The appropriation of Black culture is at an all time high. We watched in amazement as The Harlem Shake was reduced to a bunch of people jumping around flailing about. Then, thanks to Miley Cyrus, twerking made its way onto the mainstream radar and was “alabastered” accordingly. We’ve seen the dominant culture usurp corn rows, durags, Timberland boots and even the fledgling “Schmoney Dance” as their own with little to no mention of Black people. The Columbusing will continue to happen it seems refusing to acknowledge the seminal roots of these fads in Black culture.
During the summer, I attended two of Philadelphia’s music festivals: The Roots Picnic and The Made In America. I don’t have the official numbers, but from my vantage point, though Black acts were the attractions of the shows, the majority of concertgoers were young White people. As the observer that I am, I noticed another act of appropriation that flew under the radar (besides the free samples of black soap handed out at Made In America). Droves of young White men have taken it upon themselves to reach back to the early 2000’s and bring back the throwback jersey.
Personally, the throwback trend never died for me. As a matter of fact, jerseys have been my favorite clothing item since I was a child. When stars like Jay Z started wearing throwbacks, my wardrobe accepted the trend with open arms. Back when they were fashionable, I dropped plenty of money (mainly student refund money) on jerseys from yesteryear. My brother and I would go to Jerry’s Corner (a swap meet of sorts in Southwest Philadelphia) where a woman could make throwbacks with the official tags and everything. My heart leapt when a Total Sports opened on Georgia Avenue on Howard University’s campus. I was familiar with Total Sports being from Philadelphia. It was a store devoted solely to the throwback jersey and fitted caps. Total Sports was like the little brother of Mitchell & Ness, the premier provider of throwback jerseys and a Philadelphia institution. Sometimes, I just like to go in there and look around. Nevertheless, my jersey collection is large and grows almost weekly if I come across a nice one whilst thrifting or see one that catches my eye.
Maybe since Mitchell & Ness has been around since 1904 and the throwback trend didn’t blow up in Black culture until nearly a century later, maybe this resurgence can be seen as a re-appropriation of sorts. However, if my young, White brethren are going to do this (and there’s no way to stop it), I only see it as responsible to give them some pointers into throwback etiquette so their jersey game can be “on fleek” in the parlance of our time. I don’t want them to read about it in some mainstream fashion magazine and dive head first into the swag not knowing how to surf. (Since the majority of the jerseys I saw were basketball jerseys, this primer will be based on them mainly).
MAKE SURE IT’S EMBROIDERED
First and foremost, I saw way too many of you wearing replica jerseys. These are the jerseys with the iron-on numbers and letters. We used to call them “plastic” and they are unacceptable. Your jersey MUST have stitched on numbers/letters/logos. There are exceptions. For example, I went to Total Sports and bought the late Jerome Brown’s white and green #99 Eagles jersey which was a prized possession of mine before I lost weight and couldn’t wear anymore. The numbers and letters were iron-on, but it was authentic. Any other time, iron-on lettering/numbering is a no-no.
YOUR JERSEY SHOULDN’T FIT LIKE AN UNDERSHIRT
Another thing I noticed was the size of the jerseys. I know that fashion needs to adjust to the times and clothes now are considerably smaller than the baggy clothes we wore. However, some of the throwbacks I saw were painted on. I mean, your jersey shouldn’t be form-fitting. While you don’t have to be like guys back in the day who wore a size medium regularly and bought 3X jerseys, the respectful thing would be to wear one that fits and not one that shows your ribs.
MAKE SURE IT LOOKS OFFICIAL
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the “stitching vs. iron-on” element of the throwback jersey. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got to make sure your jersey has a Mitchell & Ness or Hardwood Classics tag on it and the . This does not mean that it has to be authentic. You can always get the “swingman” jersey which isn’t authentic, but is stitched up and passable. I won’t front, yours truly has bought plenty of knockoff jerseys (No, I don’t have $300+ to drop at Mitchell & Ness for a shirt, no matter how awesome it is). Just make sure the numbers and letters match up with the real thing and you’re good to go.
IT SHOULD MEAN SOMETHING
JUST BECAUSE IT’S OLD DOESN’T MAKE IT A THROWBACK. There is a nostalgia factor that goes into throwback jerseys. The rarer, the better. The point is to turn heads and a jersey from a special time or a legendary player will do that. Old White men have stopped me on the street to talk about my Pete Rose Phillies jersey. If you’re wearing a jersey of an obscure player from a random time in sports history or a jersey that’s been worn by a million people a million times, you aren’t killing it.
If you follow these instructions, your jersey game will be on point. Now, some did know what they were doing. For instance, the young brother I saw in the Larry Johnson Charlotte Hornets jersey knew the deal. Also, the guys wearing jerseys from movies got it. I’ve gotten on that train in recent months getting Jesus Shuttlesworth’s Lincoln High, Al Bundy’s Polk High, Carlton Banks’s Bel Air Academy and Forrest Gump’s Alabama jerseys. Those are conversation starters everywhere. The kid I saw in a Shawn Bradley 76ers jersey kind of got it. Alas, I saw far more failures than successes. Way too many Team USA jerseys. Kudos on the patriotism, but, nope. No, nobody cares about your Vince Carter Orlando Magic jersey, young man. That Lamar Odom Clippers retro jersey wasn’t getting it done. Nice try, but that Michael Jordan Washington Bullets jersey isn’t moving anything over here. Drazen Pertrovic New Jersey Nets jersey? Nice try.
If you’re going to appropriate, do it right. I tried to help.