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A third jersey, alternate jersey, third kit or alternate uniform is a jersey or uniform that a sports team wear in games instead of its home outfit or its away outfit, often when the colors of two competing teams' other uniforms are too similar to play easily. Alternate jerseys are also a means for professional sports organizations to generate revenue, by sales to fans. Of North American sports leagues, the NFL generates $1.2 billion annually in jersey sales, with the NBA second selling $900 million annually. Another use of the alternate uniform is for identifying with causes, like the Central Coast Mariners wear an alternate pink kit on pink ribbon day.
Extra alternate uniforms or fourth/fifth kits are not commonly used, but are sometimes required when teams' other uniforms cause color clashes, or the uniforms are unavailable to use. In cases where teams have worn more than three kits in the same season, the extra kits were usually recycled from previous seasons.
Third kits are commonplace in professional European association football and in some professional European rugby union clubs. Alternate guernseys or jerseys are common in Australia's two biggest domestic leagues, the Australian Football League (Aussie rules) and National Rugby League (rugby league).
For home and away jerseys in North America, historical convention has often dictated the colors used by teams in a given league. Teams generally have one jersey which is primarily in a team color, and another jersey which is primarily white (or another light color) and accented with a team color. "White at home" is the convention in baseball (MLB), basketball (NBA, NCAA basketball, and WNBA), minor league professional hockey (AHL and ECHL), and college hockey. "White while away" is the convention in football (NFL, CFL, NCAA football), major league professional hockey (NHL), and professional lacrosse (NLL and MLL). Association football (MLS) does not have a "white at home" or a "white while away" convention.
The NHL (and formerly the NBA) enforces the color/white rule strictly; any NHL team seeking to wear white at home must get express permission from the league office to do so. In minor league hockey, the rules are set in both the AHL and ECHL where the team wears white jerseys at home during one half of the season, then wears the color jerseys during the other half at home, and vice versa on the road. In the NFL, the rules state that the home team has the first choice of color, with the visiting team forced to choose a contrasting color; an exception is Color Rush, in which uniform choices are coordinated by the league itself.
Starting with their uniform contract with Nike that begins with the 2017-2018 season, the NBA has abolished the color/white rule. Instead, each team will designate whether their white uniform, now dubbed the "Association Edition," or their colored uniform, called the "Icon Edition," will be the home uniform, with the other becoming their designated away uniform.
In American sports, throwback jerseys are generally only used for special team games and not for the "third" purpose. In American football a third jersey may be a throwback uniform based on designs the team used in the past. In association football, meanwhile, it is more commonly a radically different design.
The NFL was the last of the major professional sports leagues to adopt the third jersey rule in 2002, with the only exceptions being the 1994 season, when teams issued a throwback uniform in honor of the league's 75th Anniversary. Initially, the NFL rule stated that a team may wear their third jersey only once a year, however, after one year this restriction was increased to twice a year. Some teams have exceeded the limit; the 2017 Baltimore Ravens were an example, wearing their all-black uniforms twice that season, and the less-frequent black jerseys on white pants once. There are currently no rules on wearing alternate pants. Teams are only permitted to wear alternate jerseys once in playoff games (except the Super Bowl, where teams must wear their standard uniforms); the only team to do so (other than in 1994) was the 2008 San Diego Chargers. In the past, rules allowed for teams to wear their third jersey two times in the regular season and once in the preseason until 2010. In 2011 teams were no longer allowed to wear their third jersey in the preseason. However, there have been some exceptions since 2011.
Some teams will generally use one of their third jersey allotments against a particular division opponent each year. For instance, the Los Angeles (formerly San Diego) Chargers would frequently wear their popular alternate powder blue jerseys (that was introduced in 2007) at home against the Oakland Raiders, while the Houston Texans were known to wear their alternate "Battle Red" uniforms at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Pittsburgh Steelers usually wore their throwbacks from 2007-2011 at home against the archrival Baltimore Ravens. The New York Giants were known to wear their alternate red jerseys at home against the Dallas Cowboys until the red jerseys were retired in 2009. The Los Angeles Rams have frequently worn their throwback uniform against the San Francisco 49ers in recent years. The Washington Redskins wear their alternative uniform on home games to commemorate their annual homecoming game once a year since 2012.
