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The Wonderful World of Uniform Combinations

A few of us are more excited for the gameday uniform announcement than the actual game itself. I am one of them.

Kent State v Illinois

Hail to the orange. Hail to the blue. Hail football uniform announcements leading up to game day like this:

And this:

Our Colors

Blue: Illinois blue is of the dark, navy type. It’s just like Michigan’s blue, and is certainly different from Carolina-blue or Duke-blue. It is our elegant, opaque color that blends in with the night. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, Illinois often wears blue jerseys at home. Blue pants and blue helmets can be worn both home and away.

Orange: Ah, the bright color. The fun color. When someone asks “what are the colors of the Illinois Fighting Illini?” you answer “orange and blue”, in that order — You certainly don’t say “blue and orange.” When I was a student, it was frowned upon to wear anything other than an orange shirt to the football game. You didn’t want to be one of the people wearing blue, and while certainly okay — it was just plain weird. The Illini often wear orange jerseys at home, and the orange pants and orange helmets can be worn both home and away.

White: With rare exception, every college football team wears white at some point — especially on the road. Every Big Ten team has a white jersey they wear pretty much every road game, and several Big Ten teams have a white helmet as an option, including Illinois. White is a given. White is the absence of color. White is king of contrast.

Gray: The Galloping Ghost. Red Grange. Grantland Rice’s poem that continues the legend and legacy of the greatest college football player to ever suit up. The Illini bust out the all grays once a year. I respect the history — I feel like every Illini student before they graduate should know about Red Grange and how he spent his days at the University of Illinois before becoming a pioneer for professional football. The gray uniforms themselves are a painful eyesore:

Minnesota v Illinois
Are those all grays ugly, or what?
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Now that’s not to say all hope is lost for the all grays — in fact, if you notice on the white numbering, there’s a thin blue outline. Replace the blue outline with orange, or you switch the chrome-looking “I” on the helmet with a matte orange I, and you have potentially something nice.

There are a few givens regarding the uniforms we ought to keep in mind:

  1. Jerseys tops: Teams will always wear a white jersey on the road. Illinois will always wear the orange or blue jersey at home. Reverse it: Illinois won’t wear a white jersey top at home. Illinois won’t wear an orange or blue jersey top on the road.
  2. Helmet: Any helmet is okay to wear. Home or away, it does not matter.
  3. Pants: Any pants are fine to wear. Home or away, it does not matter. I prefer a colored pant (orange or blue) to be worn at home rather than white, but white passes and is okay and clean looking.
  4. Grays: Illinois will wear gray uniforms at least once a season to honor and memorialize Red Grange. That’s a tradition that does not seem to be changing.

What To Wear For Every Occasion:

The overall goal here is CONTRAST, which is two-fold: 1. I want/I want others watching the game to be able to tell which team is which within a split second. 2. Aesthetics. Which combination is best to look at and watch for the 3+ hours of watching a football game in person or on TV.

For Teams That Wear Red or Maroon (or whatever Minnesota wears) at Home:

Illinois v Wisconsin
Circa 2016. The orange pants the Illini are wearing and the red jerseys the Badgers are wearing do not contrast enough.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Ohio State, Nebraska, Indiana, Wisconsin, Maryland (often), Rutger (often), Minnesota (often):

Rule: Orange pants do not look good against these teams. The contrast is not great because the color orange is too similar to the color red. Do not wear orange against a primarily red team. See the above photo.

Ideal: When a team wears red at home, the all whites look nice — but I am a huge fan of wearing the blue pants against a team that wears red. There’s enough contrast. Whereas all-whites anyone can pull off, the navy pants are a much more unique Illini look.

Illinois v Purdue
^Against a team that wears red, this would look good. If that opponent wears a white helmet, wearing a blue helmet here would work.

For Teams That Wear Black or Dark Blue (or purple or green) at Home:

Illinois v Purdue
Circa 2013: The orange offers a nice, bright contrast compared to the black Purdue Boilermakers. This is an all-time classic
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Purdue, Michigan, Penn State, Northwestern (dark purple is similar), Maryland (often), Rutgers, UCONN, Virginia (in 2021 and 2022), Michigan State:

Rule: Don’t fight fire with fire. Don’t wear blue pants when the other team’s primary color is blue (or purple or green or black). There’s not enough contrast, even with the white jerseys. The game against Northwestern last season in Evanston was an ugly look; the blue pants and blue helmet did not contrast enough with Northwestern’s black jerseys, purple pants and purple helmet.

Ideal: Illinois orange is a bright, and frankly annoying color. Flaunt it. Bright orange looks great against black, navy, purple and green. It’s so painfully obvious which team is the Illini from the instant you see it — and unlike against teams that wear red, it’s a pleasant thing to look at for hours on end. In the above photo with Nate Scheelhaase — that’s what we’re going for. Again, all-whites can look good too — but flaunt the orange.

General Uniform Rules to Live By:

  1. Never go all blue: We’re orange and blue. Not blue and orange or blue and blue. I’ll admit when Rutger pulls off the black-black-black and when Purdue does the same, it looks great. We aren’t trying to be like them. Our navy is similar to black.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Iowa at Illinois
63-0. And ugly uniforms to boot.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2. All orange is reserved for extremely special night games: If these are worn every year, they lose their luster. Orange is the color Illinois fans are most proud of. Wear these only on nationally televised night games. Against a school with traditionally respectable, yet boring uniforms like at Penn State or Michigan, these look wonderful.

Penn State v Illinois
Count me in. These look great. On a rare Friday night, too.

3. Do not mish-mosh helmet-jersey top-pants with three different colors: For instance a white helmet, orange jersey and blue pants. OR orange helmet, white jersey top and blue pants. OR blue helmet, orange jersey and white pants. At least two of the helmet, jersey top and pants are the same color in each of the photos in this article. There’s a reason for that. Three different colors is three too much of clutter, and that’s painful to look at.

If you managed to get through these 1,100 + words on Illinois Football uniform combinations, I salute you. Bye weeks can be tough on sports columnists, so it’s the perfect time for a post like this.

Thank you for reading, and BEAT THE FIGHTING PJ FLECKS on Oct. 5. We’ll be there.