhoods, observing some variety of exterior house numbers is pleasant. If almost all the houses have the same font, my visual memory turns to the trees.

    If anyone has a link or a suggestion for house numbers becoming a rabbit hole, please share.

    K.C., here’s a link to a story on Neutraface, also called the “gentrification font.” I’ve been seeing it more and more in NYC.


    Different, Product, Similar Question: When did the word come down that automobiles had to wear their marque identity as a big chrome badge in the center of the grille? The exceptions to this rule are practically non-existant.

    Five hundred years from now, historians will be looking back at our era. Beyond all of the things we all deal with in our modern world, I hope they save a few minutes to deride corporatespeak and jargon and all of the nonsense that it inspired. Calling a “template” a “chassis” absent a motor vehicle is just the latest installment of a lamentable process. Every time I hear someone say “price point” when they mean “price” or “price range”, I stifle the urge to strangle them, even if they are on TV. (Note to future social scientists: if English has given way to nothing but jargon, we apologize.)

    Not exactly jargon, but my own rant in devolving language… people saying things like “on the daily” when they mean “daily.” Yesterday, I overheard someone say, “on the regular.”

    If “on the daily” means “daily,” shouldn’t the equivalent of “regularly” in this ridiculous scheme be “on the regularly.” If you’re going to butcher our language, at least do so consistently.

    Mine is the pervasive misuse of the word “bye” in sports and sports reporting. A bye can be earned or assigned, it cannot be scheduled. The NFL has been the biggest purveyor of this inaccuracy and most other leagues and news sources have followed suit.

    A local radio station here has “Gripe Fridays.” I like that today has become “Gripe Monday” here at Uni Watch. My gripe concerns restaurants or people describing a grilled sandwich that has numerous ingredients in it as a “grilled cheese.” A grilled cheese has cheese in it, period. If it also has, say, chicken, bacon, and tomato in it, it’s not a grilled cheese. It’s a grilled sandwich that happens to have cheese and other ingredients. Thanks for your consideration.

    Great barbecue restaurant in Nashville named Peg Leg Porker. The owner lost a leg to cancer as a team.


    The sign reminds me of the first Comic Relief, when Tony Danza brought down the house (his joke is a ways into the video):


    Right on, Paul. Agree completely. We are awash in bullshit. Resist!

    BTW, for me the ASG has become unwatchable. Too much extraneous crap.

    You aren’t wrong for being unable to let go of them using chassis to describe a uniform. It is complete nonsense. And as a journalist, someone who writes for a living, part of your job is to protect the language. It is bad enough when I see supposed journalists use nonsense internet/texting slang in articles as if they are real words, it is even worse if journalists accept marketing-speak nonsense as legitimate.

    I understand the thought process behind the using “chassis” to describe what uniforms have become by thinking of it in F1 terms. The chassis houses the powertrain (athlete), bodywork and livery (team logos and colors), and most critically ADVERTISING.

    I can make an argument that it’s somehow more intellectually honest to call jersey blanks chassis these days, since one of the primary considerations is where and how advertising can be placed. Does it make it less icky? Of course not.

    Funny enough, I remember as a kid thinking it was cool that our little league team was sponsored by a local bank whose name was on our hats. Something about having their name incorporated into our uniform made it more official feeling.

    But there’s a big difference between local stewardship of youth programs (even with the impressions from the hat) and using sports to directly market products and services when the sport itself is the product you’re trying to consume. To use words that clearly indicate that as a primary intent in the uniform design process tells me exactly what drives modern design.

    “Duh — it’s called marketing.

    I know. But why does marketing so often have to insult our intelligence or treat us like 14-year-olds? It’s degrading and embarrassing for everyone”

    Maybe because they ARE, in some way, targeting the 14-year-old in us. That kid in us who plays dress up, donning the gear of our favorite team or player when we go to a game or have a Big Game party.

    I usually limit my cap collecting to authentic on-field fitteds in my size (but no special events merch crap!), and I pounced on a vintage wool 1998-99 Cardinals alternate cap with the red beak when it appeared on eBay a few years ago. Those are rare birds to find these days in good condition. I preferred it specifically because it was more accurate to a real cardinal. Alt cap debuted in ’98 and Cards switched to yellow beak in 2000.

    Info on this and the early 1940s alt cap can be found here:

    I stared and stared at the provided pic of a red-beaked cardinal and….I saw a little yellow in it.

    Yeah, all the websites I used for research described the beak as reddish orange. Young male cardinals actually have black beaks and it changes color as they mature.

    I hate to give anyone marketing unis any ideas for added BS, but the first thing I thought of after reading today’s post was the line in The Terminator where Reese is describing what a terminator is: A “Hyper-Alloy Combat Chassis, Fully Armored, Very Tough”… Ugh.

    The St. Louis Cardinals have gone back and forth between yellow and red beaks for their logo over the years: link

    @Paul – You actually ran an interview with Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt about this a few years back. Here’s your conversation about the beaks:
    _ _ _ _ _ _

    UW: As long as we’re talking about small details, one thing I’ve always found amusing is the color of the birds’ beaks. You show them in yellow. And there was that one time when you made them red, and of course that’s more accurate, because a cardinal’s beak really is red. But man, there’s no denying it, it looks so much better in yellow!

    BD: It’s funny you say that. That was part of that logo redesign in 1998 — I lived in suburban St. Louis, and we had bird feeders, and I saw lots of Cardinals, and their beaks were red, so I said, “Let’s change the beak color, to make it ornithologically correct.” And we made the eye yellow, just to keep some yellow in that area of the design, to go along with the yellow bat.

    So we did it, and I soon regretted it. And then, lo and behold, I started noticing that about 10% of cardinals actually do have much lighter-colored beaks.

