The All Blacks jersey is the most iconic design in all of rugby union, and one of the most famous and recognizable in all of sport.
Yet despite the fact that, as the name implies, the All Blacks jersey is has been one of the most consistent and understated designs around, there have been some notable changes and developments in the last century.
The New Zealand Rugby Union chose the black jersey from the start – in the first AGM of the NZRU in 1893 the black jersey was chosen to be the first officially sanctioned national jersey of New Zealand, and with its silver fern and white collar, it’s been broadly the same every since – though not totally.
For example, the 1905 tour to the British Isles, France and the USA was notable for a variety of reasons, both on the field and in the jersey department. The 1905 team was the first to tour outside of Australasia, and they were instrumental in establishing the legend of New Zealand rugby. They went 39-1 on tour, losing a solitary match to Wales, and they were also the first team to be given the nickname ‘All Blacks’.
The ‘Originals’ jersey was a break from the norm, however – in contrast to the plain black jerseys with white collars and lace-up plackets, this one had a distinctive dark grey chevron across the shoulders and front of the chest – a feature that’s unique of those legendary originals jerseys.
That 1905 oddity aside, the All Blacks shirt remained broadly the same for most of the rest of the 20th century – with some gradual developments as rugby shirt technology and fashion changed.
So by the 1960s, the lace-up plackets and heavy padded shoulders had been abandoned in favour of cotton jerseys with big, classic fold-over white collars, made by Canterbury of New Zealand, and complete with that company’s hallmark ‘loop’ collar design.
The only real changes for the following two decades would be minor – the famous silver fern crest gained the legend ‘New Zealand All Blacks’ beneath it in 1986, while the Canterbury logo would appear on the right breast for the first time in 1993.
1995 brought with it professionalism, and with that came jersey sponsorship, and so that year was the first time the famous black shirt had a third element – Steinlager occupied the right breast, Canterbury in the centre, and the silver fern of course on the left.
1999 saw a significant change in the All Blacks’ jersey as they signed a long-term deal with adidas. Gone was the white collar, replaced with a black polo collar and gone too was the jersey sponsor – for the the better part of 15 years, the German giant’s logo would be the only compliment to the silver fern.
Over the next few seasons, rugby shirt technology changed, particularly around 2003, when jerseys got more fitted, and materials became more advanced. But while the build and fit of the jerseys changed to make them harder for an opponent to grab, asides from the collar getting slightly less pronounced, the All Black jersey remained unchanged visually – aside from the ‘New Zealand’ being dropped in place of simply ‘All Blacks’ beneath the crest.
The All Blacks spent most of the post-2003 period demonstrating that they were the dominant rugby team on the planet, and through unprecedented Tri-Nations dominance and heartbreaking Rugby World Cup failure. And while the technology of the shirts was changing dramatically to become more suitable for top athletes, visually they kept the same stripped back all-black design that had served them since they’d signed on with adidas in 1999.
The All Blacks jersey changed in 2011 – the year the men from New Zealand finally won the their 2nd Rugby World Cup in 1987.
For the first time under adidas, the traditional white collar returned to a low-profile stub format, while it also marked the return of a jersey sponsor for the first time since 1998, with AIG taking pride of place in the middle of the shirt.
2014 saw another change for the All Blacks, with the ‘blackest jersey ever’ seeing the famous black jersey being made of distinctive woven carbon material, a black collar once again, and ‘gunmetal’ jersey logos in place of the classic silver/white options.
The 2015 Rugby World Cup saw this format developed with the addition of a tonal chevron across the shoulders that echoed that famous 1905 jersey – it was to prove an apt comparison, as the All Blacks won another title wearing the design.
The most recent innovation of the All Blacks jersey came last year, when adidas revealed another technological advancement for the famous design – returning to the classic white logos, the 2016 design incorporated unique triaxle pattern, created by a digital weaving technique that adidas claims makes the jersey stronger and more comfortable than ever.
The All Blacks jersey is one of the most subtle and timeless jerseys in all of sport, but as you can see, just because a shirt is all black doesn’t mean that there’s not been any innovation or development in that time – far from it!
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