How sports has changed men’s fashion

Sunday July 23 2017

Conor McGregor for instance is known for his loud, abrasive, big, unforgettable style. Both in the octagon and outside of it. It is fearless and unapologetic. PHOTO | AFP

Conor McGregor for instance is known for his loud, abrasive, big, unforgettable style. Both in the octagon and outside of it. It is fearless and unapologetic. PHOTO | AFP 

By CAROL ODERO
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I want Conor McGregor to punch Mayweather square on his jaw.

But first I want to direct men to his Instagram account @thenotoriousmma for Style 101 tutorials. It is not easy injecting who you are into what to wear. It seems effortless, but it surprisingly isn’t.

The easier a man makes it look, the more inimitable he is and more confusing for the man who is not him. Sports has totally changed the face of menswear bringing with it style stars and icons in ways Hollywood and fashion itself never could.  

Athletes are easily finding their way to the front row or as brand ambassadors not just for New York Fashion Week, but for fashion companies. In 2005 then National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner David Stern set what was referenced as the “minimum” dress code for basketballers.

It would be business casual instead of the raggedy hip hop inspired looks they had strongly embraced. Largely as a result of most basketballers being African American. This is what they would wear on the bench when injured, arriving or leaving games, for press conferences and public appearances.

The exceedingly long list of all the banned stuff included do rags, bling, baseball caps, vests and shades worn indoors. This, obviously, was not beloved by the players who loved to celebrate the hip hop culture. Despite hiccups Stern was unflinching. Over time NBA players took business casual as something to play around with, a challenge they could work around.

UNAPOLOGETIC STYLE

With their well over 6 foot 6 average height it was near impossible dressing these men. It took a whole lot of PR, invoking of stylists and a steady stream of open minds before bespoke athletic wear became a thing. Enter the relationship with fashion. Which over time coalesced with the great Michael Jordan’s billion-dollar a year venture best known as Air Jordans.

It turns out the pivotal moment was engineering by Vogue US in 2008 when they had LeBron on the cover. It smacked designers on the nose so hard they could not afford to disregard the NBA as an opportunity. At which point vanity kicked in. Apparently said 6 foot 8 men made for exquisite male specimens who looked fantastic in everything.

The birth of an athlete as a brand almost always starts with his image. When you have pro-athletes immersing themselves in fashion not just as a clothes horse but as brands who partner with other brands or are furthering their own, you know the sports-fashion bond means business.

Sports is the reason athleisure wear exists. It profoundly changed the landscape of street style. Pro-athletes now look more like gentlemen than anything else. If you are a high fashion brand looking for an investor you could just as likely find it bankrolled by a pro-athlete as it would a venture capitalist.

Sports that we can zoom into from football, basketball, baseball, hockey, the National Football League, Formula One, golf, tennis and boxing, images that go around the world, are captured in GIFs (image files popularly used online) and are shared on social media in minutes makes athletes the perfect ambassadors.

It is a pity Kenya has not been able to give birth to more exciting players in menswear when it comes to fashion. Conor McGregor for instance is known for his loud, abrasive, big, unforgettable style. Both in the octagon and outside of it. It is fearless and unapologetic, words normally used to describe Rihanna’s style.

Nothing illustrates male style quite like the pragmatic sighting of a pro-athlete. They are always on the move when we watch them, proof that menswear does not have to be stiff even when it is functional, we are drawn by their sheer masculine energy and the beauty of their form. That physical confidence with which they embrace fashion and their ability to dangerously swipe the lines between too flashy and just about right, and our willingness to forgive them when they do. Here is the ironic part. Hip hop artists now look and train like athletes. 

It isn’t just the clothes either. Shoes, accessories such as bags, caps, hats, jewellery, belts, skin care, facial hair, hairstyles - they define trends in not-so-subtle ways. The intriguing thing about sports and fashion is how it is more of a guy thing.

America’s Women’s National Basketball Association does not attract the attention of the industry. Female pro-athletes with a leg in fashion can be picked off one by one. Runways do not influence men in so much as it baffles them. It is the celebrity athletes who bring personality and individuality to the game, breaking it down into wearable parts, acting as translators.