Yet again, the advantages gained through uniform innovations didn't pay off. Yale defeated Harvard by a score of 6-0 on Frank Butterworth's second half touch-down. The suits did prove difficult to grasp and they didn't waterlog in wet weather. Ultimately, the leather suit didn't catch on due to the high cost of leather. According to "Football in Armour," an 1897 article published in Strand Magazine [Vol xiii],
August 16, 2015
Updated June 15, 2017
"Football - Queer Devices Worn by Players." The Rockland County Times [Haverstraw, NY] 17 Nov. 1894: Print.
"Lard and turpentine once the essentials." The Ottowa Citizen [Ottowa, Ontario] 15 Nov. 1962: Print.
"History." Harvard University. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2015. <http://www.harvard.edu/history>.
Camp, Walter. "Football." Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1896. Print.
Camp, Walter. "Football of '93." The Outing XXV (1894): 56-61. Web. 15 Aug. 2015.
Stagg, A. A. "Touchdown!" New York: Longmans, Green & Co, 1927. Print
"Football in Armour." The Strand Magazine [London, England] 1897: Print
Canvas, Lard, and Turpentine:
The Football Jacket
The Union Suit
The football union suit got its name from flannel or wool one-piece long underwear that was first patented in 1868. Unlike the undergarment, the football union suit was constructed out of canvas or moleskin with an elastic waistband. While the earliest union suits date to around 1895, Spalding was the first manufacturer to mass produce the union suit in 1901 and continued production until 1911. Other manufacturers continued to sell union suits until the late 1910's. Complete union suits are very rare, and seldom come to market for sale.
Canvas jacket with sewn-on canvas shoulder pads, circa 1895
Legendary Auctions, 2012. Uniform and Equipment sold for $2,629
Spalding Union Suit, Circa 1901-1911, Tibi Collection
The Rise of the Jersey
Worsted and cotton football jerseys replaced canvas jackets and union suits on the football field by the early 1910's. As college sports became more organized, schools began providing players with standardized uniforms. Jerseys were a less expensive and more logical choice for managers, as they could be ordered in large quantities. Torn or damaged jerseys could be more easily repaired or replaced and, if in satisfactory condition, reused year after year. The canvas jacket and union suit were placed on the shelf of football equipment history, but remain some of the most sought after football relics today.
Union suit, circa 1901-1911
Uniform Ad, Spalding Intercollegiate Football Guide for 1914
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Leather football uniforms are extremely rare with perhaps only one surviving example. There is no record of any equipment company mass producing leather uniforms.
But a suit of leather is expensive, and, in spite of its lightness and its advantages in rainy weather, it was this expense that prevented its general adoption by the colleges of the United States.
An unusual rare variation of the sleeveless jacket was the all-leather uniform which first debuted in 1893. On November 25 of that year, two undefeated football titans, Harvard and Yale, met in New Haven, CT for one of the most anticipated games of the season. Yale came into the game with a 37 game winning streak, having outscored its 1893 opponents 324 to 6. Harvard boasted an even better margin of victory, 362-5, in their then undefeated 1893 campaign. When the Crimson took the field, their opponents and spectators were shocked by their distinct attire. Each man donned slick, tight-fitting, yellow leather suit. The suits didn't technically violate the rules against applied, greasy substances, but the oiled leather suits made the Crimson equally difficult to tackle. In his "Football of '93"article for the October 1894 edition of The Outing periodical, Walter Camp described the moment the suits were unveiled:
Leather football vest and pants, Legendary Auctions, 2013
Sold for $10,158
“For a moment there was a hush, and then such shouts went up from the Harvard side as one hears at no other place than at these great football matches, while there was a gray blankness over-spreading the faces of the Yale supporters as they looked at these suits and thought how hard it would be to secure a satisfactory grasp of the wearers. Among the spectators upon the Yale side there were anxious looks and inquiries, and among the coaches there was a premonition of trouble. I suppose that it is natural for a man who feels that his friends are in trouble to go quickly to render assistance. This was remarkable at once among the Yale coaches, for almost every betrayed a wish to “get in and play against those suits.” I think this shows really how hard they were hit and how good they thought the suits. Such a device can never be kept entirely secret and there were two or three of the coaches who had been told before leaving the uptown quarters that Harvard would wear leather suits; for all that they were prepared for something quite different from these slippery, shining uniforms that gave the team a most martial appearance.”