Why archery clothing matters

Why what you wear could mean the difference between winning and losing. By Joe Parker

GBR international Layla Annison in the latest, much improved, GBR kit

Can clothing improve your performance? You are unlikely to be surprised to learn that the answer is ‘yes’. Most articles concerning clothing and archery cover the importance of preparing for multiple weather conditions, which includes making sure that you’ve got all the appropriate gear with you.

We learn early on in the sport that the weather can be unpredictable, so we turn up to tournaments armed with waterproofs, thermal base layers, woolly hats and warm jumpers. Some of this is more important than just staying dry: your muscles perform best when warm, which reduces the risk of injury. 

Most competitive archers are constantly on the look out for anything to give them an advantage, something that can help to improve performance, increase our personal best or raise us in the rankings. However, few articles focus on the psychological advantage of wearing the right clothes. You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘dress for success’ – what we wear on the sports field can actually influence how we perform.  

Changing the mindset

Our mental state changes depending on the clothes we wear. Scientists came up with a new term for this: they call it ‘enclothed cognition’.  In practice, this means that what we wear affects how we think and feel. When you put on a baggy t-shirt and an old pair of jogging bottoms that are normally reserved for lazing around the house, you naturally feel ready to slump in front of the TV. For most people, this is not the state of mind you want to be in when you’re competing.

Base layers are often recommended for archery

If you get out your sports clothes, however, your subconscious recognises that these clothes are only used when you head out to training or competitions. This means that you are more likely to be switched on and focused because that is the state of mind you associate with this clothing.

Not only does our clothing affect how we perceive ourselves, but it influences how others perceive us, too. Researchers have studied this area extensively, discovering that we form impressions of people when we meet them. What people wear can influence the first impressions we make and, rather interestingly, it may also have the power to sway the results. Most people are aware that wearing a smart suit, for example, in a business setting will leave a different impression to jeans and a t-shirt. But do you treat your archery gear the same way? 

Signalling intent

If a sporting opponent looks and sounds confident it has the potential to affect the other person’s confidence levels negatively. Clothing plays a big role in this. If somebody turns up to a competition in a shirt designed specifically for archery, they look different to somebody wearing a plain polo shirt. It signals intent, which might be enough to determine the outcome (although not everyone, of course, enters archery competitions to win). 

In archery, we might not always get a choice of what to wear. Many archery clubs have specific wear for competition. You may have experienced in archery (or another sport) a mild sense of fear or intimidation when an opposing team shows up dressed identically in smart, clean club uniforms, looking like they mean business. Needless to say, your club should be doing exactly the same thing. 

Further along the line, if you are lucky enough to be sponsored by a company, you will be expected to wear their kit at all relevant occasions. This is also effective, as it symbolises progression up the archery ladder. Similarly, at county level and above there will likely be a uniform to wear.

Bow’s own Lucy O’Sullivan in a sponsored shirt – and more distinctive accessories

At the very top, of course, you may be able to represent your country at archery. Many archers have described the elation the first time they pulled on a national team uniform, even if it was just in their bedroom. Clothes can be powerful motivational drivers, too. 

There are many companies producing club shirts at a variety of price points and many of them have online tools to help you design the perfect shirt. If that responsibility is down to you, look around at all kinds of other shirts for a range of sports and make sure the colours, design and typeface you use are relevant.

A longbow-dominated field club’s shirts will probably look different from a recurve and compound-based target club – but, either way, that’s no excuse for bad design. Don’t be afraid to get at least some professional help. You could look around on a site like Fiverr (fiverr.com) for designers working at affordable prices. 

At the top level, you only have to look at the example set by the Korean international teams. The reason why Korea has dominated international archery for many years has been extensively explained (in the pages of Bow and elsewhere), and the uniform reflects the care taken elsewhere in the setup. 

Maintaining the brand: the Korean team

Nothing happens in Korean archery by chance and the design of their uniforms – in crisp white, navy and black, cut to look sleek on smaller Asian body frames – is no exception. The uniform is part of maintaining the brand of ruthless professionalism; and at international events, every archer has multiple spare shirts that are always kept carefully pressed, just in case.

The font on the back is a version of Helvetica, as used by multiple long-lasting famous brands throughout the 20th century, and the white ‘canvas’ allows archers to add personal colour details (especially shoes) without changing the effect.  It’s a highly effective part of the show; many hot opponents have crumbled at the mere sight of a white shirt in the head-to-head. 

Different sizes

So it’s clear that in preparing for competition, you should dress for success. Choose something that makes you feel good when you put it on. Choose something that makes you feel confident, bold and ready to win. And choose something that matches your personality – if that’s all black, go for it. 

Bow has long recommended looking into the base-layers used by cyclists and golfers as practical shooting wear for many conditions. Unfortunately, most modern active sportswear is aimed at athletic – or, at least, ‘average’-sized people – and, as we know, most archery fields contain competitors of all sizes. Finding modern wear (such as wicking fabrics and merino wool) that fits well and shoots comfortably at sizes XXL and above is
more difficult.  

However, there are now several companies that produce active wear for all sizes, such as Contra (contra-movement.com), an offshoot of the Parkrun project. For women, the brands Torrid (torrid.com) and Skirtsports (skirtsports.com) specialise in comfortable athletic wear for all sizes, and ship worldwide. 

Just as you would experiment with a new tab or release, it’s worth experimenting with what you wear to shoot in. The better you feel, the more likely you are to perform well. Wearing the right shirt won’t turn you into the world’s best archer overnight, but it will give you an edge – perhaps a greater one than you think.

Seeing Red

Does colour itself matter? For many years, red was considered the sporting colour of choice – you might remember Tiger Woods winning fifteen major golf titles in his trademark red shirt. A highly influential academic article in Nature magazine examined several combat sports at the 2004 Athens Olympics and found that across two-thirds of weight classes (in sports where colours are randomly assigned), red had more winners than blue. Other studies examined English football teams playing in red at home over many decades and claimed a small but subtle statistical anomaly. Why? The colour red plays a large role in signalling superiority throughout the animal world, which is thought to influence people, too. 

However, a paper released in January 2022 suggests that the various hypotheses are flawed, and red does not have any statistical advantage (although the same study also suggested that players wearing black might be more likely to receive penalties from referees). So, colour-wise, it’s probably best to go for whatever you like. 

Red is also considered a lucky colour in many countries (notably China), so it’s unlikely to go out of fashion for sportswear anytime soon. 

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