Search Box

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The fashion sensibilities of black pro athletes

A young man recently said to me that the best way to dress is like a black pro athlete, except you have to pull it back a little. He said, "They spend a lot of money on their clothes, but never know where to draw the line."

The young man was unfamiliar with the heyday of Walt Frazier and Artis Gilmore. Here's Walt decked out in all his finery, circa the early 1970's:

(Walter's middle name was "Clyde," though "Thomas" would have made for a more appropriate license plate.)

And here's Artis Gilmore, circa the late 70's:

His hair made the 7' 2" Gilmore look a little like a caveman who had just killed a grizzly, skinned it, and donned its hide.

But athletes don't dress like 1970's pimps anymore. (Then again, neither do pimps.) These days, black pro athletes tend to favor bespoke suits; they just go a little overboard with them. For instance, a lot of people buy three piece suits; but only pro athletes actually wear the vest.

Lebron James, the most prominent player in the game today, is a case in point.

The suit is perfectly nice, but did Lebron really need the lapel pin and the boutonniere and the sunglasses and the earring? He's got too much going on.

Here's Lebron on the day he first got selected in the NBA draft, dressed like an old-style plantation owner -- except more so. (Granted, he was just out of high school at this point.)

Lebron in a more sophisticated version of plantation chic:

Perhaps it was cool that evening, which would explain the scarf which matched his pocket hankie. But did he really need those sunglasses when the sun was no longer out?

Lebron accepting an ESPY award:

(Wouldn't it have been better to save the Santa Claus outfit for when he was giving, rather than receiving, something?)

Those custom suits don't come cheap: Lebron probably spends more on his clothes per annum than a schoolteacher's entire salary. Which is a pretty big price to pay just to look foolish.

Lebron's former teammate Dwyane Wade is another clotheshorse. Here's Dwyane looking sharp:

And he does look sharp. But that double-breasted vest alone makes him look as if he's trying too hard.

Here's Dwyane in a bow tie.

If a white guy wore that outfit, you'd just assume he was gay. But when it's a 6' 4" black guy bursting with muscle, you think, ah, a professional athlete.

Here's Dwyane dressed up as an English country squire --

-- except that no country squire actually puts that much effort into his clothes. (Maybe Dwyane gets a pass on this outfit since it seems to have been GQ, and not himself, who dressed him.)

Here's Dwyane as a college professor.

(He'd definitely be teaching one of the humanities in that outfit.)

Some of these getups are so overdone they graduate from "outfit" to "costume," since they almost seem to be about trying to become a different person.

Dywane sporting yet another bow tie.

Given that he wasn't wearing glasses in any of the other shots, one has to assume that those lenses are accessorial rather than corrective.

His look is actually not all that far from Urkel's:

The recent trend in black fashion toward buttoned up shirts, bow ties, sweaters, and glasses-as-props must have started out as an I'm-so-cool-I-can-get-away-with-dressing-nerdy kind of thing. Then it just sort of morphed into a fashion statement of its own.

And if there's one group that can get away with wearing these types of clothes without coming across nerdy or wimpy, it's pro athletes. They still look foolish, though.

Dwyane making yet another bold statement.

(All I can say is, Dwyane must be extremely confident in his masculinity.)

Dwyane on his way to a game:

It takes a major effort to color coordinate not only your pants, your shirt, and your sweater, but also your shoes, bag, and even earphones. Excess color coordination seems to be a theme among the pros.

And here's one, final shot of Dwyane, ready for work:

(Seriously, who pushes his jacket sleeves up?) And was that watchband custom made to match his suit or was he able to buy it retail?

The basketball player many consider the greatest of all time was Michael Jordan. He seemed to consider himself one of the greatest dressers as well. But he, too, always seemed to be trying too hard:

Jordan, weirdly, always favored big, boxy suits that looked too large for him. The shame of it was that he had a great body for clothes: a lean, muscular 6'5." But the body got lost in those huge outfits, and the effect was always that of a kid wearing his father's clothes.

Here's Michael swimming in yet another suit:

(The all-red motif seems to be a thing among the pro ballers too.)

Michael showing his moves in a topcoat.

Michael in an outfit which looks strangely like a bib:

No matter how outlandish the outfit, Jordan's jackets were always, like his ego, too big. One can't blame him for the ego: he was constantly fawned over wherever he went. His outfits were another matter.

Even his casual look was baggy. Here's Jordan-as-Shaft:

Evidently, when your ego is past the point of no return, you feel that even your clothes should be larger than life.

Other NBA stars have followed suit. Here's Anthony Davis sporting contrasting lapels:

Chris Paul:

The watch is a little too big, the pocket hankie a lot too big, and the color coordination overdone; but at least he's wearing his shades outdoors.

Chauncy Billups, who must be a Michael Jordan fan, in a suit/caftan:

A diamond earring seems to be de rigueur among NBA stars.

Damian Lillard:

DeMarcus Cousins:

DeMarcus seems to be another Urkel fan.

Kevin Durant, making a statement with suit and sneakers and gold chain:

Many NBA players, like modern artists, seem to want to be different merely for the sake of being different.

Dwight Howard:

Nick Young:

(No point in wearing an outfit like that and being sheepish about it.)

Here, for purposes of comparison, is the Joker:

His face is a little jarring, but the loud jacket, boutonniere, bow tie, and garish yellow shirt with two sets of buttons wouldn't be out of place in the NBA.

Another style icon is boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr:

(Contrasting lapels is yet another theme among pro athletes.)

