Of Princeton Yale game: “Both teams were attired in white canvas jackets and breeches, their caps and stockings alone showing their college colors – orange and black for Princeton and blue for Yale.”
When American colleges began to organize interscholastic foot ball contests in the 1870's, the sport was heavily influenced by British immigrants who brought their rules and customs with them. A December 17, 1873 article in Sunday – The World: New York, described player attire in an exhibition foot ball game between Yale and alumni of the British boarding school, Eton College:
Lilllywhite Football Ad, London, England, 1878
Note reference to "elegantly trimmed presentation football caps"
Boston Daily Globe, October 14, 1875
Imported to America
By the late-1870's, however, American colleges began to develop their own unique rules based on rugby foot ball that featured a greater degree of player contact, such as shoulder-to-shoulder scrums, tackling, and maul-in-goals. In response, durable canvas "smock' jackets and pants became standard equipment by 1878. With players on both teams wearing similar uniforms, colorful caps and stockings once again became critical for player identification.
“The Eton men appeared in the prettiest costume that we ever saw on a foot ball field, consisting of white flannel pants with close jackets of the same material, and trimmed with broad ribbon of the lovely light blue, which is Eton’s color.....As the elevens took their places, there was a marked difference in many respects. The Yale’s dark blue caps, their only distinguishing mark, formed a strong contrast to the pretty uniforms of their opponents.”
Not having yet caught on with domestic manufacturers, American football equipment, including footballs, jerseys, hose (stockings) and caps, were primarily imported from England in the early 1870's, and their American importers held considerable sway in outfitting young men in proper football attire.
Princeton-Yale football game woodcut, circa 1877. Note Princeton players wearing Eton caps and Yale skull caps
1876 Yale Football Team
circa 1880 Dartmouth football player
November 29, 1878, Friday – The World: New York, Front Page
The new American rugby-style of play also required additional protection for the head. Close-fitting knit skull caps were the ideal headgear to limit hair pulling and minimize impacts to the ears and head in rugby scrums. Similar to those manufactured today, late-1870's football skull caps were typically constructed out of fine knit wool in solid or striped team colors and finished with a round pompom. Skull caps were the primary form of headgear worn in American collegiate football games between 1876 and 1885 and would continue to be manufactured and worn until the turn-of-the-century.
“The Eton uniforms of white flannel suits, with Eton blue across the chest, were very picturesque. The Yale men wore ordinary clothes and football caps."
Recollections of "First Yale Eleven"
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 19, 1901
Skull cap believed to be circa 1880 Dartmouth
The Football Cap Page 2
March 9, 2020
1879 Yale Football Team, Walter Camp in center holding ball
Color Lithograph of Yale - Princeton Game, November 27, 1879; by A.B. Frost, Harper's Weekly, December 20, 1879