The History of the
Wildcat Uniform

Page Two

1934 (White)

JERSEY: Inexplicably, in 1934 NU reverted to wearing the 1928 style white uniform, with no shoulder panels and no numbers on the front.


PANTS: The team again wore purple pants.

1935-1955 (White)

JERSEY: The purple jersey remained the same style as it had since 1929, but late in 1935 the white jersey had regained the front numbers and now had a purple collar.  This white jersey would be a staple for the Wildcats for two decades.  Occasionally, however, some players wore a jersey with a plain white collar.

HELMET: For only the 1935 season the front panel of NU's helmets was painted white.  For the rest of the Thirties NU wore plain dark leather helmets.

1937-1939; 1944-1945;

JERSEY: Finally, in 1937 NU's purple jersey joined its white counterpart and featured northwestern sleeve stripes.  Along with the white version, this jersey would be a classic, and was used for 20 years.

NU used both the white and purple jerseys during this time except for 1940 through 1943 and 1946 through 1947.  During these years NU wore only white jerseys.  Though he may have worn a purple jersey in practice, NU star Otto Graham never wore one in a game.

Wildcat legend Ed Tunnicliff, at the 1949 Rose Bowl tribute before the 2019 UNLV game.
Tunnicliff is wearing his Rose Bowl game jersey!    [BTN screen capture]

HELMET:  NU wore its black leather helmets through 1939.  In 1940 NU became the first college team to wear a modern plastic helmet (click here to read more about NU's experimental helmet).  The dark purple shell helmet had a black attached strip running vertically and a white strip that ran across the forehead, partially covered by the black vertical strip.  The 'Cats wore the dark shell helmets through 1944.

In 1945 NU switched back to leather helmets with the cross-hatch style.  From the late Forties through 1953 NU's players used both leather and shell helmets.

The 'Cats switched for good to modern shell helmets in 1954.  The 1954 helmets were white, had no face guards, and had a purple stripe pattern identical to the northwestern sleeve stripes.  This helmet was also worn in 1955.

PANTS: Pants used during this period started with purple in 1937.  In 1938 the team switched to tan, and used tan through 1942.  During 1942, the team wore tan for non-conference games with the service schools and (for the first time) white pants for Big Ten opponents.  The 'Cats added a purple stripe to the white pants in 1943 and used that style through 1951, when, mid season, they switched back to tan.  The tan pants lasted three seasons.  NU went back to white pants in 1954 and added two stripes to the pants in 1956.

1956 (White)

JERSEY: By 1956, NU's uniform had changed very little in over twenty years.  Parseghian's first four years saw continuous changes to the uniform, starting with the white jersey in 1956.  The jersey numbers changed to a rounded font similar to that used by UCLA.  Strangely, the numbers on the purple jersey did not change.

HELMET: NU's white shell helmet now had a completely rounded, modern shape and also featured a faceguard.  The stripe pattern changed to two stripes, as shown.


JERSEY: The purple and white jerseys now shared the same new style.  Not only did they both sport UCLA-style numbers, they featured UCLA-style stripes as well, through the shoulders.  The style lasted just one season.  

HELMET: Same style as 1956, now with players' numbers on the side, in black.

PANTS: Remained white, with two purple stripes.

1958 (Purple); 1959

JERSEY: After a year using the same style for its purple and its white jerseys, NU went back to using different styles for each.  It also went back-- way back-- for its jersey style.  The purple jersey was absolutely plain, with white block numbers on the front and back, the same jersey worn in 1929.  The white jersey, however, returned to using northwestern stripes on the sleeves.  For 1959 the white jersey lost its stripes, and both were identical and plain, with plain block numbers.  

HELMET: In 1958 the helmet lost its stripes.  This helmet would last nearly a decade.

PANTS: NU lost the purple stripes on its white pants as well in 1958.


JERSEY: Parseghian's final changes to the jersey would last for well over a decade.  For the first time numbers were put on the shoulders, between the shoulder pad and the sleeve. This style would remain throughout Alex Agase's period as coach.

HELMET:  The 'Cats continued to wear plain white helmets with player numbers on the sides through 1967 (the numbers were larger during 1966-1967 than they were during 1958-1965).  In 1968 NU changed to an all-purple helmet that, for the first time, featured a logo-- the connected "NU" design.

PANTS: In 1962 the two purple stripes returned to NU's white pants (for the 1963 season only, NU wore purple pants on the road).  


JERSEY: The Pont administration made one minor change to the uniform during its first year at NU.  Stripes returned to the sleeve for the first time since 1956; however, it was just one stripe, an elastic stripe at the end of each sleeve.

HELMET: No major change. For the 1975 season only, the white faceguard was altered, and NU used an oversized plastic faceguard.


JERSEY: In 1976 Pont brought back the northwestern striping to the jersey sleeve.  Together for the first time with shoulder numbers (now higher on the shoulders), the striping produced what is THE classic Northwestern jersey.  Classic or not, it was used for just two years.

