Inspired Threads: the Growth of NHL Jersey Collecting

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Willow Baker
pro players
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If you only have a few minutes to spare, here's what you should know:
Hockey jersey collectors celebrate their personal connection to different teams, players, and eras through collecting.
Gabe Tacuri is one example of a fan who has grown his connection to an online community through his hockey jersey collection.
The community of jersey collectors have created an online space for resale and information sharing.

It Started Out with a Thrift, How Did It End Up Like This?

The NHL recently captured the magic combination of aesthetic and fandom with the Reverse Retro jersey series, where wacky designs from eras past were threaded into a league-wide wave of new looks.

With style options rivaling the jersey selection screen of a video game, inspired fans are connecting to new communities through collecting hockey jerseys.

A jersey collector, a jersey reseller, and a member of the burgeoning hockey community celebrating the look of the game, Gabe Tacuri (known on social media by his username @GTAC13JERSEYS) is finding his stride within an increasingly online market.

A 23-year-old Long Island native, Tacuri has been an Islanders fan since he was four years old. Today, he boasts a robust collection of hockey jerseys that recently approached 80 sweaters.

While he has since trimmed down that total to focus on the blue and orange Islanders jerseys he grew up with, he didn’t grow up collecting. It wasn't until a chance clearance encounter at a sporting goods store that his jersey collection truly began.

“I didn’t really focus on jerseys, didn’t have any new ones or wasn't into the community until I'd say five years ago. I saw a Matt Moulson Islanders jersey on sale at my local Modell’s, and then I purchased it for like $20 or something. And that was my first one.”

Finding the jersey of a player whom Tacuri had grown up watching score for his hometown team ignited a sense of pride.

Connection to a favorite team or favorite player is essentially the arena entrance to collecting. Tacuri’s appreciation for Islander goals – whether it was a quick rip from a winger or a booming cannon from the blueline – drove what turned out to be a headfirst dive into an online community.

“I remember scrolling through Twitter, and I came across The Jersey Finder’s page [@TheJerseyFinder], so I followed instantly. Then whenever he posted something that I wanted — I remember there was a Keith Aucoin Islanders jersey — I purchased it, and then it just grew ever since. I’ve gotten into every aspect of jersey collecting: the community, news and rumors, and all of it.”
Even with classic design elements such as horizontal stripes and yolked shoulders, collectors have a wide range of NHL jerseys to choose from.

Digital Marketplace

Tacuri found that the online market for hockey jerseys goes well beyond official NHL sales sites and its primary manufacturing partners, Fanatics and, for now, Adidas.

Second-hand retailers, auction sites, and fashion resale apps are now hotbeds for hockey jersey deals. The increasing normativity of money-sending apps like Venmo and Zelle has intersected with online sellers and buyers across social media, making for broader access to even more jerseys sold between fans.

As Tacuri’s collection of Islander jerseys sprawled, so did his connection across the collector communities found on Discord, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit. What he found was people willing to help with questions about sales, sizing, and customization.

“That’s pretty big with collectors. People more than willing to give advice or show their collection off or any projects they’re working on. I think it's just a good reference.”

Tacuri now finds himself a contributor giving back in the same way.

He shifted the focus of his Twitter and Instagram pages to identifying great resale deals not only for himself, but for anyone looking to find a jersey at a lower price. He acquires and sells jerseys through Instagram and eBay, while also maintaining an engaged presence on r/hockeyjerseys, a Reddit forum for “hockey jersey enthusiasts.”

For fans like Tacuri, who grew up with the 1990’s NHL third jersey program, it’s no surprise that the NHL’s recent revival of designs through its Reverse Retro jersey program has had a major impact on jersey collectors.

Some of the rarer designs can run over $300, even when the resale market is healthy.

“I know, even with some of those being seen again in the Reverse Retro series, people were craving the originals even more.”

This is somewhat perplexing, as many of the looks were panned upon their original release. Jerseys that began as laughing stock, such as Boston’s Pooh Bear or Calgary’s Blasty Horse, are now revered as classics.

Is that The Ugly Duckling bursting through the ice on Anaheim’s jersey?

“I think people are heavily divided on a whole bunch of those styles. You’ll get the younger generation, maybe my age or a little bit above or below, that love that design and [it] is their favorite jersey. Then you get the more traditionalist people that were already grown up at that [1990’s] era, and it was something new and something that they didn’t really need, or want to see.”
The NHL’s Reverse Retro Series has largely been inspired by the NHL third jersey program started in the 1990’s

What’s a Sweater to a Fan?

Through celebration of team history and ownership of goofy designs and colors, the Reverse Retro series allowed hockey fans to relish bygone eras from when they were growing up.

The balance of history and aesthetic isn’t new, though perhaps there are some more experimental parts of that history that don’t resonate with some crowds. Traditionalists are a part of hockey down to the threads.

For example, some purists may prefer only using the term “sweater” to pay homage to the history of the garment, but Tacuri could only shrug at the rigidity.

“I would usually just call it a jersey. I don't mind what people call it. I've seen people call it a whole bunch of things other than sweater.” What the garment is called doesn’t matter – the whole idea of a jersey is a visual representation of a community with a shared goal.

Just like the jerseys worn by the pros, it’s about what it means to the wearer. So what does jersey collecting itself mean to Tacuri?

“What it means to me is basically my childhood growing up. It means all the history and the life that I've devoted to hockey. Getting all the knowledge that I currently do, and watching with my family growing up, I think that's what my overall jersey collecting is about. It's about encapsulating times in my life. And history of the team that I devote my fandom to.”

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