Soccer goalkeepers spend most of the game far from the action, yet they often stand out from other players due to their bright, distinctive uniforms. Some goalkeepers wear different uniforms for practical reasons, while others do it to enhance their personal style and perhaps intimidate their competitors. If you're interested in playing goal for an organized league, consult its official rule book to learn what regulations govern goalkeeper uniforms, as these can vary.
Goalkeepers' uniforms have special padding to offer protection against speedy shots. For example, a goalkeeper's shirt typically has long sleeves and special padding over the elbows, chest and shoulders to minimize the sting of a blocked shot. Goalkeepers' pants typically have light padding as well. Goalkeepers also wear long socks that cover shin guards, which protect the lower legs from blows during skirmishes near the goal.
During a game, most leagues require goalkeepers to wear uniforms that are different from those of the opposing team's goalkeeper and their own teammates. This helps the referee distinguish the goalkeeper from other players when everyone is crowded near the goal. Goalkeepers are the only players allowed to handle the ball during regular game play, so being able to clearly identify the goalkeeper helps prevent mistaken declarations of illegal handballs.
Although it has not been proven to be true, there is a common belief that an attacker unconsciously shoots the ball at the brightest area of the goal. If this is true, then wearing a bright shirt increases the chance that an attacker will aim the ball directly at the goalkeeper, leading to an easy save. This is why some professional goalkeepers wear bright, garish shirts, though personal style preferences also play a role.
Most leagues allow goalies some flexibility in choice of uniform and equipment. For example, many goalies wear special gloves so they can grasp the ball firmly. Some goalkeepers prefer long pants with significant padding, while others prefer shorts that provide them greater flexibility. Goalkeepers also may choose the type of cleats they wear, which depends on league regulations, the type of playing surface and the weather.