When wearing their third jerseys, especially if the team is wearing a throwback uniform, the team may theme the field around the uniforms. When the New York Jets, for instance, wore their 1960–1962 "Titans of New York" throwbacks at home, they painted the field in the Titans blue-and-gold color scheme (The Jets' current color scheme is green and white). In addition, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dressed the field up in Orange when they wore their Creamsicle throwbacks in 2009.
Teams will generally wear their third jerseys at home, although clubs may wear them as the visiting team as well. The Carolina Panthers are known to wear their electric blue jerseys on the road (most notably in Tampa) if the home team opts to wear their white jerseys against the Panthers and depending on the circumstance (primarily in warmer weather situations, where home teams will wear white to force the visiting team to have their uniforms absorb heat rather than reflect it). Since introducing a wolf grey alternate in 2012, the Seattle Seahawks have exclusively worn their alternates on the road. The Denver Broncos wore their alternate navy blue jersey with blue pants in a game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2013, and in 2017 the Los Angeles Chargers also wore their alternate powder blue jersey against the Dallas Cowboys for a Thanksgiving day matchup despite Dallas wearing navy blue. The New York Jets have worn their Titans throwback uniform once in 2007 against the Miami Dolphins at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, and in 2017 the Buffalo Bills also wore their white throwback uniform against the Miami Dolphins in a week 17 meeting when Miami was also wearing their throwbacks. The Tennessee Titans, who switched back to navy as the primary color in 2015, wore their alternate columbia blue jersey with white pants on the road in 2016 and 2017 when their home opponent forced them to wear their dark colors.
Because the football helmet is such a significant and visible part of the football uniform, some teams also wore alternate helmets when wearing their third jersey. This was particularly true for throwback uniforms, such as those worn by the Cowboys (white), Patriots (white), Steelers (yellow), Jets/Titans (blue), and Buccaneers (white). The NFL outlawed the use of alternate helmets beginning in the 2013 season. This has had impact on some teams wanting to wear their throwback jerseys while other teams are not affected by the limitation. Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has been trying to convince the league to change its policy on having only one helmet by allowing the usage of two helmets, for he likes the Eagles to have their kelly green helmets on if the team wears its kelly green jerseys. 
For the 2015 season, the NFL debuted a "Color Rush" jersey concept for select Thursday games (Thursday Night Football and one Thanksgiving Day game) in celebration of 50 years of games being broadcast in color. The games featured, mostly, both teams wearing one color matching jerseys, pants, socks and shoes, specially designed to clash with the color of the other team.
The games were as follows:
For 2016, all NFL teams had Color Rush uniforms, although nine teams did not wear them on the field during the 2016 season The 2017 season also featured Color Rush games, but the Redskins (wore all burgundy combo) and Browns did not wear their color rush uniforms. The program as a whole is no longer required prior to the 2018 season, teams have the option of whether or not they want to wear their color rush uniforms for the Thursday night games and can wear them beyond that point.
Although uniforms are much less regulated at the collegiate level compared to the NFL, alternate uniforms – and even regular uniform redesigns – are generally less common[dubious ] due to many teams' respective histories and traditions surrounding a particular jersey color or uniform combination.
Ole Miss was one of the earliest programs to use two different jerseys, wearing the school colors of navy blue and red depending upon the game.
Recently, however, many teams have begun to experiment with alternate uniforms and helmets, especially teams whose uniforms are provided by Nike. Since the late 2000s, Nike has provided the University of Oregon Ducks with modular uniform systems consisting of as many as four color choices for jerseys, pants, helmets, socks and other components, allowing the Ducks to select a new combination for nearly every game.
One of the more famous third jerseys is that of the University of Notre Dame. The team wears either white or navy blue for most games, but occasionally special kelly green jerseys with gold numbers, evocative of the "Fighting Irish", are chosen for a major contest.
Third kits existed in English football at least as early as the 1930s. Until 1989–90, the FA Cup competition rules stated: "Where the colours of the two competing clubs are similar, both clubs must change unless alternative arrangements are mutually agreed by the competing clubs". Away kits were often similar as well, therefore third kits were worn in the 1948 FA Cup Final by Manchester United and the 1950 final by Arsenal. Similar rules were employed by European governing body UEFA, with Manchester United winning the 1968 European Cup Final in a blue third kit.
Teams sometimes needed to find makeshift third kits for their players. One notable example being France having to wear the green-and-white stripes of local club C.A. Kimberley for their 1978 World Cup match against Hungary, as both teams were only equipped with their white change shirts for the game.
