Throwback to NFL fashion from the 80s to the 90s

Once upon a time, I worked for Sears Holdings Corporation, the entity that owned Sears department stores, Kmart stores, and the Kenmore, Craftsman, and Die Hard brands. For much of the 20th century, Sears was essentially Amazon, with both a huge brick-and-mortar retail operation and a robust catalog business. They would proudly refer to themselves as the largest retailer in the world, and for much of their existence, that was true.

Sears died a joint venture death, overtaken by internet giants like Amazon, and a victim of the all-too-common leveraged company theft scheme, when they were bought by the fund billionaire speculative Eddie Lampert, who saw the value of their real estate portfolio just before the big real estate crash. It went wrong.

For all issues of Sears, kids of the 80s and 90s almost all have fond memories of the Sears Wishbook (and to be fair, its JCPenney equivalent). The Christmas catalog was a masterclass in creating desires in children for the latest action figures, dolls, video games, electronics and (luckily for us) sports-related fashion. Sears recently auctioned off much of what remains of its former headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and managed to acquire Wishbooks from around 1987 to 1993. This was done partly for nostalgic reasons, partly for research purposes, and partly because these things actually fetch a pretty penny on eBay. But mostly, I thought it might be fun to see how much sports fashion has changed, especially from the 80s to the 90s, because man, it was wild.

The Moustached Curator 1987

We start with big blocks of basic color and collars.

Who needs custom logos when you can just use stars and some sort of comic book baseball version of your favorite teams’ names? It’s basic, it’s shiny, the collar makes it formal, and the man is wholesome. But the 80s could also be unleashed! Can you imagine grown men wearing, well, literally all of that?

Believe it or not, there was a time when Snoopy was almost as recognizable as Mickey Mouse, and the NFL aimed to halt the popularity of the “Joe Cool” iteration of Snoopy, seen here. The difference between regular Snoopy and Joe Cool is literally the sunglasses.

But also, nightgowns! Can you even imagine? Just a bunch of pantsless guys chilling on the couch with the game on. 1987 – Free and easy.

1988: Mesh debuts, Snoopy Dominance continues

We at Acme Packing Company are fans of “mesh” route concepts, which are essentially crossover designs where one receiver serves as a choice for the other. Here you’ll hear various APC members say “run the mesh until you can’t anymore” on all of our podcasts. Maybe this should be our shirt.

The mesh coverage on the Giants jersey is just getting started and will dominate the rest of the 80s, but we’re still hanging onto Snoopy as well:

But nothing defined 1988 more than a bunch of guys hanging out. Wear your multi-sport sweatshirts. Bears man is very intense, as if he knew what was going to happen in a few years. The glory days? They are about to end.

It’s also worth noting how little the Packers take any of this into account. Before Favre, they really weren’t on the national radar. The 49ers, Bears, Giants and Washington dominate the Wishbook images. It really was a different era.

1989: The Bears’ Last Stand

In 1988, the Bears and 49ers faced off in the NFC Championship Game, and this catalog is filled with Bears gear, released in the midst of their disappointing 1989 run that saw them go 6-10.

We still have Mesh, but more than anything, in the basketball section, we get our first taste of the craziness that the 90s will bring.

1990 and 1991: Everything is screaming at you

Although we have some 80s footage with yesteryear sporting goods and acid wash jeans:

We also get a first look at 90s aggro:

But above all, we get one of the great breakthroughs in fashion history. It’s true, it’s

TIME

FOR

ZUBAZ!

Most of you know what Zubaz is, because the wry nostalgia factor is out of place with them, but if you’ve just learned, know that for a brief time, zebra-striped parachute pants did fury.

1992: Zubaz, and the convergence of other sports.

In the 1992 catalog there is as much hockey as any other sport, which is strange to think about now. Hockey was a regular feature on ESPN, the Los Angeles Kings were at the height of their popularity thanks to Wayne Gretzky, and NHL and NHLPA video games were only ramping up.

Zubaz is still going strong and thriving in a welcoming NBA.

As the NFL sees a major advancement in Zuba technology: the Zubaz sweats.

As the college prom joins the aggro party in your face.

And with that, we’re going to take a little time jump to 1997, partly because I have a little hole in my catalogs.

1997: The Packers arrive

A year after the Packers’ first Super Bowl, many of these budding trends have come to a head. There’s Starter, a brand that would define much of the 90s:

And there are plenty of actual jerseys in the Wishbook as they start to take off. But most of all, it has the biggest catalog page I’ve ever seen, surpassing even nightgowns from before. He is, I think, responsible for defining the look of Green Bay natives for at least a decade. Maybe two.

You have Zubaz, you have Texan tuxedos and you have oversized sweatshirts with HUGE handwriting. The Chiefs jacket adds an extra touch to what I consider a masterpiece.

I mean.

Denim on the top, Zubaz on the bottom. You walk into Kimberly Clark’s human resources office wearing this in 1997 and you have a job.


I hope you have enjoyed this trip in the past, and I hope some of them will return. I’m gonna go get myself a reasonably priced nightgown right now.

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