The NHL Dress Code Mandates Contrasting Jersey Colors

It used to be good guys wear white, bad guys wear black, but not in the NHL

Kaz Andrew/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0


Have you ever wondered why your favorite NHL team's home jersey is a dark color? It's because NHL rules say so, at least they have since 2003. That wasn't always the case. From the 1970-71 season to the 2002-03 season, NHL teams wore white or light-colored jerseys at home and dark-colored jerseys on the road.

History of the NHL Jersey

The history of NHL jerseys is actually quite colorful. In the early years of the league, teams sometimes had jerseys of the same color. For example, when the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens meet for their first game in 1933, their jerseys were so similar that Detroit had to wear white bibs. But the bibs hid the players' numbers, upsetting fans.

By the 1940s, some teams began wearing contrasting colors, but in 1950, the NHL made it mandatory for the home and away teams to wear contrasting jerseys. The advent of television—black and white at the time—also necessitated contrasting jerseys so viewers could follow the action. At that time, home teams wore dark jerseys and the visitors wore white.

In 1970, the NHL changed course and began using the system hockey fans grew used to: The home team wore white and the visitors wore dark jerseys.

The change brought more variety to each rink. If you were a fan of the Bruins, for example, every game at the Boston Gardens back in the 1960s looked the same: Bruins in black, opponents in white. In Detroit, it was always the Red Wings in red and the visitors in white. 

Thanks to the 1970 rule, the fans would always see their team wearing white jerseys, but the visitors could be any color, depending on the team. Every night looked a little different.

Souvenir Jersey Sales Spur Change

In 2003, though, the NHL changed course again. It didn't hurt to give the fans a fresh look after 32 years, but the real reason for the reversal was to boost the sales of team jerseys.

NHL teams had started designing and wearing "third jerseys" and vintage, or "throw-back," jerseys" as teams resurrected abandoned logos and colors from years past. Teams wanted to show off these new (or old, as the case may be) sweaters at home, where loyal fans would dash to the souvenir stand to buy their own.

Most alternate jerseys are dominated by dark colors such as black and crimson and mustard. So road teams had to travel with two sets of uniforms, just in case an opponent wanted to have a third-jersey night, thereby forcing the road team to don its whites.

To simplify all matters, the NHL decided to reverse the light-dark jersey protocol. In rare cases when the vintage jerseys are white, the league allows the home team to wear white and the visitors to wear dark jerseys.