1940s – 1950s

When the Football League returned in 1946, clothes rationing was in place and many clubs had to resort to appeals to their supporters in order to outfit their teams. A simple style of shirt dominated this period; a long sleeved cotton jersey with a collar and short, buttoned placket.

Throughout this period, and into the middle of the next decade, the England team stuck with their traditional long flannelette shirts, almost as a matter of ceremony. They had worn essentially the same style since the 1900s, and even appearing at their first World Cup in Brazil did not prompt them to modernise their outlook or appearance. They simply rolled up their shirt sleeves.

An England shirt worn by Len Shackleton in the late 1940s. Around a third of the length of these shirts would be tucked into the shorts, making for an uncomfortable playing experience.

Bolton Wanderers wore what was possibly the first man-made fabric shirts produced by Umbro in 1953, when they faced Blackpool in the FA Cup final. They were designed to be more reflective, and therefore stand out more during floodlit evening matches, but after some initial experimentation with these ‘artificial silk’ shirts, the concept was short-lived. More on the kits of the late ’40s and early ’50s can be found in our feature on the 1953 FA Cup final.

A 1953 Bolton Wanderers shirt, made by Umbro. Courtesy of the Priory Collection.

While the kits worn in the domestic game were largely homogeneous during the early ’50s, that wasn’t the case internationally. Styles varied from country to country, but were usually lighter and free of buttons.

Juventus shirt worn by Giacomo Mari during the 1950-51 season. Courtesy of the Neville Evans Collection

The early 1950s also saw the introduction of Brazil’s famous yellow and green shirt, paired with blue shorts and white socks. Using four colours in one kit was incredibly unusual at that time.

Brazil’s shirts are unmistakable. This one was worn by Pelé at the 1958 World Cup, but the style was also worn in Switzerland four years earlier.

In 1955, the influence of some of these European teams led to more changes in domestic football kits, notably the introduction of Umbro’s ‘Continental’ shirts featuring short sleeves and v-neck collars. This style had notably been worn by Real Madrid, as well as Hungary’s ‘Mighty Magyars’ in their 7-1 thrashing of England in 1954.

An England shirt in the Umbro ‘Continental’ style. Worn by Duncan Edwards, possibly in the match against West Germany in 1956. Courtesy of Manchester United Museum.
An England home shirt worn by striker Tommy Taylor in 1957. Typically, the match details were embroidered below the crest on England shirts during the 1950s

By 1957, many of these Umbro shirts featured a label proclaiming that the shirts had been designed in collaboration with Manchester United manager Matt Busby. This was possibly due to Busby’s previous connection with Umbro’s founders, the Humphrey brothers, who had been involved with the board of Manchester City, for whom Busby played in the 1930s. The fact that he was seen as a pioneer for leading United into European competition was also a benefit to Umbro’s promotion of these new ‘continental’ jerseys.

A cheaper, children’s size continental shirt made of drill cotton. Tangeru was still used for top-of-the range jerseys.

In the middle of the decade, many teams introduced an alternative set of change kits to be worn in case of colour clashes with teams who wear stripes or other two-colour home kits. Later these would come to be known as ‘third kits’. In recent years, with the advent of replica kits, these are often cause for complaint from parents who see them as a way for extracting further cash from younger supporters, but they were born of a necessity to deal with an ever increasing array of possible opposition kit combinations.

Read Part 4: 1960s here

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