What's Up With The NHL Dress Code?

It used to be good guys wear white, bad guys wear black. Not anymore.

Kaz Andrew/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

A hockey fan writes:

"Do you know the reasoning behind the NHL switching home jerseys to dark colors this year?"

Several readers have asked about this, showing that hockey fans have a lot more fashion sense than they are usually given credit for. Here's a brief history of the NHL color code:

Back in the 1960s, home teams wore dark jerseys and the visitors wore white. In 1970, the NHL changed course and began using the system we all grew used to: home: white; visitor: dark.

Why? Probably because it brought more variety to each rink. If you were a fan of the Bruins, for example, every game at the Boston Gardens back in the 1960s looked the same: Bruins in black, opponents in white. In Detroit, it was always Red Wings in red, visitors in white. And so on.

The 1970 rule brought more colour to the game. The Bruins' or Red Wings' fan would always see his team wearing home whites. But the visitor could be any colour - blue, red, green - depending on the team. So every night looked a little different.

Let's move forward to 2003. The "home-white, vistor-dark" system has worked well for over three decades. Why change now?

It never hurts to give the fans a fresh look after 32 years. But the real reason for the reversal is to boost the sales of team jerseys.

In recent years NHL teams have taken to designing and wearing "third jerseys" and this year we're seeing quite a few "vintage jerseys," as teams resurrect abandoned logos and colors from years past.

Teams want to show off these new (or old, as the case may be) sweaters at home, where loyal fans will dash to the souvenir stand and buy their own.

Most alternate jerseys are dominated by dark colors; black and crimson and mustard are so much cooler than white, after all. So for the last few years road teams had to travel with two sets of uniforms, just in case an opponent wanted to have a "third jersey night" (thereby forcing the road team to don its whites).

To simplify all this, the league decided to reverse the light/dark thing.

But it still gets complicated. This season, the Montreal Canadiens have introduced an old-fashioned look based on a sweater they wore in the 1940s. It's white. So when the Canadiens want to entice fans to reach for their pocketbooks by having a "vintage jersey night," the home team will be in white and the visitors in dark, just like last year.