The Chicago Bears jersey history begins with the Decatur Staleys in 1920. In 1921, the team moved to Chicago and called themselves the Chicago Staleys before finally unveiling their familiar uniform pattern of navy and burnt orange in 1922, which became permanent in 1923.
Contrary to other ‘old’ NFL teams, I’m going to focus on the earlier days of the Bears’ jerseys since the team’s uniforms in the modern era have remained almost exactly the same.
In the 1920s, the Bears held several looks, including navy blue and orange vertical striped jersey sweaters, solid blue sweaters with orange numbering, solid orange with blue numbering. They introduced their first white jersey in 1932 that consisted of blue numbering before switching to orange numbering for a season in 1933.
During the 1930s, the Bears experimented with many uniform combinations.
Starting in 1933, they dropped the striped jerseys which phased out at the turn of the decade and went with solid orange jerseys with blue numbering while the whites took on orange numbering. Both jerseys consisted of blue horizontal shoulder stripes.
In 1934, white trim was added to the blue numbers on the orange look while the orange numbers on the white jersey changed to blue. The striping on the white jersey was changed to a blue-white-orange-white-blue combination.
In 1936, the Bears added a blue jersey with orange numbers outlined in white trim. The team also added vertical striping to the shoulder area on their white jerseys to go with the horizontal striping on the sleeves.
In 1937, the white jerseys returned to their previous look.
In 1939, the Bears dropped the blue jersey and instead introduced a plain white jersey with blue numbering as a third jersey.
Beginnings of the Modern Era
In 1940, the Bears jerseys took on an appearance similar to what we see today, with navy blue tops, orange horizontal striping, and orange numbers. During this time period, they all but abandoned their white jersey and would wear orange jerseys with blue numbers during select preseason games.
In 1949, the Bears dropped the orange numbers in favor of white, adding orange trim as an outline a year later, allowing the jersey to grow closer to its present-day look.
In 1957, the Bears revived their white jerseys, featuring blue numbering, along with a navy-white-orange-white-navy striping pattern. This jersey is very identical to their present-day whites.
In 1961, white trim was added to the orange sleeve stripes, which all but completed the modern look that we see today.
In 1964, the Bears added a black armband on the right-hand side of their jerseys over the striping as a memorial to Willie Gallimore and Bo Farrington, members of the team killed in an automobile accident in July of that season.
Since the early 1960s, the Bears’ home and road jerseys have remained almost exactly the same, apart from some minor changes to the striping patterns.
The Bears added the initials GSH to their jersey sleeves upon the death of team owner George Halas in 1983.
They brought back their vertical striped throwbacks in 1994 and also wore a throwback featuring vertical stripes at the sleeves to commemorate the NFL’s 75th anniversary.
In 2004, the Bears adopted a throwback jersey to wear on Thanksgiving Day. This jersey, orange with blue numbering, horizontal stripes, and white trim around the numbers, resembled the look from their 1930s teams, when their uniform combinations were turbulent.
In 2005, they unveiled an alternate orange jersey which was a complete inverse of their navy, featuring white numbering, navy blue trim, blue striping, and white outlines. These jerseys appeared on select weekends until 2011 before going on a six-season hiatus. The orange alternate, at the urging of defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, returned as an alternate for 2018.
In recent seasons, the bears adopted alternate jerseys similar to their 1940s counterparts with the orange numbers and jersey sleeves.
In 2019, the Bears will introduce a new alternate to commemorate both the 100th NFL season, and the 1936 Bears season.
It is interesting to note that the Bears are one of few teams with a long history to never wear traditional block numbers on a routine basis, instead opting for round numbering fonts for most of their existence. A few historic teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, eventually abandoned block numbering in favor of other designs in addition to the Bears.
You can’t go wrong. You simply can’t go wrong. What’s funny here is that even while the Bears have adopted a third jersey for select seasons, the orange look does have a history, so it’s a perfect fit into the uniform arsenal of this team.
There’s literally nothing on the home or away look to criticize, except perhaps (picking nits) the numbering could be block, but again, we’re picking nits.
My advice to Bears management is to keep everything as is, and for alternate looks either keep it orange or do what you’ve done in recent years and let the third jersey consist of throwbacks.
It’s ironic that a team with one of the more traditional uniform combinations underwent so many changes during their early years, almost on a year-to-year basis, before settling on a look and going for it for the long-term.
This look should never change.