Skip to Content
  • Sign up for exclusive offers and news and be entered to win a $500 Sea Island Gift Card. Subscribe Now

Game Changing Style

Fashion and sports continue to prove they are the power forwards of the game.

By: Thomas Ehlers

For decades, much of the world has looked to runways in New York, Paris, London, and Berlin for the latest trends from legendary fashion houses. Brands such as Dior, Martin Margiela and Chanel have inspired and introduced some of the most iconic looks during these shows, releasing their collections to throngs of media and industry elite.

 

But today, gazes turn from models to managers and designers to defenders, as fashion grows in one of the world’s unlikeliest spaces—professional sport.  Forecasts suggest that the global sports apparel market is on a relentless upward trajectory, calculating industry revenues will soar from $191 billion in 2022 to approximately $249 billion by 2026. In this landscape, an unprecedented alliance between sports and fashion is reshaping the industry, captivating the attention of media worldwide.

 

THE PERFECT FIT

While professional teams have long merchandized items including jerseys, hats and other apparel, as of late, many of these franchises have leveled up their styling.

Peter Millar serves as the official outfitter of the USGA and created vintage-inspired fits for the 2023 Walker Cup.

 

Cameras are all over the fashion statements players make, which has created a new aspect of their public image. For the NBA, Turner Network Television now airs more than just pregame warmups—it spotlights athletes entering arenas across the country, highlighting the fashion attire they wear to and from the game.

 

It’s not just news broadcasts that are taking aim at professional sport couture. Sports Illustrated introduced its ‘Fashionable 50 List,’ celebrating athletes such as Russell Westbrook, Serena Williams, and Henrik Lundqvist for their distinctive game day fits. Following its success, the list sparked a number of spinoff articles in numerous publications, including GQ and The Athletic, amplifying the intersection of sports and fashion.

 

In 2023, according to a report by trend analyst Lefty, connections between sports and fashion generated over $78M in earned media value—the metric that estimates the earnings a brand can expect from mentions on social media—throughout the year. Franchises across leagues dedicate social posts to their stars walking their red carpet looks to the locker room. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram showcase players’ styles with fun or interesting questions to familiarize fans with the players and the unique fashion personas they love. The arena of sports has transformed into a runway of its own, where the fusion of athleticism and style takes center stage.

THE RYDER CUP COLLECTION

Since 2014, American fashion company Ralph Lauren has provided the official uniforms for the United States Ryder Cup team. In its 2023 playing, which took place at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome, Italy, the Ryder Cup uniforms were crafted with meticulous attention, combining style with patriotism.

 

“One of the most exciting aspects of the event was the uniforms sported by Team USA, which included three Sea Island Touring Professionals,” says Craig Allan, director of the Golf Performance Center at Sea Island. For Sea Island, Team USA included Zach Johnson, Captain; Davis Love III, Vice Captain; and Champion Golfer of the Year, Brian Harman, Player. “Wearing the uniforms, Team USA golfers stepped onto the course with a shared sense of purpose and camaraderie, ready to compete against the best golfers from around the world,” commented Allan.

 

From sleek polo shirts to tailored trousers and outerwear, each piece in the collection combined comfort with a sense of team identity. “Not only did the uniforms make a visual statement,” Allan states, “but they also served as a representation of the players’ dedication and commitment to their country.”

BRINGING AESTHETICS TO ATHLETICS

If Claire McCardle’s looks changed the American fashion industry in the 1950s and Calvin Klein’s the 1980s, then perhaps names like Guillermo Andrade and Ronnie Fieg will be written in future history books for their impact on the intersection of fashion and sports.

 

Major League Soccer (MLS) tapped Andrade to provide creative direction for its Leagues Cup, a month-long tournament featuring teams from MLS and Liga MX, the top soccer league in Mexico. In 2015, Andrade launched 424, a design label capturing the nonchalant Los Angeles aesthetic.

 

From a young age, Andrade watched soccer from the back of his father’s motorcycle, ultimately picking up the sport as a 9-year-old and improving his game until he was awarded a college scholarship. He used his story of soccer as inspiration for much of the collection he created for the Leagues Cup—which was sold at pop-up shops in league locations and stadiums throughout the country.

