Uni Watch's Friday Flashback: Laughing in the purple rain

The history of purple and teal (2:18)

Uni Watch's Paul Lukas explains how the colors purple and teal dominated jerseys in the '90s. (2:18)

The uni-verse has had a bit of a blast from the chromatic past lately. First, the San Jose Sharks announced that they'd be wearing teal at home during this season's NHL playoffs -- a change from their previous four postseason appearances, when they wore black. Then the sports world was awash in purple as a memorial tribute to Prince. And just a few days ago, the Sacramento Kings unveiled a set of logos featuring a new, deeper shade of purple.

If all this left you feeling a bit of déjà vu, it's probably because those two hues -- purple and teal -- evoke a very specific time period in sports design. Simply put, they were the signature trendy colors of the 1990s. How trendy were they? By Uni Watch's count, there were 22 teams in the four major pro leagues that either came into existence or were reborn with a new team name in the 1990s (including the Sharks, who hit the ice in 1991). Of those 22 teams, half of them -- 11 -- used purple and/or teal in their inaugural color schemes:

And that's not counting several established teams that adopted purple or teal during the 1990s. We'll get to them in a minute.

Although this was largely a '90s phenomenon, the purple-and-teal revolution really began in the previous decade, when the NBA's Charlotte Hornets were born in 1988. Their uniforms, designed by the menswear magnate Alexander Julian, featured purple and teal. The newfangled color palette turned out to be tremendously popular with fans, and sports bigwigs took notice. By the turn of the decade, all the pieces were in place to make purple and teal the colors of the '90s.

That turned out better in some cases than in others, because while some of those 1990s designs have held up pretty well, others look hopelessly dated. To get a sense of what I mean, let's take a look at how the teal-and-purple reign unfolded on a sport-by-sport basis. We'll start with MLB, which had four new expansion franchises in the 1990s. All four of them used at least one of the trendy colors, and one existing MLB team got on board the teal bandwagon as well:

The NFL had two expansion teams in the 1990s, plus two franchises that changed their identities. Of those four, one used purple and one used teal:

(Some of you may be thinking, "What about the Carolina Panthers?" Their primary team color is officially known as "Panther Blue," and it does appear to be more of a blue than a teal. But it's definitely a close cousin.)

Over in the NBA, there were two expansion teams in the 1990s, and they wore what might be considered the decade's definitive purple-and-teal uniforms. In addition, several established NBA teams adopted purple or teal in the 1990s, and the colors were also prominently featured on the league's 1995 and '96 All-Star Game uniforms:

That brings us to the NHL, which had the most franchise activity of any league in the 1990s, with a whopping 11 new or renamed teams. Of those, only three used purple and/or teal, but the league gets bonus points for its mid-1990s conference logos and for the Islanders' short-lived "Fisherman" design:

And it could have been worse (or better, depending on your point of view). Before the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado and became the Avalanche in 1995, they were planning on a redesign that would have included -- well, see for yourself:

How did purple and teal become so popular? There were a number of factors, the most important of which is probably that the sale of licensed jerseys, caps and other apparel really took off in the 1990s. In previous years, owners didn't have to care very much about whether their team colors were in step with contemporary trends and tastes because the team colors were primarily seen on the field (or court, or ice) and that was that. But as merchandise sales began producing a larger revenue stream, color choices became a larger priority.

And make no mistake, purple and teal were extremely popular colors in the 1990s, in ways that went far beyond the realm of sports. In fact, the most quintessentially '90s design of any kind might be "Jazz," an abstract purple and teal squiggle pattern that became ubiquitous on paper cups and plates for much of the decade (for additional info, look here):

Eventually, though, the purple-and-teal fad subsided. Many of the teams that wore the colors in the 1990s no longer do so. But it's kind of heartening to see that the team that started the trend -- the Charlotte Hornets -- is still embracing its chromatic heritage. Granted, the current Hornets aren't the same franchise as the original incarnation (that team moved to New Orleans and eventually became the Pelicans), but the current Hornets are making prominent use of purple and teal, and check out the T-shirts they were giving away for a playoff game earlier this week:

Ah, it's like the 1990s all over again. You can decide for yourself whether that's a good thing, a bad thing or -- like so many of those 1990s uniforms -- somewhere in between.

Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.

Paul Lukas managed to get through this entire column without mentioning that he really, really hates purple. If you liked this column, 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, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.