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A History of Kansas Basketball Uniforms: The 1980s and 1990s

The second part in a five part series examining KU's rich basketball heritage from an aesthetic standpoint.


Kansas has always had what many have considered a classic basketball uniform. In the previous installment of this series, we learned that KU has had a pretty good looking uniform history, but the 1980s and '90s were the years that really cemented KU as having one of the classic uniforms in college basketball. Let’s take a closer look at the uniforms that closed out the 20th century.

The 1980s

The Eighties began much as the Seventies ended (obviously since one season overlapped decades) and that was with a pretty good looking uniform, but the font was still in block letters as had been then case through the program’s formative and mid-century glory years. I did stumble upon one picture from 1980 during practice that has to be one of the first uses a primitive version of the fabled "Circus" font that KU fans loved so much, and were so unhappy when its demise became evident in 2007 - so much so that petitions were filed to keep it. Interesting. The team continued on with this basic uniform set through the 1984 season, including having an awesome practice jersey with "Kansas" in script.

The circus font was used for the first time on a uniform in 1985 and would be a staple of KU uniforms through the 2007 season. The first versions (1985-86) used a very thin circus font where the red trim was difficult to see, even on the home whites. This is an iconic look, one that served KU well for over two decades.

Uniform Highlights: A classic

Overall Grade: A-

A larger and thicker version of this font was used during the year that KU won its second NCAA title. The now famous road uniform that was worn in the 1988 championship game is (to my recollection anyway) the only uniform KU has ever worn that features yellow trim. The subtle yellow stripes around the arms, neck, and legs add something different and it’s only appropriate that KU wore these unique uniforms while winning an improbable championship. The only other yellow accents that I can find in the history of the program are the beak and feet of the Jayhawk. These uniforms are also the inspiration for the recent fauxbacks that KU wore last season, so that’s another nod to their greatness because those uniforms (featuring the same font, and single K on the shorts) are some of the greatest faux-retro uniforms ever made. The 1980’s also featured KU’s first foray into the world of alternate jerseys and believe me, I haven’t forgotten. I’m just saving those for a column that will appear later.

Uniform Highlights: Another classic.  It’s nice when you win a championship and look good while doing it.

Overall Grade: A-

One of the weirdest uniforms KU has ever worn appeared during the probation season of 1988-89. In that year, the Jayhawks wore jerseys with the word "KANSAS" arching over the number and the word "UNIVERSITY" arching underneath it. Amazing. Those uniforms were strongly disliked and were retired after the season. KU was eligible for the postseason again, and apparently eligible for good looking uniforms as well.

Uniform Highlights: Apparently, this was a tribute to UNC whose uniform font arcs over and under the numbers. Don’t mimic a school whose program you gave birth to!

Overall Grade: F

The 1990’s

As the '80s ended and the '90s began, KU went back to a more streamlined circus font and replaced the iconic "K" on the shorts with the now familiar interlocking "KU". These were the uniforms that KU wore on their improbable run to the 1991 Final Four, KU’s first under new head coach Roy Williams. Classic and understated, they wore similar versions of these for three years, including the 1992-93 season where they went to another Final Four. This was also the first example of KU going outside the box in the footwear realm. They wore all black shoes that year, and as I remember, it caused quite the undue controversy.

Uniform Highlights: These are pretty close to perfect, especially for the early 90s

Overall Grade: A-

After that, KU started to experiment with different side panels. The 1994 and 1995 seasons featured the still upright "KANSAS" along with a white side panel that extended all the way from the armpits to the bottom of the shorts. The interlocking KU was prominent on these uniforms. The next season, the side panels went from white to red with white trim on the road jerseys while they stayed blue on the home whites but added red trim. The most unique feature of these uniforms (and one that hasn’t been repeated since) is the inclusion of the player number on the left side of the shorts.

Uniform Highlights: White panels are more attractive than red panels

Overall Grade: B+, B

Next, KU featured a set of uniforms that endured for quite some time. These uniforms started in the Paul Pierce era and lasted through KU’s Final Four appearance in 2003. These are the uniforms that featured a more compact circus font, a compact font that Kansas would use until the rebrand in 2007. To me, these symbolize the most classic set of Kansas uniforms in the last 20 years. The panels under the arms on the shirts and on the bottom of the pants (let’s call them arches) are classics. The use of the interlocking KU and the Jayhawk logo on opposite sides of the pants is a definitive look that represented KU’s visual identity at the time perfectly.

Uniform Highlights: Everything. My favorite KU uniform ever.

Overall Grade: A

Next week, we’ll continue our review of KU uniforms with the some of the classic uniforms KU has worn this century. Again, if there are any glaring omissions, please feel free to add some info down in the comments section.