Third kits in international football are less common, both teams are advised to change colours in the event of a home kit clashing. England prepared light blue third kits for the 1970 and 1986 World Cups, which was only worn for the former, and Spain introduced a white third kit for the 2014 World Cup at the insistence of FIFA.
Since the 2000s, most clubs in major European leagues have used a third kit, or had one in reserve. Replicas of the kits are usually sold at club merchandise shops. Sometimes, a previous season's away kit is retained if a clash arises. Clubs sometimes also assign a third kit as their secondary kit for certain competitions and vice versa.
One notable incident occurred in 1996, when Manchester United changed into their blue and white third kit at half-time, with manager Alex Ferguson blaming the grey away kit for several sub-par performances. Ferguson commented, "The players couldn't pick each other out.[...] They said it was difficult to see their team-mates at distance when they lifted their heads".
After decades of wearing the same uniforms, Major League Baseball teams began to experiment with numerous designs in the early 1970s, ranging from popular designs (such as the Oakland Athletics' pullover jerseys that most MLB teams later adopted) and not so popular (such as the Chicago White Sox wearing shorts, or the Cleveland Indians wearing all-red).
Among such designs that were also tested were third jerseys, to break the traditional mold that baseball teams wear white uniforms at home, and gray on the road. This began in 1972 when the A's flamboyant owner, Charles O. Finley, introduced new uniforms to the team. Taking after the lead of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the jerseys were pullover spandex that would later catch on in MLB (though this would be phased out by the early 1990s in favor of the more traditional button-down jerseys), but by going one step further than the Pirates, the A's introduced alternate gold and green jerseys. The gold jerseys, lighter in color, were considered "home" alternates while the darker green jerseys were considered "away" alternates.
Soon, many teams caught on with different colored jerseys. The Pirates even went as far as to having a rotation of which jerseys to wear, matching white pinstriped, gold, and black pants to wear with jerseys of the same color. The white pinstripes were later phased out in favor of solid white.
The New York Yankees have generally shunned the practice of third jerseys. The Yankees wore three different jerseys in 1911, 1916, and most recently in 1943 according to the Dressed to the Nines database maintained by the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In recent years, the Yankees have worn throwback uniforms for single games in 1996 and 2012. Third jerseys otherwise remain popular in baseball today, either as an alternate design or as a throwback known as "Turn Back the Clock Night." The Milwaukee Brewers, for example, have worn a variation of their 1978–1993 home uniforms for every Friday home game. In 1999, the Seattle Mariners hosted the Kansas City Royals for a game where both teams wore "futuristic" uniforms meant to represent the year 2027 (what will be the Mariners 50th season). The "Turn Ahead The Clock" promotion was so successful that it was copied the next year by 20 MLB teams, this time representing the year 2021 (due to sponsorship by the real estate company Century 21); however, the jerseys were roundly ridiculed and have not been seen since.
The Toronto Blue Jays change from their traditional blue and grey jersey to a red alternate jersey every Canada Day (July 1) to help celebrate the national holiday (and with it, a cap with a red maple leaf on it, which is Canada's national symbol). In 2007, the Jays announced that as part of the team's popular "Flashback Friday" promotion, the team would use replica uniforms based on the powder-blue road uniforms used in the 1980s at all Friday night home games, starting with the 2008 season. To complete the look, the Jays also wore the original blue and white caps, with their traditional logo on the front of the uniform as well as on the caps. In 2017, to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary, the Blue Jays wore alternate red jerseys and caps for every Sunday home game. The Tampa Bay Rays wore a black alternate from 1998–2000 when they were the Devil Rays, and from 2005–07 they wore green alternate jersey worn both at home and away on selected games. When they changed their name to the Rays, they introduced an alternate navy blue for home and away games to go along with their white and gray uniforms. In 2010 they added light blue jerseys to be worn only on Sunday home games. The Cincinnati Reds wear a red alternate at many afternoon home games, and the Atlanta Braves wear a red jersey for every home game played on Sunday, while the Washington Nationals wear red for all weekend home games, and in 2011 have done so for most weekend road games as well. The Pittsburgh Pirates wore a red alternate for every home game played on Friday during the 2007 season, even though red is not an official team color. Since 2009, the Boston Red Sox wore a red alternate jersey for Friday night home games and a blue alternate jersey for Friday night away games. Also since 2008, for every afternoon home game, the Kansas City Royals wear powder-blue jerseys almost reminiscent of the old jerseys they wore in the 1980s (and in 2010 introduced new powder-blue caps to be worn with these jerseys, though they have since gone back to wearing their normal blue caps). The San Francisco Giants wear orange jerseys during all Friday home games. The Philadelphia Phillies introduced an alternate cream-colored uniform (with a blue cap to complete the look) in 2008 and currently wear it for all afternoon home games. Most recently the Mariners revived their teal jerseys from the mid-1990s, to be used on Friday and Monday home games. In 2015 they also introduced an alternate version of their home uniforms, using the team's classic blue-and-yellow scheme on cream uniforms, to be worn on Sunday home games. The Baltimore Orioles wear alternate black jerseys (with a cap showing the "O's" script logo) every Friday, regardless of whether they are home or away (home games against the Red Sox would force the latter to wear their regular grey uniforms rather than their navy Friday uniforms), and in 2012 they introduced an alternate orange jersey to be worn during Saturday games. In 2013, the New York Mets introduced two different blue alternate jerseys; one has their team name on it (in orange lettering) and is used at home, while the other has their city name on it (in gray lettering) and is used on the road. Prior to that, the Mets wore two black alternate jerseys in a similar fashion as their current blue alternates.
