Harlequins are one of the most recognisable and famous rugby clubs in world rugby – in the the 150 years since the London club was founded, more than 80 clubs all over the world have taken on the name ‘harlequin’ in their name. And the most striking and recognisable part of the Quins brand is their unique jersey.
So, how did Harlequins end up with their highly unusual quartered jersey? Well, the story of Harlequins’ jersey is inextricably tied to its name, and that story starts with Hampstead RFC, all the way back in 1866.
After a year of playing, however, some members of the club split away and formed Wasps RFC, taking the black and gold colours of Hampstead RFC with them – colours that Wasps still use until this day.
In 1869, the remaining members of Hampstead RFC decided that it was time for a change – the club’s players were no longer local, however, there was a bizarre problem. The club had no desire to pay for new club ties and stationary, and the existing ones had ‘HFC’ monogrammed on them, and so they decided that whatever the name would be, the club initials would have to remain.
Legend has it that one member of the club got a dictionary out and started shouting out words beginning with H, and it didn’t take long until the word ‘harlequin’ to be greeted with approval from those assembled.
With Wasps having taken the Hampstead colours with them, a new jersey was also required – and for inspiration they went straight to the chequered outfit of the classical harlequin, though with some variation on the diamond look of the stereotypical renaissance jester.
A quartered jersey was settled on, with the colours sky blue, brown, red and grey picked for the four quarters, with green and black sleeves – and it stayed that way broadly for the century and a half since then.
A minor change would arrive in the 1950s and 60s, however – the famous quarters became quarters no longer. In this period, the top two ‘quarters’ were raised up so that the bottom two were much larger – basically a 80-20 split.
This would persist through the following decades, albeit with a much more even division, all the way through to the dawn of professionalism. The presence of such things as sponsor logos and advertisers changed the professional Harlequins FC jersey unavoidably, of course, but the 90s also saw a curious shift in the quarters. Traditionally, the top two quarters had been blue and red, with the bottom ones brown and grey – however in 1997, kit supplier Cotton Traders opted to swap the blue and grey quarters. This look would remain until 2001.
In 2001, Kooga took over from Cotton Traders and restored the traditional quarter locations, as well as the even split, and over the next few years both they and next supplier O’Neills introduced larger black elements to the design. While they had technically had an away kit since 2002, the club wore an alternate shirt for the first time in the 2007 season.
Current supplier adidas took over from O’Neills in 2014 and have produced some interesting takes on the classic formula since then – but the 2016/17 design is perhaps the most striking yet. To mark the club’s 150th anniversary, adidas created a ‘vintage’ take on that first ever Quins shirt, with darker colours, a special crest, and old-school collar. It’s perhaps the most unconventional Quins jersey in the club’s history, but it’s proved a huge hit with fans in all quarters.