    UW: Yeah, but yellow?

    BD: It’s kinda orange. We actually experimented a bit with an orange yarn, and the MLB Design Services people were like, “Are you kidding?”

    UW: Of course, the Arizona Cardinals, their logo has a yellow beak. And the Louisville Cardinals logo has a yellow beak…

    BD: Every cardinal in every team sport has a yellow beak. But seriously, I have seen actual cardinal birds with beaks that are really close to yellow. Like, you wouldn’t call it yellow, but yellow-ish orange. They’re rare, but they’re out there. We can kinda hang our hats on that: These birds are rare, and the Cardinals are rare players.

    Reading posts like today make me miss George Carlin.

    “‘Police have responded to an emergency situation!'”
    “No, they haven’t; they’ve responded to an emergency. We know it’s a situation. Everything is a situation.”

    Reminds me of “you have been pre-approved”.

    No I’ve not; I’ve been approved.

    You can’t “pre heat” an oven before cooking. When it’s off, that pre-heated.

    When you turn it on to get to 425 for your pizza, it’s heated. It may not be at the temp you want right away, but it is heated.

    It’s heated before the food is inserted. When you put the food in, the oven is pre-heated. Seems fine to me.

    There’s also a certain shame, I think, in running a business that sells stuff so unnecessary in our lives. It’s not food or shelter or health care. It’s overpriced synthetic-fabric shirts clad with advertisements. Saying “chassis” makes it sound more integral to our lives. Like transportation. Without all of Nike’s self-aggrandizing descriptions of performance fabric, chassis, an civic-celebrating designs, they’re left with “we sew things together from colored fabric and make money.”

    Also, “chassis” helps justify jerseys’ price tags. Or at least let us justify shelling out for them.

    Paul wrote a piece a while back about how “build” is oft-used to describe uniforms and websites being designed. Again, blue-collar fetishizing.

    You hit on what I was thinking when I first read this–chassis helps these manufactures justify their importance in the overall experience for teams and fans. If Nike/Adidas/UA upsells the technology and innovation of their products, they can position themselves for a bigger payday/explain away the supply issues to the leagues they work with.

    It’s the same storytelling BS they do for the fans, only it’s aimed the other direction.

    In all aspects of our lives and culture, we live in an era of bullshit. Maybe we always have. But it’s not even trying to disguise itself anymore.

    And what’s worse is that people buy it.

    “I’ve been trying to do more of that lately.”
    This site would be less interesting if you only reported on positive things related to uniforms. However, something interesting came to my attention during your week of positivity. I mentioned it to my daughter, who is a psychologist, and I also mentioned that I left my last job because everyone was so negative, and I found myself falling into that pattern. She said that there have been studies showing that repeated negative thoughts can produce dopamine. So for those who are negative more times than not, it actually can make them feel good. Might explain why we all know those who are constantly negative. I find you to be balanced, and it’s not your fault that uniforms seem to be easily messed up. I give you high praise that you realized the toll of negativity can have on you.

    Seems like the basic phenomenon here is that “template” is seen as having negative connotations in this instance, so manufacturers are looking for synonym that lacks the negative connotations. Templates are seen as dull, workaday, fallback, generic, rote, routine, uncreative. Which accurately describe sports uniform templates! So makers seek to avoid using the accurately descriptive, non-euphemistic word. “Template” reminds people of what the phenomenon actually is.

    Does Iron Man’s suit have a chassis? I’d argue that no, as a vehicle it’s fundamentally an aircraft, so Iron Man’s suit has an airframe. Watch for Nike to refer to its NBA template as an “airframe” in the near future.

    To the extent that the Nike template rollout is built around the Mariners, “hull” would be more apt than “chassis” as a euphemism for “template” in this instance. Check out the new Nike Vapor Premier Hull!

    Airframe was a terrific novel by the late great Michael Crichton.

    This can only be justified if they create a team in Florida’s capital called the Tallahassee Lassies, and their uniforms have a hi-fi chassis.

    Chassis reminds me of football people saying “physicality”. Ugh

    I’m not always able to revisit comments, but this steam is a great example of why the Uni Watch comm-Uni-ty is so remarkable. A thoughtful discussion on the use of one word! Thanks Paul and everyone!

    There’s a really, really good BBQ place in Nashville called Peg Leg Porker

    It must be a trope that BBQ joints have signs or advertising depicting a pig cooking another pig, or parts thereof.

    That’s it. From now on I’m calling the shorts/pants half of the uniform “the undercarriage”.

    I completely agree with you, Paul. Words matter! Calling it a “chassis” is blatantly incorrect.

    I completely agree with you on everything regarding the misuse of chassis.

    But where you have completely altered my perspective on life, the universe, and everything is with mentioning real cardinals do not have red beaks.


    Late comment, but I had a very different reaction to “chassis” having spent my career in fashion.

    One of the first things I learned with brands is the power of leveraging new language to shift how people think about a problem. Brands and individuals in fashion (Nike included when I was briefly there before moving out of sports) all have different synonyms and metaphors they like to instill with teams in order to promote a certain mindset, and once you use it internally with its specific contextual definition it just becomes part of your everyday language.

    Each time I shift I brands I have to learn where certain words have been given new meaning, and it’s often a valuable tool. Yes from a consumer facing side it can be read as pure jargon BS, but I think that comes with a really nice impact on the work internally. Viewing what I’d call a block/pattern, what people here may call a template, as a “chassis” innately pushes you to think more about structure and performance than simply how puzzle pieces of fabric are stitched together (what is connoted by template or pattern, or block coming closer to signifying fit).

    It probably sounds goofy as hell, but I’ve had great success with designers coming up with new lingo we want to use in describing product because it will shift how we and others think about the product and what problem we’re solving for the wearer.

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