When 14 Nike federations unveil their uniforms for the ultimate women’s football tournament this summer, millions of fans worldwide will focus on what the kits look like. Less obvious to the viewer, but hugely impactful to the players, is how they fit.
For the past three years, Nike has focused attention on how best to fit the female form for football. While Nike has been a staple on pitches worldwide since the mid-’90s, players evolve, styles change and technologies emerge that help Nike craft the modern look of the game.
The first step toward the 2019 fit began with the athletes. Nike’s design team met with professional footballers from a variety of countries to hear firsthand what players were looking for in a future fit. They learned that a V-neck is preferable, provided it’s not too deep — just deep enough to easily and quickly slide the head (and hair) through. They heard that draw cords and side-seams on the shorts can be a distraction, that sleeves needn’t be overly short to be considered feminine, that the rise of the shorts makes all the difference and so much more.
Next, the players’ precise 4D measurements were captured in the Nike Sports Research Lab, including heat-mapping the areas of their bodies more prone to perspiration to ensure proper ventilation zones on the kits. Nike’s research team also captured the body in motion during this process to gauge the impact movement had upon the garments.
“It’s relatively simple to design a kit that fits well during the national anthems, but Nike’s focused on a kit that moves with the body through the most athletic of motions,” explains Cassie Looker, Nike Women’s Football Apparel Lead.
Next, Nike consulted with the federation kit managers; they compared the sizes players were requesting against the sizes their measurements would have dictated in the kits of that time, and they discovered a disparity. Generally speaking, the players were requesting shorts a size smaller and shirts a size larger than what their measurements would indicate.
“Our male footballers prefer a very fitted — almost tight — shirt; they say it makes them feel like a superhero,” explains Looker. “But that’s not how it makes our female footballers feel, and we want them to have the shirt that is right for them without having to size up to get it.”
As for the short, the powerhouse muscle groups on the elite female footballer necessitate a fit that accounts for the quadriceps and hamstrings in a way Nike’s regular female fit would not. When the fit accounts for muscle, it negates the need to go with shorter (or smaller) shorts that lie above the thickest part of the leg.
“The legs are obviously doing a tremendous amount of work in a football match,” says Looker, “and it’s imperative they are not restricted in any way, nor should the athletes have to adjust the shorts or roll the waistband unless it is their mental preference to do so.”
In addition to the revised measurements on the shorts, they return to their roots in terms of style.
“One of the most popular Nike short styles of all time, the Nike Tempo running short, was actually based off of the 2003 USWNT football short,” explains Looker. “The curve that comes up on the side hem and the short being slightly longer in the back than the front is a look that started in football, was popularized in running and now makes a modernized return to football for women only.”
The new fit of football extends beyond the kits themselves to include the training, travel, pre-match and post-match looks for Nike federations.