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The Meaning of “Clean”

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Good morning, Uni Watchers, and Happy Friday. We made it.

I’ve said time and again that some of the best articles, in my opinion, to appear on Uni Watch often come from the readership, which is why I’m always encouraging readers to reach out to me with their ideas for a column. Today’s lede is a perfect example of this.

Not only is the following by reader Harrison Hamm extremely thought-provoking and well-written, it comes from a member of Gen Z. I’ve been making an effort to include voices of all ages and demographics on Uni Watch, lest it seemingly become the bastion of angry old men yelling at clouds.

You’ll note the word “clean” is in the title. It’s a word whose meaning can be somewhat fungible, and I remember well the first time I ever heard it used to describe a uniform. It was in 2008, and the Phillies had just introduced their new cream alternates, and a commenter described the uniforms as “clean.” I remember it because I posted something snarky in response, along the lines of, “as opposed to dirty?” I was quickly corrected.

Fast forward to the early 2020s and you’ll find social media rife with the term, and a good number of websites have worked it in to their articles as well. So when Harrison approached me about doing a piece on this I gladly agreed.

Here’s Harrison. Enjoy!

• • • • •
The Meaning of “Clean”
by Harrison Hamm

When the Vikings unveiled their new mono-white alternate uniforms, the public response was predictable. There was wide praise for the “icy” and “clean” look, which features only a dash of silver and purple striping. The uniform fits a trend of mono-white alternates or primaries in the NFL — most of which come billed with shivering emojis on social media.

There’s something happening here. The terminology of “cold” and “clean” is driving a lot of social media discussion of uniforms. Look at the replies of uniform posts on Twitter/X (if you dare) and you’ll see a variation of that phrasing a lot.

It’s an interesting development, because I think there’s reason to believe that the “clean” mindset is pushing uniforms toward minimalist, mono-color designs.

Based on the nature of social media and my anecdotal experience as a 22-year-old, people using that phrasing skew younger. Teams respond to the tastes of younger fans.

Consider the widespread use of all-white in the NFL. By my count, 20 of the 32 teams wear all-white road uniforms as part of their normal rotations, and multiple more use all-white as an alternate (San Francisco, Minnesota) or occasional combination (Seattle, Kansas City). The rise of alternate helmets has helped lead to an increasing number of mono-white combos.

Those looks often avoid extra color or design elements.

The Vikings and Cardinals used light gray accents even though it’s not a team color. The LionsSaints, and Jaguars, among others, went without pants striping.

It’s a departure from previous 21st-century NFL design trends, which made an effort to find new places to insert team colors. That meant side panels, shoulder yokes, and lettering on the pants. As Paul has written, much of it stemmed from the late-’90s Broncos redesign.

Those 2000s and 2010s looks would likely not receive that “clean” tag, considering all those extra bells and whistles. So, in a sense, the trend toward uni cleanliness has helped lead the way out of the ultra-modern, mostly disappointing Nike redesigns — and in the direction of classic designs. The 49ersBrownsJets, and Giants, for instance, all received praise for their all-white throwbacks. The Chargers’ uniforms are universally acclaimed.

Those developments, I’m sure many uni-watchers would agree, are positive. But the push for icy white is not without downsides. There’s a limit to minimalism, as we’ve seen with the teams that eschew pants striping. The Jaguars’ uniforms fail to make use of their color scheme, choosing a mostly barren design instead. There’s a monotony to so many teams piling onto one trend.

The push toward “clean” uniforms may produce some great results, but it also might have contributed to an influx of mono combinations. Teams forget the value of contrast between a jersey and pants. The Saints have been inexplicably married to their all-black combo for years. The Bills often go all-blue for big games. A variety of color rush-style alternate designs persist, including in new sets.

Plus, “clean” has become sort of a buzzword, a catch-all to describe a perceived quality uniform. There’s a danger of over-simplification, ignoring the various components that go into a good design. Teams that think too much about the “clean” designation risk overlooking design elements that make up both old and new classics.

There’s more to a good uniform than a mostly blank canvas. But it doesn’t seem that “icy white” and frigid social media emojis are going away any time soon.

• • • • •
Thanks, Harrison. Fantastic work here.

Harrison has given us a lot to discuss today. Is the new “clean” movement driving uniform design nowadays? Will it be ending any time soon? It was almost 20 years ago when I first heard the word used to describe a uniform. It’s still going strong. Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments below.



Guess the Game from the Scoreboard

Guess The Game…

…From The Scoreboard

Today’s scoreboard comes from Robert Hudson.

The premise of the game (GTGFTS) is simple: I’ll post a scoreboard and you guys simply identify the game depicted. In the past, I don’t know if I’ve ever completely stumped you (some are easier than others).