To honor the U.S. military, during Sunday home games, the San Diego Padres originally sported special camouflage-colored jerseys (with green caps to match); in 2011 the camouflage jerseys were changed to a brown/tan "desert camo" with a tan cap. Then in 2016, the Padres replaced them with a new "navy camo" jersey (honoring the U.S. Navy) with a blue cap. Also, they released a modernized version of the franchise's classic brown jerseys with brown-and-yellow caps (which was originally worn from 1969–1984) to be worn for Friday home games.
In contrast, the Chicago Cubs frequently wear a blue alternate jersey on the road, and not according to the day of the week. This jersey is worn based on the decision of the starting pitcher (particularly when Carlos Zambrano was scheduled to start), thus explaining why it is worn more often than other third jerseys.
After the death of Harmon Killebrew in 2011, the Minnesota Twins decided to wear their cream-colored "throwback" third jersey – a direct replica of the uniforms used for most of Killebrew's career – for every home game for the rest of the year.
The Milwaukee Brewers have two alternate uniforms with the same color, with one featuring the team nickname and used on home games, the other featuring the city name and used on away games; in addition to their regular alternates, since 2011 the Brewers have, during various "Heritage" games, worn uniforms with "Cerveceros" ("Brewers" in Spanish), "Bierbrauer" (German), "Birrai" (Italian) and "Piwowarzy" (Polish); their opponents during those games would usually also have the foreign translation of their own team name on their road uniforms, such as "Piraten" ("Pirates" in German) or "Cardenales" ("Cardinals" in Spanish).
More recently, there is also a trend towards alternate grey uniforms. The San Francisco Giants wear a different version of their road grey uniforms, featuring the interlocking "SF" instead of the city name in full. This design is similar to the road uniforms the team utilized in the late 80's. The Dodgers and the Cubs have followed suit in wearing alternate grey uniforms, sporting the team name in front (rather than the city name) for their grey alternates.
All 30 MLB teams will wear special colored jerseys with contrasting sleeves on the weekend of August 25–27, 2017, for Players Weekend. The Cardinals and Pirates will also use these jerseys on August 20, when they meet in the MLB Little League Game in Williamsport, Pennsylvania; both this game and Players Weekend coincide with the 2017 Little League World Series in South Williamsport. Notably, Players Weekend will mark the first time the Yankees have ever placed names on the back of their jerseys.
The trend toward multiple uniforms of the same color can also lead to on-field mix-ups: in 2011, Brewers pitcher Zach Greinke, making a pinch-hitting appearance, accidentally wore the "Bierbrauer" jersey the night before German Heritage Day, while in 2014, just three games into the first season where the alternate was introduced, outfielder Junior Lake played the first inning in a "Chicago" jersey while the rest of the team wore "Cubs".
Among major-league teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks have the most alternate jerseys, with seven.
The concept of the third jersey in the NBA was first introduced when the Atlanta Hawks wore neon green alternate jerseys in addition to their standard blue road and white home jerseys during the 1970–71 and 1971–72 seasons. However, it was not until the mid-1990s that third jerseys became a common trend throughout the league.
