Uruguay’s team shirts caused a stir on Twitter when they played their first match at the 2014 World Cup, being referred to as “nipple-sparingly tight”. Increasingly, being ‘match fit’ has more than one meaning: as The New York Times puts it, ask a few fashion designers about the star players and “all the talk is about who’s got the best face, the best hair and that tight body that’s just right for their clothes”.
In recent decades, footballers have become dedicated followers of fashion. David Beckham and his ‘faux hawk’ have been succeeded by former Sweden captain Freddie Ljungberg’s panther tattoo, revealed in ads for Calvin Klein underwear, and Japanese player Hidetoshi Nakata has taken up a front row spot at shows for Gucci and Givenchy. Brazilian star Neymar graced the cover of his country’s Vogue, shot by Mario Testino, and has also modelled in a series of underwear ads for Lupo.
But what have been the most memorable style moments of World Cup history? BBC Culture picks the stand-out beards, hairstyles and kits.
Uruguay’s team uniform might be a bit too revealing, but it serves a purpose: compression tape is stitched into the skin-tight fabric to “provide players with a faster, more effective energy supply to the active muscles”, according to Puma.
It’s not the first time Uruguay’s national kit has been a talking point: while it’s standard for teams to add a star on their shirts for each time they have won the World Cup, Uruguay display four stars, despite having only won two. They claim their Olympic golds, won before the tournament began in 1930, should also be counted.
One jersey is perhaps more recognisable than any other, and has an unusual history. The last time Brazil hosted the World Cup, in 1950, its team lost to Uruguay in the final; the uniform was considered unlucky after the traumatic defeat. A Rio newspaper held a competition for a new design and the team jersey was changed from white with a blue collar to one that uses the colours of the national flag.
Other teams have changed out of white uniforms: France and Italy swapped theirs for blue and went on to become Les Bleus and Gli Azzurri. England has stuck with white, despite its team having worn red on the only occasion they have won the World Cup.
The most memorable kit in the tournament’s history was not worn by a team but by an individual player. Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos, who played in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, abandoned any single colour – and semblance of taste – with a series of outfits he designed himself. He was not just an eccentric dresser, however, choosing his distinctive patterns to distract the opposition.
According to the Beard Liberation Front, “the sporting beard can provide an aero-dynamic advantage on the field of play, directing air currents and therefore influencing the direction of the ball”. Since George Best laid down the style gauntlet in the 1960s, footballers have cultivated performance-enhancing facial hair.
In the 1970s and 1980s players like Brazil’s Roberto Rivellino and Scotland’s Graeme Souness became known for their moustaches, while Germany's Rudi Voller scored eight World Cup goals with some above-the-lip hair that was copied by many of his countrymen.
France’s Djibril Cissé has spent years combining stubble sculpting with lashings of peroxide, and Alexi Lalas became the poster boy for US football – and bushy ginger goatees – when he played in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.
Swedish defender Olof Mellberg’s beard even has its own Twitter account. Mellberg – who played in two World Cups – has sported facial hair for much of his career. According to sports blog Beardwatch: “It’s not the biggest beard. It’s not the longest. But it’s always been there. It feels reassuring. It feels right.”
Yet even Mellberg’s is eclipsed by the flowing locks and luxuriant beard of Andrea Pirlo. The Italian veteran, who has played in three World Cups, announced in June that he will be retiring from international football after this tournament. The men’s style director of Matches Fashion Simon Chilvers admired Pirlo’s beard in The Guardian, adding that he “has the hair of a Hollywood leading man – someone who'd play an action hero but with a sensitive side.”
The mohawk seems to be the follicular choice for 2014, with France’s Paul Pogba, Die Serey of Ivory Coast, Chilean Arturo Vidal and Asamoah of Ghana all rocking the short-back-and-no-sides do.
Meanwhile, France’s Bacary Sagna is sporting blond braids that were the result of a bet with his father. Another bet – with their coach Anghel Iordanescu – meant the Romanian team had to dye their hair peroxide blond during the 1998 World Cup.
Yet ultimately, Carlos Valderrama has to take the crown. The Colombian legend was initially dismissed as a novelty because of his distinctive mane. But he went on to captain his team in three World Cups, with a blond afro that simultaneously bamboozled opponents and gave off a saintly glow when struck by sunlight.
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