 

It’s not just leagues, but also individual teams that tap into custom looks. The New York Knicks hired Fieg, an American footwear and clothing designer who created the streetwear brand Kith to develop their in-house line and supporting creative elements.

 

Taking the role of creative director, Fieg expanded the Knicks’ merchandise to include designer jackets, towels, and more. He designed the iconic Knicks’ 2022-2023 City Edition Uniform and basketball court, which featured an all-black jersey and logo with trademark blue and orange sides, along with this season’s iteration, which features 1990s and 2000s color blocking with pinstripe detail.

 

Beyond the Knicks, franchises like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons hired professionals to both elevate their in-house lines and bring that same level of creativity to the gameday experience. The Cavs turned to Daniel Arsham, a contemporary artist based in New York City, to combine art and sport. In his three years with the franchise, he’s offered direction on, “anything that the players wear, anything on the court, all the graphics for social media,” Arsham states.

 

In total, Arsham created about 50 different variations of the updated Cavs’ look, including some that we would describe as “wildly new designs.”

 

The Cavaliers’ refresh comes on the heels of the Pistons’, who reworked their creative experience with Detroit native Big Sean. In Sean’s role of Creative Director of Innovation, he not only curates product development but also the in-game music and community activations for the franchise. Sean’s work is part of the larger “D-Up Campaign,” an initiative that celebrates the city of Detroit and highlights its people.

 

“Big Sean embodies everything the Pistons organization and our D-Up campaign is about—creativity, hard work, and the people of Detroit,” said Detroit Pistons Chief Business Officer Mike Zavodsky. “Big Sean and the Pistons are both a part of the fabric of Detroit, and we look forward to this partnership reflecting the culture of the city we both call home.”

 

But why the sudden interest in creative direction in sport? Part of the reason—social media. Over-the-top experiences are what fans want to see and consumption of this media allows teams and leagues to capitalize on it, to the tune of billions of dollars each year.

 

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ new logo appears on player uniforms from left, Sam Merrill, Georges Niang, Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Ty Jerome, and Max Strus.

 


PINPOINTED PERSPECTIVES 

Closer to home, several southern organizations are looking past logos and ballcaps and toward player-aided design.

 

Earlier this year, the Atlanta Braves unveiled their “Threads by Braves Clubhouse Store,” a retail shop that sells player-inspired merchandise, a first for Major League Baseball. Located in The Battery Atlanta, Threads takes fashion trends and releases new, limited edition collections every few weeks, ensuring casual and super fans can boast a new look with worldwide inspiration.

Matt Olson, first baseman for the Atlanta Braves, sports casual fan-wear from the Threads by Braves Clubhouse Store.

 

What distinguishes Threads is its engagement with player feedback. The store actively seeks input from athletes on designs, fabrics, and other elements, integrating their preferences into the products on its shelves.

 

Since its opening in 2023, Threads has unveiled collections including AJ25, inspired by legendary center fielder Andruw Jones, a line curated by Darius Rucker, and a Los Bravos line inspired by Atlanta artists. Seasonal and other items complement these collections, which present options for every style or preference. This innovative retail space not only captures the essence of the Atlanta Braves’ history and culture but also sets a precedent for a dynamic intersection of sports and style in the South.

 

Similarly, the Peter Millar team—who serves as the official outfitter of the USGA and several of its events, including the U.S. Open Championship, Walker Cup, several Curtis Cup Matches, and the World Amateur Team Championships—blended player feedback with vintage-inspired fits to build the perfect look and feel for the collection.

 

“We constantly solicit feedback,” says Peter Millar Chief Creative Officer Jason Carter. “We relish the opportunity to make things better. Whether it is better performance, more functional, we always look for ways to make the product more authentic.”

 

As franchises, teams and athletes increasingly look to creative directors, they share that same sentiment. Creative design allows consumers, fans, and everyone involved in athletics the chance to cheer on their favorites while celebrating who they want to be.