If your favorite color is not Burnt Orange or Chicago Maroon or the unusual combination of both, and you visit the Virginia Tech campus during Hokie football season, you might just change your mind.
The Virginia Tech Hokies have always faced a challenge when trying to make orange and maroon look good. Let’s face it, these current school colors were chosen back in 1896 because “no one else was using them at the time” — and probably for good reason. At least they’re more colorful than Virginia Tech’s original school colors, black and grey, which were said to resemble prison garb.
Over the years, the Hokie football uniform has undergone as many transformations as there are plays in the playbook. Online, you can view every single combination (there are 2,233,440 combos) at www.cruhland.com/unibuilder.html if you are itching to see the history and evolution of this athletic uniform.
One of the most disliked uniforms was an ill-fated orange (some called it the candy corn look) when playing against Old Dominion University in 2018. Twitter fans were not happy to see its return when @VTEquipment posted the 2019 uniform reveal this past July.
A design element that fans almost unanimously agree on is the Hokie stone. This year’s uniform does feature a Hokie stone pattern within the numbers again, though it remains difficult to discern from a distance. At least they have found a way to make Hokie stone a permanent part of the uniform. Although this year’s uniform resembles the 2018 style, the addition of a patch donning the number “150” with a football inside the zero is brand new. Fans may be conflicted as to the meaning of the patch. Does it symbolize 150 years since the first football game? How about 150 consecutive wins against UVA? Ha!
Actually, every Football Bowl Subdivision [FBC] and Football Championship Subdivision [FCS] college football team will be wearing the patch this year, along with game officials. Coaches will don the logo during the first week. It actually represents the 150-year anniversary of college football.
The familiar ACC patch is there too, and yes, the single diagonal stripe is back, albeit with mixed reviews. Though many teams are wearing throwback jerseys lately, Virginia Tech is no longer traditionally classic, and yet not excessively modern. The Hokie football uniforms are playing it safe in the middle. This approach is likely in response to a decision made in the fall of 2016 for all 22 athletic programs to begin phasing in new uniforms that feature consistent logos, colors, lettering and numerals.
As part of this effort, Nike has been working with Virginia Tech on branding and uniform design since 2006, the year the “swoosh” symbol first appeared on Hokie jerseys. Innovators like Susan Sokolowski, who worked for Nike in apparel and equipment design for nearly 20 years, are committed to meeting the needs of athletes performing on elite levels of fitness. While working for Nike, her roles ranged from being a soccer and fitness equipment designer to women’s footwear innovation designer. Her last role was in apparel innovation leadership, where she had oversight on women’s sport bras, muscle compression, impact protection, World Cup uniforms, NFL uniforms, Olympic uniforms, thermo-regulation and digital fit and sizing.
“Uniform designs and combinations are something that both our players and fans are passionate about,” Pete Moris, Associate Athletics Director – Strategic Communications, acknowledges. “We have always sought to blend tradition and new looks together at Virginia Tech. We value our relationship with Nike and the various uniform combinations that they have provided to our program over the years.”
Sokolowski offers insight on how uniforms are constantly evolving to be lighter in weight, more breathable and even customizable — all while striving for the highest levels of athlete protection.
“The three most important pieces of this innovation are materials, manufacturing and the market itself,” Sokolowski explains. “Materials innovation, especially in foam and high-density polymers, along with new product development and manufacturing methods, are changing the game.” She adds that 3D CAD, 3D printing, molding and color/graphic applications for local production are allowing for more customization during the manufacturing process.
“In the future, I think there is an opportunity to better address user-specific sizing and fit with digital tools like 3D body scanning,” she adds. With marketing, Sokolowski says that new players in the space are disrupting the status quo. “For a long-time, the same manufacturers were involved. For years, the sports industry really only focused its efforts on footwear innovation. New players like Vicis (https://vicis.com/products/zero1) are pushing the field and make the space really exciting.”
Looks aside, when purchasing equipment and uniforms for any team, safety always comes first. Being knowledgeable about testing standards and certifications is key. “With the growth of internet shopping, sometimes there are products available from other countries that may be developed and produced under different specifications and requirements – which may not hold-up to U.S. standards,” Sokolowski explains.
Fit and size both play a role in safety, especially with young athletes. Poor fitting equipment and uniforms can affect performance. They can slip off, impede motion, and leave parts of the body exposed. Of course, the biggest challenge is budget. Reusing equipment such as helmets, pads, shoes and even uniforms beyond their lifespan may cut costs, but it can also impair safety. This may be why the Hokies seem to have a new look for every game. They are just playing it safe! Go Hokies!
Text by Emily Kathleen Alberts
Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics
Emily Alberts is a local freelance writer who knows that Blacksburg is a special place with some truly special school colors, and an EXTRA special mascot *gobble gobble*!