Here’s the Scoreboard. In the comments below, try to identify the game (date and location, as well as final score). If anything noteworthy occurred during the game, please add that in (and if you were AT the game, well bonus points for you!):

Please continue sending these in! You’re welcome to send me any scoreboard photos (with answers please), and I’ll keep running them.



A Mini Uni Watch Meet Up!

Got an e-mail from reader Drew Glover last night, and it just goes to show you that Uni Watchers are everywhere:

Hey Phil,

First things first — great job on the transition. I’ve been enjoying it.

Your profile on Ron Ruelle caught my eye as I was due to head down to the coast for vacation. I managed to swing a trip over to the Sharks’ ballpark this week to say hi to Ron and chat a bit!

Drew Glover

And Drew sent along a photo of himself (on left) and caricaturist/reader Ron Ruelle at Ron’s booth.

Thanks for sharing, Drew!



Guess the Game from the Uniform

Based on the suggestion of long-time reader/contributor Jimmy Corcoran, we’ve introduced a new “game” on Uni Watch, which is similar to the popular “Guess the Game from the Scoreboard” (GTGFTS), only this one asked readers to identify the game based on the uniforms worn by teams.

Like GTGFTS, readers will be asked to guess the date, location and final score of the game from the clues provided in the photo. Sometimes the game should be somewhat easy to ascertain, while in other instances, it might be quite difficult. There will usually be a visual clue (something odd or unique to one or both of the uniforms) that will make a positive identification of one and only one game possible. Other times, there may be something significant about the game in question, like the last time a particular uniform was ever worn (one of Jimmy’s original suggestions). It’s up to YOU to figure out the game and date.

Today’s GTGFTU comes from Jimmy Corcoran himself.

Good luck and please post your guess/answer in the comments below.



Uni Tweet of the Day

I’m just gonna leave this here…


And finally...

…that’ll do it for the early morning article. Big BIG thanks to Harrison for a really fantastic piece.

I’ll probably have a couple articles later today (the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team will be unveiling new unis), and a pretty full Ticker from Anthony Emerson will also be posted shortly, so be sure to keep checking back.

Everyone have a great weekend. Jimmer Vilk will take you through till Monday.



Comments (45)

    A really good thought article. It highlights one thing about US sports that doesn’t cross the Atlantic well: homogenity of supplier. I often feel like US uniforms are most likely to follow a trend like “clean” or “City Connect” because one company/partnership has the idea for them. With every team outfitted separately, I doubt we’d see the same trends across a whole league.

    100% this. With Nike all but having a monopoly on US pro sports design, I think it will be a long time before we see any real unique team design concepts.

    Totally agree, Nike can make us all believe that all white or all black is supercool because there is no supplier going the other way in the NFL or the NBA. One supplier for an entire league is unthinkable in Europe. I remember French footbaal used to have it for the Coupe de France competition up to the mid 80s: every team competing from the final rounds sponsored by adidas. Was odd to see teams sponsored by Le Coq Sportif or Puma running around in adidas versions of their uniforms just for these cup games.

    GTGFTU: 11/07/1971 – San Diego Chargers (17) at New York Giants (35); Yankee Stadium.

    You got it Morris, 1971 was the last year the Chargers wore the bolts on the pants of those classic uniforms.

    I think another thing that the teams (especially in the NFL) are prone to is taking the opposite approach when something fails. For example, if a team hires a defensive minded coach who doesn’t work out, the expectation, and often outcome, is that an offense oriented coach will get hired. This isn’t limited to coaches as we have seen plenty of recent uniform examples in the NFL (e.g., Cardinals, Browns, Jags) and the NBA (Jazz literally this week) and I’m sure others can think of examples in other sports as well.

    Well said Harrison. Makes me wonder what the next shift in taste is. Will teams attempt to go out of their way to make all their uni elements contrast?

    So would we say clean mostly means minimalist? And all white feels especially minimalist from the standpoint white is often viewed as blank space? Of all the social media era buzzwords this one seems to make the most sense. Now describing mono white as icy, hopefully that dies a quick death.
    Of course there ends up being overcorrection towards minimalism when teams roll out white pants with no striping, etc.
    The idea of the minimalist / clean trend coming back to sort of confirms the idea that uniform and fashion design is cyclical, for every new trend that comes and goes, there is a deeply rooted accepted standard somewhere in the middle that we’ll return to once the trends fade.

    As a non-quite-Gen-Zer (late Millennial), I’d have to argue that “clean” is far less defined than Harrison suggests. My observations tell me that it’s purely a synonym for “cool” or “very good”.
    I know we’d prefer it if the term really meant “free of frills” or “simple”, but in my experience, that isn’t the case. Or perhaps that’s how the word was originally used, but it was soon co-opted by a larger group.
    I know that definitely applies to “cold”. While it was likely originally used for uniforms that are now being described as “icy”, i.e., literally giving a “cold” look/vibe, it is now simply used to express the feeling of “I like this”.