The 1994–95 season brought the first wave of third jerseys in the NBA, as the Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings released new alternate uniforms. The trend continued in the 1995–96 season with the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks introducing their own third jerseys.
Since then, third jerseys became a regular part of every NBA team's uniform rotation, but at first, not all teams were receptive with the concept. For instance, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers initially refused to join the trend out of respect to tradition, but they eventually unveiled new alternates in the 2002–03 and 2005–06 seasons respectively.
The third jersey trend only got stronger when the NBA signed exclusive uniform contracts with Reebok and later Adidas. The Adidas deal, in particular, saw the introduction of additional alternate uniforms in an effort to boost jersey sales; examples include the Golden State Warriors' sleeved alternates and the Heat's monochrome uniforms.
In addition to third jerseys, there are also holiday-themed jerseys that are worn only on special occasions. These include the jerseys worn on Christmas Day, Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras (for the New Orleans Pelicans), and Saint Patrick's Day.
Other alternate uniforms in the NBA include the "Noche Latina" uniforms, military-inspired uniforms, and "Pride" uniforms, all of which were also concepts introduced by Adidas.
NBA teams were only allowed to introduce a new third jersey at least two years after unveiling a new logo and uniform set. This rule has since been relaxed somewhat, following more recent third jersey releases by the Utah Jazz, the Brooklyn Nets, the New Orleans Pelicans, the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Phoenix Suns the Charlotte Hornets and the Atlanta Hawks, in which some of the teams release their alternates on the same day as their regular home and away set.
Teams are also allowed to wear their third jerseys as often as desired during the first three rounds of the NBA Playoffs and the NBA Finals. Per the NBA Rule Book, there is no official rule that states that teams are restricted on wearing alternate uniforms or white at home during the NBA Finals. They only requirement stated is from Section VI, c. which states, "The home team shall wear light color jerseys, and the visitors dark jerseys unless otherwise approved. For neutral court games and doubleheaders, the second team named in the official schedule shall be regarded as the home team and shall wear the light colored jerseys." An example of this was when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals in a black sleeved alternate jersey.
This rule concerning uniform designations was eliminated once Nike became the uniform provider for the NBA in 2017. In doing so, teams now have the freedom to choose whichever uniform they want to wear, whether it's the "Association" white jersey (formerly the de facto home jersey), the "Icon" dark jersey (formerly the de facto away jersey), the "Statement" alternate color jersey (formerly the de facto third jersey) and the annual "City" jersey.
The Canadian Football League first introduced the use of a permanent third jersey on September 6, 1994 when the Calgary Stampeders wore black uniforms for the Labour Day Classic against the Edmonton Eskimos. The CFL did not have a rule for use of alternate uniforms and teams were able to wear them as often or as little as they liked, a rule that is still in effect today. Teams are also able to wear multiple alternate jerseys within the same season, as seen with the Montreal Alouettes during their 2009 campaign when they wore alternate black, blue, and throwback jerseys, in addition to their regular home and away uniforms. Teams are also permitted to wear their third jerseys as the away team, provided that they do not clash with the home team's uniforms. Despite teams having no restrictions with third jerseys, only the Stampeders chose to wear them during the 1990s, presumably due to the league's financial struggles during this decade. As such, no CFL USA team ever wore an alternate uniform. The Alouettes were the next team to introduce third uniforms in 2001 when they also wore black uniforms; a colour that was not part of the team's colour scheme. The Saskatchewan Roughriders first wore their black alternates in 2002 as it became more normal for teams to wear these jerseys. The BC Lions wore orange retro uniforms twice during the 2003 season as part of the celebrations for their 50th season, but those were only worn for that season.
In the 2005 CFL season, Reebok redesigned the primary home and away uniforms for all nine teams and also introduced new alternate uniforms for six teams, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts abstaining and the Saskatchewan Roughriders keeping their alternates that they had been using since 2002. Calgary introduced the third iteration of their black uniforms while the Alouettes wore a blue jersey with red numerals. The BC Lions, having now converted to orange as the primary jersey colour, wore black alternates, the Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers wore their own versions of gold alternates, and the Ottawa Renegades wore red alternate jerseys.
