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Team jerseys trend from superstition to high fashion

Sports team jerseys are big business in Pittsburgh. Photo: James Knox | Tribune-Review

By Marc S. Witkin, Point Park News Service:

When Jeff DeSilvvy, 36, throws on a black-and-gold jersey, it’s more than just grabbing a sweater from the closet on game day.

“I wear my gear year-round,” DeSilvvy said. “I’m a fan year-round, not just on game day or during the playoffs.”

Sports fans in Pittsburgh, especially those faithful to the Steelers and Penguins, have long taken to integrating their favorite team’s jersey into their routine street wear on game day. These fans have developed their own fashion code — or an “honor system” of sorts among jersey-wearers.

But in recent times, the popular threads ceased to simply be a pregame tradition. As fashion experts found, this trend occurs all over the country, becoming increasingly popular with fashion-forward men and women of any status.

Samantha Rezk, who studied fashion in college, admits that she isn’t a sports fanatic. But as someone who grew up in a football town in Central Pennsylvania before moving to New York City, she has an understanding of where this jersey fashion culture comes from, as well as where it’s going.

“In the past year or so, jerseys have become very trendy with fashion-forward people,” she said. “People use them as the foundation for really creative outfits. I think it’s really interesting how it’s trickled up from people who wear them to support their team to people who wear them to make a fashion statement. Some people just get inspired by the look and want to do something with it, especially with vintage jerseys.”

Rezk, 23, works as a fashion reviewer for Nifty Thrifty. She studies fashion in the city for a living and noticed a rising jersey trend that reached people who aren’t serious sports fans.

Counting his Penguins and Pirates gear together, DeSilvvy has seven Pittsburgh sports jerseys, some of which he’s owned and coveted for nearly seven years now. Naturally, he’s taken very good care of them over the years, but there are times when he’ll purposefully slack off.

“During the playoffs, I don’t wash them,” he said. “I’m superstitious. That gets to be an issue when I start spilling beer on them, but it’s worth it.”

Alex Byers, 23, of Brookline, takes his jersey rules a bit more to the extreme.

“Say I pick a jersey. If we win a game, even during the regular season, I’ll remember,” Byers said. “I’ll keep a running tab of what the Penguins record is with me in that jersey in my head. If for some reason we have a tough game some night, and I can’t wear my lucky jersey, I’ll worry extra about that game. It’s completely meaningless and obviously the Penguins don’t know or care what jersey I wear, but it’s my superstition and I’ve stuck to it forever.”

A former Duquense University hockey player and lifelong NHL fan, he’s built quite the collection of jerseys over the years.

“My jersey collection? Oh man, I’ve got a ton,” Byers said.

For the Penguins, he has a home black Max Talbot jersey, along with an Evgeni Malkin, a Darius Kasparaitus and his favorite, a Kevin Stevens pigeon-style jersey from the 1990s.

In addition to those, he also has a Finnish national team jersey his family picked up in Finland as well as an old Russian national team jersey for Alex Kovalev and an Alex Ovechkin Washington Capitals jersey from when he scored 65 goals.

As with many hockey fans, Byers is a strong believer in the unwritten laws around what are commonly known as “jersey fouls” — the act of wearing or styling a jersey in a way that is consider to be obnoxious or in poor taste. While he’s not proud of it, he does possess a jersey foul of his own.

“I have an unwearable Sidney Crosby jersey that I got from a knockoff site,” Byers said. “I ordered a Mario Lemeiux from the ‘80s to ’90s black-and-yellow era. They sent me the same style jersey with Crosby on it. It sucks because I can never wear it. If that player never wore that jersey, whether it’s the wrong team or just the wrong era, it’s a faux pas to wear that rag out in public.”

But while Byers is not entirely innocent of jersey fouls himself, he’s certainly not guilty of some of the more serious offenses.

“Another big no-no is the self-personalized jersey,” Byers said. “You really shouldn’t leave the house if you’ve got an NHL jersey with your own last name on the back. That’s inexcusable.”

Jersey fouls worn out on the street are frowned upon by fans like Byers, but they’re certainly not the worst offense. The most heinous jersey fouls are those commonly committed at live games throughout the year.

“The worst is if you try mixing sports,” Byers said. “I don’t care if it’s the same city, if you show up at a Penguins game wearing a Steelers jersey, you look like an idiot. Another foul you see a lot at games is people wearing a jersey of some team that’s not even playing that night. You’re not representing…Also, the people who buy misspelled or misprinted jerseys on purpose just ’cause they’re cheap, come on, what are you thinking?”

Another kind of foul comes from not knowing when to leave your jersey at home.

“I like to wear jerseys around the house or when I’m around town,” Byers said. “But if I’m meeting friends at a bar or a party and it’s not game night, I’ll leave them at home. It’s just kind of tacky if there’s no reason for it.”

Rezk said she can appreciate Byers’ logic when it comes to jerseys worn in somewhat formal social settings.

“There’s a time and a place to be that casual,” she said.

Rezk noticed a recurring preference among those who wear jerseys more as a fashion statement by men and women alike.

“A football jersey is the most versatile,” Rezk said. “You can wear them in any weather. Layer up, layer down, any body type can fit it, the material lasts a long time.”

Phenomenon in fashion such as this can seem to gain traction almost inexplicably. But as Rezk said, there are ways in which fashion writers like herself are able to make sense of these trends.

“There are these theories in the fashion world,” Rezk said. “There’s the ‘trickle-up’ and the ‘trickle-down’ theory. The trickle-up theory refers to when trends from a not-so-fashion-forward individual or community rise up to noticeable popularity in high-end fashion. The trickle-down theory is reverse: When an established fashion icon’s look is emulated by those in everyday society.”

And jerseys represent the trickle-up theory.

“Your everyday person can wear the jersey for the team spirit and the superstitions, but then it trickles up, and next thing you know someone in New York Fashion League wears it and gets photographed in it and makes it hip and exciting,” she said. “That’s when it has ‘trickled up.’”

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