The History of the
Wildcat Uniform
Page One

1889 - 1892

NU began playing football in 1876, and first fielded a varsity team 1879.  It began intercollegiate play in 1882, but little is known of the team's uniforms from this period.  The NU baseball team by 1875 was wearing stylized baseball jerseys and "NWU" in Old English script on the chest.  By 1879 baseball uniforms were purple with gold trim, and the "NWU" had shifted from Old English to a plain block font.

SHIRT: Little is known about what NU's football teams wore from 1876 through 1887.  The 1876 team wore street clothes and did not match.  The teams from 1882 through 1887 likely wore canvas jackets with a purple "NWU" on the chest, but it is not known for certain.  It is certain, however, that by 1888 the team was wearing a uniform, and it likely was the one shown above.  That canvas jacket was definitely used in 1889, since players wear it in the team photo. In November 1890 the team rolled out new uniforms that featured purple and gold.

During the Nineteenth Century, and even into the 1920s, NU's players did not all wear the exact same uniforms.  The uniform images on this page depict the most representative jersey worn at the time.  In 1889, for instance, some players wore the jacket shown above, some wore a vest with "NWU" on the chest and wore a long-sleeved purple sweater under it, and some wore a plain white jersey.  These jerseys continued to be worn through 1892.  
Also in 1892 the team began wearing burly letter sweaters, with a large purple block "N" sown on the front.

HELMET: During this period the players did not wear helmets, though some players did wear stocking caps.  At first there was no consistency: some players wore red caps, some purple, and one player was known for wearing a black sombrero!  By 1890 all the players wore purple and gold-striped caps.

PANTS: In 1889 and 1890 the uniform pants were dark, likely black or purple canvas.  In 1891 the team wore garish purple and white striped stockings, and in 1892, the players wore lighter pants, likely tan.  

1893 - 1897

VEST: By 1893 the "NWU" had been dropped, and players were primarily wearing plain purple sweaters, with a slate gray canvas vest over them.   In 1894 the team sweater changed, to purple with a large block "N" in white.  This was occasionally worn in games, over the standard sweater and vest jersey.

PANTS: Grey, with purple stockings.

1898 - 1899

JERSEY: For the first time, NU wore something that actually resembled a football jersey, rather than a baseball shirt.  The 1898 jersey was dark purple.  Since separate pads had not come into circulation yet, the jersey itself was padded, with thick black leather quilted padding on the shoulders and elbows, giving the team a menacing, "Mad Max" appearance.

PANTS: Also dark purple.

1900 - 1908
JERSEY: The 1898 jersey now had the gray vest worn over it.  
Even when NU did not field a varsity team in 1906 and 1907, the class teams continued to wear this uniform.  In 1908, when the varsity team returned, they returned to wearing this style, with a lighter colored jersey underneath the vest.

The leather shoulder patches varied during these seasons: sometimes NU dyed the patches black; for other seasons, the leather was a natural brown.

HELMET: The team wore headgear for the first time around the turn of the century.  "Helmets" were little more than either a leather strap with a banana shaped receptacle to protect the nose, or a strap with ear protectors.  At first only a few of the Purple players wore headgear.   By 1905, however, most of the team started to wear a helmet, and the most common type was the "beehive" leather cap with dogflap ear protectors.

PANTS: Lighter in color.  


JERSEY: NU's dramatic uniform change in 1909 marked one of the first times in college football that a team had a jersey with an actual design, and the striped pattern was a precursor to the "northwestern stripes" that NU would develop twenty years later.

(The colors in the illustration above are an estimate.  The jersey itself might have been black, with a purple center stripe, or the center stripe might have been another color, such as grey or gold.)

HELMET: Same beehive style.

PANTS: With the new jersey, the 1909 team wore purple pants and stockings that had the same striped pattern.

1910-1914; 1928(Purple)

JERSEY: In 1910 NU held onto the purple and white striped stockings, but the striped jersey was replaced by an absolutely plain purple jersey with long sleeves.  This style would make a comeback for one season, in 1928.

By 1912 helmets were all the more standard "dog flap" variety, very simple plain brown leather.