For 2006, the Tiger-Cats introduced gold alternate jerseys on August 12, 2006 in a game against the Argonauts. This season also saw the first case of both teams wearing alternate uniforms as the Alouettes brought back their black uniforms in a home game against the Eskimos who wore their gold jerseys. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers also wore their alternate gold jerseys as the away team for their playoff game against the host Toronto Argonauts. The Toronto Argonauts were the last CFL team to wear a third jersey as they wore alternate Cambridge blue uniforms on July 26, 2007.
The league recognized the history of its teams by having member clubs wear throwback uniforms beginning with the 2008 CFL season with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers wearing 1950s-style uniforms for two games featuring both teams. The CFL then had all eight current teams wear 1960s-based uniforms for the 2009 CFL season and 1970s-based uniforms for the 2010 CFL season. These differed from the designated third jerseys in that most were for one season only, except for the Saskatchewan Roughriders white retro jersey and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers royal blue retro jersey that were worn in subsequent seasons. These throwback uniforms were worn to lead up to the 100th Grey Cup celebration.
Following the league-based retro initiative, the league then turned its attention to a modernized take on all nine teams (including the expansion Ottawa Redblacks) by introducing Signature uniforms mostly in the 2014 season. The Lions first wore their Signature uniforms in 2013 as part of their 60th season celebrations with the other eight teams following suit the following season. The uniforms were worn twice by each team except for Ottawa who wore theirs three times and Winnipeg who wore theirs once. In 2015, Winnipeg abandoned the uniforms altogether, as did the BC Lions, despite their popularity in BC. Every other team wore theirs twice during 2015 except for Hamilton, who wore theirs once on Labour Day.
With the league-wide redesign of uniforms by Adidas in 2016, Calgary, Edmonton, and Montreal each retained their signature series uniforms and each wore them twice during the regular season (Calgary also wore theirs in the West Final game). Saskatchewan also wore a modified version of their retro-themed uniforms in two games that year.
In the National Hockey League, each team has its own distinctive sweater design (hockey tradition usually refers to jerseys as "sweaters," because hockey players actually wore sweaters on the ice until the 1960s). Prior to 1995 (save a few isolated instances), each team only had two sweaters – one for home use, and one for the road. One sweater was dominantly white (or in a few instances, a light color), and the other dominantly a dark color. The home team has first choice of uniforms from the 1917–18 to the 1969–70 seasons (the white or yellow sweater was predominantly the road sweater with the dark sweater predominantly being the home sweater), but from the 1970–1971 to the 2002–03 seasons, white (or yellow) sweaters were worn at home and dark sweaters were worn on the road. Since the Third Sweater Program was introduced in the 1995–96 season, some teams wore the third sweater at home, which would have required an opponent to carry two sets of equipment and uniforms with them while on the road. This was alleviated starting in the 2003–04 season, when new rules mandated dark sweaters at home and white sweaters on the road.
The first NHL team to feature a three-sweater rotation was the Boston Bruins. From 1955 through 1967, the Bruins had a gold home sweater and a white road sweater, and for several of those seasons featured a black third sweater. The Pittsburgh Penguins would later introduce a gold third sweater in 1981, worn occasionally at home for two seasons and exclusively at home in the 1983-84 season before retiring it. As part of the NHL's 75th anniversary in the 1991-92 season, for select games the Original Six teams wore throwback sweaters based on designs the teams wore at some point during the first 50 years of the league. The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings would wear their throwbacks again for a game at Chicago Stadium in the 1993-94 season.
The 1995-96 third sweater program provided an opportunity for CCM to further experiment with dye-sublimation printing on their sweaters. CCM had introduced the process to the NHL with the 1994 All-Star Game sweaters and the Calgary Flames' new uniforms introduced in the 1994-95 season. The sublimated dye process allows for more complex stripe and graphic designs than were possible or practical with traditional manufacturing methods. The initial participating teams in the 1995-96 season embraced the concept, although the results were mixed. The Bruins' gold jersey, featuring a brown bear's head on the front and jagged striping, lasted through the 2005-06 season, while the Penguins' third jersey, featuring gradient striping that complemented their logo at the time, replaced their road jerseys in 1997. The Vancouver Canucks' red and black jersey with gradient striping, a subtle nod to their garish "Flying V" jerseys from 1978-85, were retired in 1997 when the team changed colors and logos altogether. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Los Angeles Kings jerseys only lasted one season, while the planned St. Louis Blues was rejected by then-coach/GM Mike Keenan, who reportedly banned the sweater from use. Due to the backlash against the less popular designs, the sublimation process was used by fewer teams in subsequent seasons, as newer thirds either rearranged the colors of an existing jersey, or experimented with different construction methods to create new designs.