HELMET: 1976 was the ninth and final year for the purple "NU" helmet with no stripes.  When the 'Cats opened the 1977 season at Iowa, the players decided to take the logos off their helmets, spiritually disassociating themselves from the 1-10 NU team of 1976, and called themselves "Phantoms."  After the game (a 24-0 loss), the players abandoned the Phantom look and the plain purple helmet.  For the rest of the 1977 season the 'Cats wore a purple "NU" helmet that featured two white stripes.


JERSEY: In 1978, as Rick Venturi took over the team, the jersey lost its stripes and reverted to the 1960 style.  

HELMET: Venturi introduced a new helmet: white, with one purple stripe and the "NU" logo in purple.

PANTS: The white pants in 1978 also changed, with just one purple stripe used down the side.  For a couple of games in 1978, including the last two home games, NU wore purple pants with a white stripe.  It was the first all-purple uniform for NU in decades.

1979 (Purple); 1980

JERSEY: Venturi, in his second season, introduced one of the boldest changes to the NU uniform.  In 1979 the purple jersey featured white sleeves with a wildcat head image.  The white jersey, however, remained the same as 1978: plain white, no stripes, purple numbers on the front and low on the shoulders.  The 1980 purple jersey was the same as 1979, and NU made the white jersey consistent, adding the wildcat head image on purple sleeves.
HELMET: Two more seasons under Venturi, two more helmets: both kept 1978's white shell with one purple stripe.  The 1979 helmet featured the short-lived "Script n" logo.  The 1980 version had the even shorter-lived "Script Cats" logo.

PANTS: Pants for both years were the same as before-- white, with one purple stripe.  However, for some (but not all) road games in 1979-80 the 'Cats wore purple pants.


JERSEY: With Pont and Venturi's exit, the two-toned uniform left as well.  In 1981, Dennis Green's first team wore jerseys identical to the 1960 uniform: plain purple, no stripes, white numbers on the front and low on the shoulders.

HELMET: For the fifth year in a row, NU wore a new helmet onto the field.  However, unlike the others, the 1981 design would not only stick around, it would become one of the all-time defining images of the team and of the University.  It was the most important uniform change since "northwestern striping" was added to the jerseys in 1928.

NU went with a plain purple helmet, no stripes, and a white face mask.  The logo, in white, was a brand new design, created for Northwestern by Gordon Stromberg.  The design (variously called the "Athletic N," "Northwestern N," or "Sculpted N") was distinctive and modern; however, by its simplicity and its placement on a plain field of purple, it harkened to NU's earliest athletic letter designs and tied in school tradition.  The variant "N-Cat" design, with interlocked 'Cat-head, would take its place alongside the "Athletic N" logo a couple of years later, but the helmet's simple, flaired N design remained the more formal and elegant of the two, and remained on the Wildcat headgear.

JERSEY: For NU's intercollegiate football centennial celebration, the Wildcats decked out in a new uniform.  NU returned to using northwestern sleeve striping.  Now the stripes and numbers had a grey outline. 

The jerseys were initially made in Wisconsin by Medalist (and, by 1985, by MacGregor, once MacGregor bought out Medalist). In 1987, the supplier switched from MacGregor to Wilson. This uniform would continue to be used through 1989, with the following minor changes:
  • In 1982 only, the team wore a commemorative patch on their left shoulders, celebrating 100 years of NU football.
  • For 1987 - 1989, after Wilson became the supplier, the middle sleeve stripe narrowed, so that the three stripes were almost equal in width.

HELMET: The 1981 helmet did not undergo any major changes.  Early during this period, the white "Athletic N" logo had a thin grey outline.

For 1982 through 1989, NU changed the pants for its uniform constantly, sometimes mid-season.  With the shift to grey accents on the new 1982 jersey, the 'Cats switched to grey pants for the first time in many years.  NU used the grey pants until 1985 when it started using white pants with a grey-purple-grey striping.  This look lasted a couple of seasons, then in 1987 NU began using white or grey pants practically on a game to game basis, with grey pants being worn usually on the road.  By 1989 the 'Cats were exclusively wearing grey pants with a white-purple-white striping.

For at least one game during this period (the 1989 game at Purdue), NU wore purple pants, for the first time since 1980.

JERSEY: The 1990 Wildcats sported new jerseys from Wilson. The new unis had a new sleeve stripe style, with an elastic band at the end of the sleeve that featured small, equally sized grey and white stripes.  The grey outline around the jersey numbers now did not touch the white numbers, but had an outline from the purple jersey between it and the numerals. On November 16, 1991, NU hosted Iowa and wore purple jerseys in a game for the last time until 2003.

HELMET: The 1981 helmet, with one small change: in 1991 the 'Cats dropped the white faceguard in favor of a purple one.  The front sticker (CATS) remained the same.  The grey outline was used for the N logo.

PANTS: NU kept with light grey pants with the white-purple-white stripes, with a couple of exceptions.  For the 1991 Illinois game at Dyche Stadium, NU wore purple pants, along with their standard purple jerseys and helmets.  The 'Cats also used purple pants for several road games.  The purple pants were unlike the grey pants: the purple pants had no stripes, and featured the N-Cat on the right hip.  The 'Cats would wear these pants as standard issue beginning with Barnett's 1992 team.