    My observations tell me that it’s purely a synonym for “cool” or “very good”.

    After a few years of searching pretty much every D-1 school’s Twitter pages for college football photos and seeing the replies, I agree. People keep using that word but for a lot of them, I don’t think it means what they think it means.

    I take it to mean minimalist, as Harrison said. And just as I had to laugh at yesterday’s “Winter Warrior” uni from a dome team, I laugh at the idea of wanting to look “clean” on a football field. You’re supposed to get out there and get dirty! Or muddy, if you’re lucky enough to still play on grass!

    “You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    Great article. It’s great to have voices from all ages too. You made a great point regarding the shift in NFL uniform design from all the radical looks we saw the last 25 years. While the stripeless pants are not my favorite (a look that screams NCAA to me), I’ll gladly take minimalism over the garish looks that have preceded these squads.

    My son and I had lunch together yesterday with his coworker. I’m 48, my son is 20 and his coworker is 26. We found we all had very similar views on uniforms. But they loved the Vikings new look and shocked that I was indifferent. I don’t dislike them. I actually think they look better than their standard road jerseys. It just seems a little bland to me.
    I’ve said this before and still believe it to

    Whatever, Penn State was doing all white football uniforms before it was trendy

    And you’d think other schools would have learned from their mistake. ;)
    I kid… somewhat. But I would love to see the Lions in blue road pants. They don’t even have to have stripes on them.

    Great thought piece, Harrison. I personally despise this trend towards “clean”. That’s not to say that I don’t understand it. The NFL is the least uniform of the big four leagues when it comes to uniforms. Between socks and other accessories, players on the same team have wildly varied looks on the field. And that’s the way the players coming up like it. You’ve even got rookies who’ve never even suited up on Sunday talking about how hard it will be to “swag up” the uniform of the team they were just drafted by.
    I’m curious to see how many different looks we get when this one makes its debut.

    The 49ers, Browns, Jets, and Giants, for instance, all received praise for their all-white throwbacks. The Chargers’ uniforms are universally acclaimed.

    Three of the first four are not all-white.
    And the Chargers? Not acclaimed by me.
    Yellow. Pants. Always.

    True! I think of all-white as white jerseys and pants regardless of the helmet, but that could have been clarified.

    And I agree on the Chargers — should be wearing yellow pants as much as possible.

    Re Chargers. Just peek at the all white photo in the article and the “guess the game” photo today. No comparison. Yellow britches please.

    Not acclaimed by me either, and the yellow pants are actually uglier to me. Will never understand the love affair everyone seems to have with the Chargers look. Everyone is seriously gonna try to convince us that what they wear now is better than what Junior Seau and them were wearing in the 90s and early 2000s? Sorry, I just believe most people are really being honest about that. Never been a Chargers fan, but loved those darker uniforms.

    I’d take the Air Coryell unis over the current ones in a heartbeat.
    The Seau era didn’t look as good to me. Wasn’t a fan of the white lightning bolts.

    Yes! Give me the royal blue with athletic gold bolts and pants.
    I always felt that while the powder blue is nice, it was so loved by Chris Berman

    Nice article, Harrison. I definitely prefer all-white with some good striping and hosiery.

    GTGFTS: 2012 playoffs, SF 36, NO 32. Wild last two minutes of that game.

    Thanks for featuring a younger voice, Phil. I would encourage you to continue to look for diverse voices to feature, including younger folks, people of color, and women. I love hearing different perspectives and things I hadn’t considered before.

    Good write-up. While a lot of people probably use “clean” to describe any uniform they think is good, there is definitely some implication of minimalism there. I think part of it is that there was the 20-or-so year period of many new uniforms being filled with random bullshit — side panels, shoulder yokes, etc. — and now that the pendulum has swung the other way, “clean” comes off as a natural descriptor for a lot of the new looks that reject said bullshit. And while my *general* view of minimalism in sports uniforms is *net* positive… no one in his right mind would argue that the Packers or Bears or Chiefs should scrap their sleeve stripes in the name of minimalism. It’s more that if you go the minimalist route, your uniform will be, at worst, boring, whereas if you go the “busy” route, you might end up with early 2000s Bills.

    And put me down for the Chargers yellow pants as well! They can wear the all-royal alternate once per year and either white-over-yellow or blue-over-yellow the other 16 weeks. That is my ruling, now make it happen!

    if you go the minimalist route, your uniform will be, at worst, boring, whereas if you go the “busy” route, you might end up with early 2000s Bills

    To be honest, I’d take the early 2000s Bills over the current Saints or Cardinals any day.

    It’s also fun (for me) to have a GTGFTU that doesn’t rely on esoteric details: “they only wore that combo in the 1995 pre-season.” This one was straightforward. Easily recognizable QB in John Hadl. Opponents are fuzzy in the background, but also very clearly the Giants. Hadl only played for the Chargers for 3 years post-merger, so how many times could they have played at the Giants in that time frame? (Once, as it turns out.)

