What started off as a functional cover-up has become a well thought out design statement. In time for the UEFA EURO 2012, a Cologne exhibition charts German national soccer team jerseys from 1972 to the present.
"A jersey is a garment with sleeves." At least that's how International Football Association Board (IFAB) regulations describe soccer kits. But fans, including Michael Gais, a professor at the International School of Design in Cologne, are not so likely to agree with that definition.
"What makes a soccer jersey really special is the emotion behind it and the context in which everything happens," he commented.
A heady mixture of sport, fashion and raw emotion can transform an ordinary soccer jersey into an icon. Looking back at the golden years between 1972 and 1976, German soccer fans can become teary eyed: European Championship winners in 1972, World Cup winners in 1974 and then the almost tragically lost European Championship final in 1976, saved at the last minute by Uli Hoeness' penalty kick.
The slick soccer uniform, made from white knitted fabric with black cuffs and a spread eagle on the breast, clothed "the best German 11 of all time."
The 1976 jersey currently on display in Cologne was worn by Berti Vogts, national defender - then known as "the terrier" - and later trainer of the successful German European Championship team in 1996. The jerseys in the Cologne exhibition were worn by the likes of Jupp Heynckes, part of the winning European Championship team in 1972 and today a trainer at Bayern Munich.
Then there are the uniforms worn by Toni Schumacher, goalkeeper at the European Championship win in 1980, and Stefan Kuntz, striker during the1996 victory.
"It was difficult to collect all the uniforms," said Kai Dürr, director of the German Sport and Olympia Museum. "There are a lot of players who don't keep their uniforms. Lukas Podolski is an exception - he's a passionate collector. Many others don't bother."
Podolski, set to transfer from FC Cologne to FC Arsenal next season, donated his 2012 jersey to the exhibition.
The most successful jersey - measured according to the number of matches used, the goal tally and games won - is from 1996, deduced design student Sören Kelling. He analyzed 540 soccer games from the final rounds of World Cup and European Championships.
The most commercially successful jersey is the World Cup kit from 2006. Supplier, Adidas sold 1.2 million of them, explained Frank Dürr.
Typically 70s, typically 80s
That would have been unthinkable in the 1970s, when sporting attire could not be surpassed in its simplicity. A white cotton shirt, black cuffs and a spread eagle were all that was required.
Then in the 1980s, design entered the fray. The German Football Association (DFB) started to experiment, resulting in a fashion classic: the iconic strip with the black, red and gold "fever curve" running across the middle.
In the 1990s, the minimal chic of designers such as Jil Sander and Helmut Lang was popular. The use of color was kept to a minimum but the detailing was incredibly rich. The fabric, for example, was woven with silver-gray vertical stripes and DFB lettering which looks like holograms and can only be seen close up.
In the 21st century, jersey designers took inspiration from earlier classics. The production process is even more elaborate, with high-tech materials that are breathable and supposedly help to regulate body temperature.
Among collectors, the 1988 jersey is particularly sought-after. At certain auction houses, four-figure sums are regularly paid out for historical models, explained Kai Hilger, curator of the exhibition in Cologne. Less well-loved, however, is the jersey from the 2000 European Championship, a sporting low point for Germany.
Museum director Frank Dürr's favorite is the 2008 jersey with black beams across the chest. In contrast, he finds the "fever curve" from 1988 dreadful. Designer Sören Kelling is of a different opinion: "It is typically 1980s and will become a cult piece again."
Design expert Michael Gais prefers the 2012 uniform because of the successful and contemporary use of typography. The curator Kai Hilger also convinced: "My favorite jersey is the current one. I have a good feeling about this jersey. I think something will happen with this one."
Everyone agrees on at least one thing: Jerseys worn by winning teams are always favorites.
Author: Birgit Görtz / hw
Editor: Kate Bowen