Reds Threads: From Red Stockings to Red Piping


In 1867, George B. Ellard decided to leave the candy making business.

Ellard, like many others in the 1860s had a case of  baseball fever.  He was a key player in the formation of the Cincinnati Base Ball Club and even played right field for them in 1867.  Ellard was a decent ballplayer, but he was an even better businessman.

And baseball was more fun than the candy business.

In late 1867 or early 1868, Ellard opened up his first Sportsman’s Emporium in a small building at 143 Main St in Cincinnati. (in the general vicinity of what is today Great American Ball Park).  Attempting to capitalize on the new popularity of baseball, Ellard sold bats, shirts, trousers, and even stitched  his own brand of baseballs which were more lively than most and came to be known as the “Ellard ball”.

In the early spring of 1868, Cincinnati manager Harry Wright went to see his good friend George Ellard.  Wright wanted the team to have a new look and hoped Ellard could come up with an idea.  Wright was looking for something bold.  Something different. Something that made Cincinnati stand out from other teams.  After all, Wright knew Cincinnati was about to embark on a journey that was  both bold and different.

Making baseball a profession.

Ellard went to the drawing board and sketched out his vision.

For most early baseball teams across the country, the uniform wasn’t as much a fashion statement as it was simple leisure attire. Shirts were a wool or flannel, pullover style.  Pants were also made of wool or flannel and made extra baggy in order for the players to have some room to maneuver.  Caps were made of merino (a soft wool) and had a crown and small bill or visor.  In its first two years of existence, the Cincinnati Base Ball Club wore a red cap, blue pants and a white shirt.  A patriotic ensemble if there ever was one.

Ellard thought a red old English “C” representing Cincinnati should be stitched on the chest of a full collar, pullover style flannel shirt.  The caps would be relatively the same, except now white.  The pants would be knee-high knickers which would allow for convenience as well as comfort.  A wide red belt would also be added along with the standard shoes of the time, black spiked Oxfords.

But here’s the catch.

The area from the knees down would be stockings.

Red Stockings.

Harry Wright and team officials loved the design and immediately hired local seamstress Bertha Bertram who went to work on the new uniforms right way.

On April 18, 1868, a practice match was called for 2pm at Cincinnati’s ballpark, the Union Grounds.  The Cincinnati Base Ball Club jogged onto the field sporting their new uniforms for the first time.  The ladies gasped. The men groaned. Exposing legs or hosiery wasn’t exactly thought of as proper etiquette in this era, but the bright scarlet legs were a sight to behold. And the look would be copied by teams for the rest of the century.

The team known as the Cincinnatis quickly took to the name Red Stockings.

And the rest is history.

Although there are scarce details about the uniforms that Cincinnati wore during the National League years of 1876-1880, it is known according to newspaper accounts that they continued the tradition of wearing red stockings.

The most radical Cincinnati uniform style undoubtedly belongs to the American Association Cincinnati team. The league at that time experimented with multicolored uniforms with color schemes based upon the players position.  For most of the 1880s, the uniforms were drawstring laced shirts with pillbox caps.  In 1885, block letters that spelled CINCINNATI adorned the  jerseys.  In 1888, Cincinnati once again toyed with different color schemes with an all dark blue uniform.

There was little change in uniforms during the 1890s. Although teams wearing road uniforms became common practice.  Cincinnati’s 1891 road uniform for example was all blue.  Buttons replaced drawstrings on the shirt and the cap became more rounded.  By the turn of the century, the white home uniform had a block letter “C” on the front.  By the start of the 20th century, almost all teams wore home uniforms with a logo and road uniforms with the name of the city.

For over 140 years, Cincinnati uniforms have followed trends and set them.  They’ve had astonishing designs, and not so astonishing designs.  But no matter the style, the Reds uniform has been a big a part of Cincinnati baseball lore as the game itself.
Some other interesting facts about Cincinnati uniforms:

  • 1911 saw the first appearance of the word REDS spelled out inside a pointed C .
  • 1914 saw the first use of red pin-stripes, a look they would have until 1930, but would resurrect again in the future.
  • In 1936, an “alternate” Reds home uniform featured the script style REDS, the same style which adorns today’s spring training uniforms.
  • In the 50s, Ted Kluszewski cut off the sleeves on his uniform citing the restrictiveness of the heavy wool.  By 1956, the Reds designed their uniforms based upon this new “vest” look.   Although Big Klu popularized the look, the Cubs of 1940 were the first team to go sleeveless.  The decade also saw the first appearance of the Mr. Redlegs logo.
  • The 50s also saw the nickname Reds removed from the uniform because of a feared association with communism. It would not return until 1961.
  • 1964 would see a radical jersey adjustment. The player name appeared under the number rather than over it.
  • The 70s would begin the era of the double-knit synthetic fabric uniforms.  The jerseys were once again pullover and the pants had a built in elastic belt. The Reds would wear this uniform, with minor adjustments from 1972 until 1992.
  • The 90s would see the return of the vests.
  • In 2007, the Reds would abandon the sleeveless look once again and return to a classic look with early 20th century font style and red piping on the pants and jersey.