    Clean to me will always be the Indianapolis Colts’ road uniforms. If we’re going on to other sports, include the L.A. Dodgers, The Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Brooklyn Nets’ uniforms. Cool colors, no clutter. If I had to cite a team with warm colors, i guess I would go with the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ football uniforms.

    Different strokes for different folks: my definition of clean is brightly colorful, cluttered by lots of stars, stripes and huge block numbers with outlines and drop shadows. This close to a clown outfit, I know…

    Thank you for your great contribution, Harrison. You have the same age as my youngest son and he uses ‘clean’ in the same meaning as you describe it: minimalist aesthetics, no color contrasts and well liked by a lot of his peers. If they call it classy online he calls it likewise. All the more interesting because as Dutch guys living in the Netherlands we speak Dutch, but ‘clean’ has been fully adopted by our language.
    As for the all white and all black ‘practice gear look’ game uniforms without team color accents: admired by today’s players and younger fans, not so by many older heads like me (but not aimed at us). It turns the game into a game of full body contact chess or an unlicensed, cheap looking video game.

    Very good article Harrison and nice to hear a perspective from a different generation. This is clearly the age group Nike is marketing to so we will probably see a lot of this style of uniforms in all sports. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing

    I think one aspect is that everybody designing sports uniforms these days are professional graphic designers. The trends in graphic design lately has been towards simplifying everything. As seen on many a ticker on this site, so many companies are going minimal with their new logos and looks. And I think that same thinking is going in to a lot of jersey and sports logo designs. It’s all the same people getting taught the same things in the same schools who are in the field, and the same executives that approve of the final designs. Long gone are the days of the owner’s wife designing a team’s look. You end up with way less eccentricities this way, but I bet the looks test well for their target demographic.

    This is a great point and I think true. More professionalism in design, plus trends of sleek minimalism, have carried over to unis.

    “Clean” is just a stupid catch-all phrase used by children with no uniform taste.

    Haha yes. Sadly. I’m only 33 but I already feel so disconnected from “youth”.

    Thanks for the thoughtful analysis, Harrison!

    Seems to me that it’s arguably the case that “clean” is to the mid-2020s what “flat” was to circa 2010. As a design trend, “flat” was a reaction against a previous trend of over-busy, over-complication. It was an attempt to establish elegance by simplification. And like all reactions, it inevitably included a fair bit of over-reaction, swinging the design pendulum too far in the opposite direction.

    As for my own taste, I tend toward baroque over-adornment in my own thinking. My first draft of anything is usually just way too much. So when I encounter something that feels pared back and restrained, that tends to strike me as more professional and having likely gone through thoughtful revision. So “clean” tends to impress me as higher quality than “busy,” in the sense that when I see something that’s too busy, it strikes me as work I could have done. Simpler is harder, at least for me, so I tend to regard it as demonstrating a higher level of skill.

    To me, “clean” would be the opposite of “cluttered” (or, perhaps, “busy”); lacking in excess or unnecessary elements, embellishments, gimmicks, &c., but not so plain as to be considered minimalist.

    This is a really great post. Thank you to Harrison for the words and to Phil for the space.

    Also, the robots misspelled “Irrigon.”

    As a Gen-Xer, “clean/icy/cold/fire” is no different than “fresh/dope/tight/bad” catch-all phrases for “good” of my era. In the past this slang was typically popularized via music (specifically hip-hop) and today it’s more an offshoot of social media (TikTok, IG, Black Twitter) than anything else.

    I’m no linguistics expert, but I’m sure some academic has written 10,000 words explaining the proliferation of slang into mainstream culture. Here’s a good example.


    I think the Cardinals have added silver into their official colors, which seems like a weak and convenient way to get around adding colors to a team’s palette. I do like their all white uniform, unlike their other new uniforms. However, I do think it would have been better if they did this uniform with yellow in place of the silver, to go with the Cardinal helmet logo.

    Silver (gray) was such an odd choice. It’s used as an outline on the numbers on the red jersey, and as part of the sleeve and pants stripes on the white and black unis. I’m not sure why they just didn’t use black in place of the silver on the white jersey/pants, and white in place of the silver on the black.

    I think it was so they could keep a “grey” facemask on the helmet without it looking like an old-skool throwback (I’m looking at you 49ers and Colts). Now silver is a team colour it works with the facemask colour. A but like the Giants grey mask works, although they have rowed back on the grey a lot lately.

    And yes I’m sorry Phil and Jimmer, I know you prefer grey facemasks no matter what! ;)

    I’m the one (and maybe Cheis H) that likes gray cages.

    I’m pretty sure Jimmer prefers white

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