PANTS: By 1911 the stockings were plain as well, and NU truly was the "Purple," decked in head to toe in nothing but.  

1915; 1920-1921; 1923

JERSEY: In 1915 NU went back to using black leather patches on its uniforms, but now the patches were circular designs around the sides of the ribcage, with patches on the arms as well.  NU returned to the 1915 jersey style for three seasons in 1920-'21 and 1923.

HELMET: NU continued to use the plain dogflap helmet through 1917.

Pants remained purple, with purple stockings.

1916-1919; 1922

The 1916 jersey changed the patch pattern, making it more rectangular.  The team switched back to the previous style after the 1919 season. NU then used the rectangular style in 1922, for the last time.

HELMET: NU stopped wearing the small "dog flap" helmets during this time and began wearing fuller-sized leather helmets.  During 1918 most of Northwestern's helmets were completely painted white.  By 1919 NU wore black full-sized helmets.


JERSEY: The 1923 team wore several different jerseys, including the old 1915 style and the style shown above.  Many professional and college teams started to employ vertical sections of fabric sewn onto the fronts of their jerseys, in order to help the ball carrier keep his hold on the ball (which was slightly more round in the early 1920s and more difficult to grasp).

HELMET: Same dark leather full-sized helmet.


JERSEY: Switched to a dark purple jersey with wide white vertical bars, and was worn by everyone on the team.  For games in 1927 the team wore a similar jersey, but with black bars (not shown) instead of white.

HELMET: The 'Cats continued to wear a plain dark helmet until 1925.  During that season NU wore cross-hatch style black helmets with a large white cross painted on the top.  By 1926 NU had switched to plain leather helmets, cross-hatch style, with no paint.

PANTS: Pants during this era were usually tan canvas.  Purple stockings and black shoes were used.

1928 (White)

JERSEY: The breakthrough in NU's uniform came in 1928.  For the first time NU wore white jerseys as well as purple.  Unlike today, there was no real distinction between white and color jerseys for home or away games; in fact, white was more usually worn by the Wildcats for home games.

The more significant innovation, however, was the sleeve striping for the white jersey.  While most other colleges continued to wear plain jerseys or the large chest stripes, the "northwestern stripes" sleeve style on the Wildcat jerseys set the trend for what would become the modern college uniform.
It remains one of the Wildcats' greatest football traditions.

The striping design (three stripes: one wide stripe enclosed by two narrow stripes) had been around for a while.  It was being used for basketball stockings as early as 1915 and by the early 1920s it was being used for football stockings.  A handful of other football teams had worn the pattern on their sleeves, but Northwestern's use of the design on its jersey sleeves popularized it nationally. Within a couple of years other teams began referring to the pattern as "northwestern stripes." One of the earliest known references to northwestern stripes came in 1936, when the Iowa State Teachers College (now called the University of Northern Iowa) unveiled new basketball warm-up suits, which featured "trousers fashioned after street pants, [which] are of gold, with Northwestern stripes." To this day, the striping pattern is known as "northwestern stripes."

During the 1928 season, NU also wore a purple jersey, but it was completely plain, identical to the 1910 jersey.  

HELMET: Same as 1926-1927.

PANTS: Tan pants, with white stockings that also had the northwestern stripes.

1929-1931(White) and 1929-1936 (Purple)

JERSEY: NU had, for some time, put numbers on the backs of its jerseys.  Now the 'Cats put numbers on the front as well.

HELMET: NU's helmets switched back from brown to black in 1930.

PANTS: Typically tan, although for some seasons (including 1930-'31), the team wore dark purple pants.  Northwestern striped socks.

1932-1933 (White)

JERSEY: The 'Cats added purple shoulders to their white jerseys for two seasons, giving the uniform a look that other teams would commonly use in the 1950s (and today in the NFL Europe league).  The purple uniform remained without the shoulder panels or sleeves (although, strangely, a couple of players did use a purple jersey with the white shoulder panels); however, a purple jersey was only worn once in 1932.

In 1933 the 'Cats instead primarily wore the purple jersey.

HELMET: No change.

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1934 - 1991