For the past two decades, Paul Lukas been writing about sports uniforms, logos and field designs via Uni Watch, a column that has appeared on ESPN.com and Sports Illustrated as well as its own dedicated daily blog. Now he’s bringing his obsession — the aesthetics of athletics — to InsideHook.
Welcome to the annual Uni Watch Holiday Gift Guide, your best source for cool, memorable sports-themed gift items. Our ground rules are simple: You won’t find standard-issue jerseys and caps (you already know where to find those), but if you’re looking for unusual products relating to uniforms, team logos and other areas of athletics aesthetics, you’ve come to the right place.
As usual, your friendly uniform columnist has tried to compile items from a variety of different sports at a wide range of price points, so there should be something for everyone on your shopping list (or just for yourself).
Ready? Here we go.
1. Laser-Engraved Stadium Maps
Woodworker Zach Holt and his dad use satellite imagery and an engraving machine to create spectacular wooden maps, complete with 3D stadium models. You can get a close-up street view of the city neighborhood showing your favorite stadium, or a state map showing the stadium’s location. Either way, the results are fantastic. See for yourself at StadiumMapArt.com.
2. The Sports Shoe: A History from Field to Fashion
If there’s a sneakerhead on your shopping list, they’ll love this book from British author Thomas Turner, which traces the history of athletic footwear from its 19th-century UK lawn tennis origins to modern sneaker culture. Packed with interesting info and excellent graphics from vintage ads and catalogs, the book shows how sports shoes began as functional gear for specific athletic activities and have been transformed into lifestyle totems. It’s available here.
3. Team Logo String Art
Remember string art? Crafter Nicole DiFrank, operating under the name Things Made by Strings, rescues this technique from 1970s summer camp kitsch and uses it to create super-cool renderings of sports team logos. (You can see more of her work here.) Each piece is unique, and she happily takes special requests. You can contact her via Etsy, Facebook or Instagram.
4. Defunct Hockey Team Apparel
Do you remember the Albany Choppers, the Ottawa Civics or the Birmingham South Stars? Right, me neither. But while those old hockey teams may not exist anymore, they left behind some great logos and graphics, and the website VintageIceHockey.com is devoted to preserving those designs on T-shirts, hoodies and coffee mugs. Lots of great stuff — check it out here.
5. Sports Stadium and Arena Scratch-Off Posters
The folks at Pop Chart have been making great infographic posters for years now, but lately they’ve upped their game by producing a series of posters that show diagrams of pro sports stadiums and arenas that you can then scratch off to reveal the corresponding field, court, or ice rink designs. It’s the one scratch-off game where everybody wins. The posters are available for MLB ballparks, NFL stadiums, NBA arenas and NHL arenas, plus there’s a discounted set of all four.
6. Sports Mascot 3D Puzzles
The innovative collectibles company FOCO makes a series of three-dimensional puzzles featuring a wide range of pro and college sports mascots. If mascots aren’t your thing, they have similar puzzles for stadiums and football helmets. Fun stuff for kids and adults alike.
7. Uniform Books for Kids
With uniforms, as with so many other things, you’ve got to start ’em young. So if there’s a budding uni-watcher on your shopping list, hook them up with these uni-centric coloring books and let their design imaginations run wild. You have your choice of Make Your Own Football Player and Make Your Own Soccer Player. (And while you’re at it, you could do a lot worse than to add That’s My Team!: The History, Science, and Fun Behind Sports Teams’ Names to their stockings.)
8. Hockey Card Collages
Artist Aaron Stilley cuts up hockey trading cards and uses them to create very cool hockey-themed collages, each of which is a one-of-a-kind original. You can see what he currently has available, and also contact him with special requests, at his Etsy shop.
9. Cleveland Browns 1946 Wool Throwback Jersey
We don’t usually feature standard licensed jerseys here in the Uni Watch Gift Guide, but it’s worth making an exception for this magnificent Browns throwback from Ebbets Field Flannels (part of a line of similarly wonderful NFL retro stylings). The wool fabric, the sleeve stripes, the block-shadowed numerals — so good! The only downer is that these jerseys are made to order and take six to eight weeks to ship, so they won’t arrive in time for the holidays, but some things are worth the wait. Full details here.
10. Commemorative Sports Moment Cartoons
Is there a special sports moment that resonates for you, like when you favorite team finally won its first championship, or when your favorite player gave a clutch performance? Cartoonist Rob Ullman will depict that moment for you in a custom-drawn illustration. Turnaround time is about a month, so your artwork may not be ready in time for the holidays, but Rob should be able to provide you with a preliminary drawing to use as a placeholder until the finished piece is ready. Get the full scoop here.
Honorable Mentions and Old Favorites
- There are lots of folks out there making wallets and related leather accessories from old baseball gloves, including Fielder’s Choice, eBayer jgandeg3 and Uni Watch’s favorite, D&J Glove Repair. If you’re more of a hockey fan, Second String Leather Company has a similar line of leather goods made from old goalie gear.
- Everyone knows where to find apparel for the college sports powerhouses like Notre Dame and Ohio State. But Homefield specializes in gear from smaller schools — Butler, Marquette, Toledo and dozens more.
- Playbook Products sells very cool sets of slate coasters laser-etched with diagrams of key plays from your favorite team’s history.
- Can’t believe I didn’t think of doing this myself: baseball stirrup-themed Christmas stockings, from the great Baseballism site.
- The 2019 NFL Draft took place in Nashville, so the Nashville-based Hatch Show Print company marked the occasion by designing draft posters that looked like classic country music billboards for all 32 NFL teams. Although the draft has come and gone, the posters are still available.
- Artist Matthew Lee Rosen makes nifty necklace pendants from 1988 Donruss baseball cards.
- Coolstub, a site devoted to vintage sports graphics, has a bunch of really cool wristwatches.
- Want a bottle of wine with a NFL star’s autograph on the label? Former pro football defensive back Charles Woodson now has his own line of wines — called, of course, Intercept.
- Streaker Sports has a new line of cool-looking retro-styled T-shirts and hoodies based on the founding year of each NFL franchise.
- If you’re into college basketball shorts, look no further than 19Nine.
- Artist Daniel Duffy makes sports-themed posters and prints that consist entirely of lettering. Amazing stuff!
- As always, your go-to source for throwback college football helmets is Gridiron Memories.
- Bill Henderson’s Game Worn Guide to MLB Jerseys remains the essential resource for charting the history of baseball jerseys since 1970.
- Want some baseball bats with cool-looking painted designs? The Mitchell Bat Co. and Pillbox Bat Co. have you covered.
- The Felt Fanatic is a great resource for vintage sports pennants.
- Sports apparel doesn’t get more niche-oriented than curling T-shirts. Steve’s Curling Supplies has a wide range of them.
- And if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind splurge, artist Sean Kane is still turning out spectacular artwork painted onto old baseball gloves.
That should be enough to help cross off a lot of the names on your gift list. But if you want to shop a little more, we also have Uni Watch merchandise for your consideration.
Paul Lukas has been writing about uniforms for over 20 years. If you like this article, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.