Postcards from Russia: Why don't players tuck in their shirts?

Editor's note: This is the latest of Sam Borden's Postcards from Russia, in which he shares his observations, fears, joys and travel stories from the 2018 World Cup.

MOSCOW - The World Cup brings together players from 32 countries around the world, from cultures spreading across a broad spectrum and from backgrounds covering rich to poor and everything in between. There are different approaches to nutrition and training techniques, tactics and motivation, preparation and postgame analysis.

And yet, despite the existence of this incredible diaspora of soccer, there is one thing that just about every player in Russia agrees on: untucking their shirt.

Now, some fans may not have noticed that this quadrennial festival of football has morphed into a casual chic nirvana, but the universality of the untuck is staggering. Lionel Messi untucks. Cristiano Ronaldo untucks. Harry Kane untucks. Antoine Griezmann, the star of the national team from that (alleged) fashion mecca of France, untucks.

And lest you think this is a trend limited to either the filthy rich (like silk pocket squares) or the devoutly hipster (like wearing a recreational monocle), let it be known that even Farouk Ben Mustapha, the backup goalkeeper for Tunisia, untucks.

Sam Borden's Postcards from Russia

- Searching for Putin's hidden railway
- World Cup mascot Zabivaka's hooligan link
- Searching for American fans at the World Cup
- What U.S. sport could learn from international football
- In search of World Cup fever on the streets of Russia
- 'The sea is digging a new nipple': Misadventures in Cyrillic
- The pukh menace around Moscow

"Most of the time, you look out there and it seems like the only one looking proper with their shirt tucked in is the referee," said Howard Webb, who is, if you couldn't guess, a former international referee.

Webb, an Englishman who worked the 2010 World Cup final, said he could not pinpoint an exact tipping point (tucking point?) for when the overwhelming on-field style shifted away from something resembling a high school P.E. teacher to something more akin to a well-oiled surfer bro.

Webb was not being critical, he was quick to say, though he did concede that his friends and family do chastise him when he wears a T-shirt tucked into his jeans on occasion. He also noted that there is nothing specific in the laws of the game about whether a shirt needs to be tucked in, though he -- like most anyone of a certain age who played soccer as a child -- remembers fondly the standard pregame command from the referee: "Tuck in your shirt, pull your socks up and tap your shin guards."

Those instructions, clearly, are no longer applicable.

"Untucked has been the clear preference since at least 2016," said Pete Hoppins, who as senior design director for Nike Football helped outfit about a third of the teams in Russia. "And for that reason, we design the waistbands [of the shorts] to rest very comfortably directly on the skin."

Hoppins added that one by-product of the untucking movement is that Nike has actually done away with the drawstring that used to be a staple of soccer shorts; with so many players preferring to untuck (thus removing the protective barrier between the irritating drawstring and the sensitive areas of their abdomen), eliminating the drawstring altogether was simply a matter of comfort.

While Hoppins targets roughly two years ago as the period when untucking went fully mainstream in soccer, there are jersey revolutionaries that dot the sport's history. For example, Michel Platini, the legendary French scorer, may well be known for winning the Ballon d'Or three times, but he is also a forefather of the flapping shirttail.

Platini's commitment to his untucking was particularly remarkable since he did so in the 1980s, when -- in an unfortunate combination -- blousy shirts and short-shorts were also "in." What resulted, then, were pictures in which Platini looked a bit like he was a painter who, for some reason, had chosen to wear high socks and a France national team smock to his studio.

The current iteration of untucking is, thankfully, sleeker. Most uniform designers have taken to slimming and shortening the fit of their jerseys, to allow for an untucked look that presents neater.

"For at least the last 10 years we've been designing the jerseys to be worn untucked or tucked in," Hoppins said, and part of that is because designers want fans who buy replica jerseys to also feel comfortable wearing them untucked as well.

From a fashion perspective, soccer would appear to be progressive, one of the only team sports that doesn't involve bulky equipment where untucking has become the norm. Baseball, basketball, cricket and rugby (at least at the start of the game) all have maintained the tucked-in look, but soccer's shift towards untucking is not without stylistic nuance.

Neil Thornton, a fashion and style writer from London who also runs a popular lifestyle blog, said his initial reaction to the loss of widespread tucking-in meant that "a sense of formality and poise" had been sacrificed, though he did appreciate that untucking is "in keeping with the times and an ever-fluid view of dress codes" in the workplace.

That said, Thornton's biggest concern is that while jersey designs have been generally modified to allow for untucking, the problem is when the shirts aren't bespoke to the players.

"They aren't altered for shorter players," Thornton said. "So, on some it can look neat while others look like they are wearing it like a body-con dress as it hugs the hips and butt."

Of course, as with any fashion movement, a word of caution is in order: Nothing lasts forever. (Remember when goalkeepers wore knickerbockers?)

"These trends do tend to swing back and forth," Hoppins said. "So it also won't surprise us to see jerseys tucked in again sometime in the future."