With the advent of the 2003 Heritage Classic outdoor game, the NHL introduced the Vintage jersey program, allowing a select number of teams to wear throwback designs for a limited number of games, in addition to their existing uniforms. These uniforms were designated with a special V-logo patch. Seven teams participated in the program, and included both home and road versions of throwback designs. As a result, the Bruins, Kings, Canucks, and New York Rangers each had an unprecedented five jerseys in their rotation for that season. The program was suspended due to the 2004–05 NHL lockout, although the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens would wear their vintage jerseys for a few games each in the 2005-06 season, and the Canucks and Bruins would wear their dark throwbacks as third jerseys (replacing sublimated-print third jerseys) in the 2006-07 season. The Canucks' and Bruins' throwbacks would later serve as the inspiration for their RBK Edge uniform redesigns in 2007.
Following a one-year hiatus on all third jerseys (save for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic, where the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres wore throwbacks for that game) as part of the NHL's transition to the Edge uniform system, the third jersey program returned in full earnest for the 2008–09 season. The Winter and Heritage Classics became showcases for throwback uniforms and new sweaters with a throwback aesthetic, while the NHL Stadium Series became a showcase for more radical uniform designs. Third jerseys as a whole began to skew more to traditional stylings and throwback designs, especially for teams who more modernized looks in the Edge redesign. Another trend has been for teams to include an off-white cream color, sometimes referred to as "vintage white" or "antique white", in place of pure white on their third or Classic jersey, attempting to replicate the discolored appearance of a genuine aged sweater. This trend picked up after the Minnesota Wild began extensively using "Minnesota wheat", an official team color similar to the vintage cream color, in place of white trim on their dark jerseys.
The only teams that have not had a full-season third jersey since the beginning of the current program are the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and New Jersey Devils. However, both the Red Wings and Canadiens have participated in multiple outdoor games and had special jerseys for each event. In addition, the Canadiens wore five different vintage jerseys over the course of their centennial celebration in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, in addition to their earlier participation in the Vintage jersey program. Finally, the New Jersey Devils have worn a red and green throwback jersey for one home game on or around St. Patrick's Day every season since 2009-10, with the exception of the lockout-shortened 2013 season, and have also worn them in their 2014 NHL Stadium Series outdoor game.
Once a team has been granted permission by the league to use their new design, they will request and be allowed ten to fifteen games during the season in which they may use their third sweater. They may continue to use the third sweater in subsequent years as well. This alternate design allowed the team's appearance to flirt with radical designs which have occasionally gone on to become the new looks for some of the participating teams, though they can also be quite garish. An infamous example is the aforementioned St.Louis Blues' planned third sweater from 1996. The Mighty Ducks' third from that season, featuring mascot Wildwing bursting through a sheet of ice, was also considered particularly garish. Sales of third sweaters to fans have also provided significant additional income for cash-strapped NHL teams. For example, in 2013 the Calgary Flames introduced a third sweater in exactly the same colours as their primary home sweater, but with the addition of "western styling" mixed with traditional hockey sweater features such as laces and the team name in script on the front. This doesn't always work; in the case of the Flames, they reverted to their throwback third jersey in the 2016-17 season.
Teams are also allowed to wear their third jerseys as often as desired in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; however, they may only wear two different uniforms during the playoffs (one at home and one on the road). Examples of teams who wore third jerseys in the playoffs include the Dallas Stars (in 1999), the San Jose Sharks (from 2009 to 2014), the Anaheim Ducks (in 2014), the Minnesota Wild (from 2013 to 2017), the Washington Capitals (in 2015), the Toronto Maple Leafs (in 1999), the Philadelphia Flyers (in 2001 and 2009), the Pittsburgh Penguins (in 1997 and 2016), and the Edmonton Oilers (in 2017). The Stars, Flyers, Penguins, and Oilers are also examples of teams wearing third jerseys in the playoffs that are then promoted to full-time jerseys the following season.
Several teams have had multiple designs of their third jersey.
In recent years the third jersey has appeared in the Australian NRL, with every team having a 'home' jersey, an 'away' jersey and a 'heritage' jersey. The NRL does not currently require third or alternate jerseys, because most clashes can be resolved with away jerseys or using modified under-20s jerseys.
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