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Spalding Varsity Union Suit Ad,
 Spalding Official Football Guide for 1902.

The Early Evolution of the American Football Uniform

The Football Jersey
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The predominate 19th century football uniform consisted of a smock jacket, jersey, and quilted pants. This combination rendered players difficult to tackle, but required a player to wear a belt and left a vulnerable seam between the pants and jacket. In 1901, A.G. Spalding & Bros. offered a solution by combining their Varsity Foot Ball Trousers with their Varsity Football Sleeveless Jacket with a connecting elastic belt, creating a one-piece, lace up football uniform they called "Spalding's Varsity Union Suit." The name came from long underwear that was first patented in 1868.

Spalding's 1901-1905 design, which retailed for $5.00 in 1902, was manufactured out of brown canvas and featured a high collar and cane strips at the thighs. By 1906, additional crew-neck and v-neck style football jackets and union suits were offered by multiple manufacturers, and with a variety of sewn-on shoulder, hip, and knee pad configurations.

Football jerseys had been part of the game from the early rugby days in the 1870's through the 1910's. Sleeveless football jackets amd union suits required the wearing of a jersey beneath the vest. Some players elected not to wear jackets or union suits; sacrificing additional protection for speed and greater range of motion. Others simply couldn't afford to spend $5.00 on the specialized suit. By 1910, player speed and size had increased significantly, necessitating supplemental padding and lighter weight uniforms. A union suit could weigh as much as 5 pounds dry, and considerably more when wet. Padding was limited to what could be sewn-on to the outside of the suit or jersey.

Football teammates wearing union suits, circa 1910.
For more on this union suit, check out:
1886 Harvard Football Team showing foot ball jackets with sleeves trimmed and removed
Foot-Ball Jacket Ad, Spalding Official Foot Ball Guide for 1893
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Canvas, Lard, and Turpentine:
The Football Jacket
For more on the football jacket, check out:
Goldsmith Union Suit Ad,
P. Goldsmith Sons Fall & Winter Catalog, 1907.