Here's Floyd doing his Guys and Dolls gangster (gangsta?) thing:

Floyd being color coordinated:

Floyd receiving an award:

Are his eyes so sensitive to light he has to wear sunglasses indoors? Or is he just protecting them from the light reflecting off that suit?

And here's Floyd putting on a belt that would look understated with some of the above outfits:

You may be thinking, well, Floyd is a boxer, and it's not really fair to use a boxer as an example of black fashion sense. But, that wasn't always the case.

Here are Muhammad Ali and Wilt Chamberlain in the late 1960's, showing that it is far better to clown around on purpose than be made to look a clown by one's suit.

One of the biggest fashion plates ever was Deion Sanders. At the peak of his earning power, Sanders reportedly spent over four million dollars on suits.

Here's Deion with his (now ex-) wife:

(That has to be one of the few suits that could work at both a casino and a funeral home.)

Neon Deion:

Deion's huge smile always helped. Lebron and Dwyane and Michael take fashion seriously. Deion, too, was a peacock; but he also seemed to also be amused by his clothes, which made him seem -- rightly or wrongly -- to be in on the joke.

Here's Deion wearing the above suit in reverse:

Once again, Deion's smile almost seems to be saying, yeah, I know I look foolish, but this is fun, so what the hell -- you only live once.

Here's Deion making an appearance on Saturday Night Live:

Were this anyone else, I might think he was playing the role of a priest in a skit. But it's Deion, so I'll assume he was just delivering the monologue.

Deion in an uncharacteristically untucked in moment:

Or maybe that's just part of the look, it's hard to tell.

Deion-as-traffic cone:

And Deion demonstrating, yet again, that he knows how to enjoy life far, far better than you or I:

After the early 1960's, the gradual shift in black fashion sense away from traditional white styles seemed to parallel the shift in black names. At around the same time blacks adopted dashikis and let their hair grow into Afros and (a few) started wearing 1970's pimp style outfits with gaudy jewelry, more names like Dontay and Jamal and Antwan started to appear as well.

It was all part of a calculated effort to differentiate themselves from stodgy old white standards. It's understandable, although from the outside looking in, it seems misguided.

The dashikis and Afros have long since departed, but the pro athletes still have their own sense of style. These days, it seems to consist of taking traditional white clothing and making it flashier. So they add touches that, in the end, make them look silly to most of us.

But after you look at enough of these pictures, the realization sinks in that they would actually feel foolish wearing a regular, boring old white guy's suit. Their teammates might even mock them for doing so.

A lot of whites don't realize that Urkel, and the Carlton Banks character on Fresh Prince of Bel Air, weren't just about being nerdy. They were about making fun of whites -- and of blacks who wholeheartedly bought into white fashions and aspirations.

Also, what do you expect these pro athletes to do with their spare time and obscene disposable incomes? Read the New Yorker? No, they're going to go shopping for clothes to adorn themselves with. (In a way, their mentality is similar to that of rich, spoiled housewives.)

And, as with those housewives, the adorning inevitably turns into a sort of competition, resulting in ever more outrageous styles.

Of course, fashion, like beauty, is subjective. So, passing judgment -- as I've just done -- is equally silly.

But whatever your taste, anyone who pays too much attention to his clothes ends up looking foppish.

You'll never see a twittier-looking bunch of guys than in the Style section of the NY Times any Sunday. (Weirdly, the men most attracted to overdressing seem to be either whites at the effeminate end of the spectrum or blacks at the masculine end.)

Anyway, Lebron can dominate on the court, and when he does, he looks rugged and masterful. But when his clothes call attention to themselves, he looks foolish -- in a peculiarly black pro athlete sort of way.


Anonymous said...

English country squires don't dress like that. The hat/cap is what a working man would wear - the rest of the get up (though far too tight fitting) is fairly close, but a squire would tie his tie properly. The get up makes him look more like John Wayne in the Quiet Man:

John Craig said...

Anon --
Okay, you're obviously better informed than me. I concede that one.

But it's still what an american would IMAGINE an English country squire to dress like.

Bsrealm said...

T The ultimate Englishman is Edward fox in day of the jackal.... Or end fox in anything
Very very good looking guy in a rugged resembles Frederick Forsyth kind of way. For once I think the author imagining himself as a hero is accurate. Forsyth was a great pilot a hell raiser womaniser and for a while ran guns in Africa. Old school Englishman.

Today's Englishman is Harry styles. Google him and weep.

John Craig said...

Bsrealm --
Frederick Forsyth is one of my all time top three or four heroes. I wrote about him here:

Not as crazy about Edward Fox, though I agree he does look very English.

Anonymous said...

Walt Frazier looks like a pimp in the outfit that he's wearing.


Steven said...

I like Floyd's fashions sense...sometimes. He has a cool sense of style but he definitely overdoes it. Sometimes he overdoes it to the point of looking ridiculous. Its like a way of projecting confidence and status, or something.

Its not all about suits though. I like the more casual jackets and t-shirts. Your source is correct. You can take tips but you've got to really reign it in and make it look more basic.

Black people generally pull off flamboyance more naturally and authentically. They seem more naturally extroverted and vibrant and it would seem inauthentic and showy on most white people. Animals such as birds from the tropics are usually brighter and more colourful. Its the sun and the energy. Maybe its something to do with that.

I think after the 60's and civil rights, black people probably felt more independent and confident to express themselves. Before that, they probably subconsciously needed to ingratiate themselves or not stand out too much.

John Craig said...

Steven --
That's a great analogy with animals from the tropics, and it rings true.

Steven said...

I also notice there are more large insects in the topics... I guess there is more energy in the system.

This post must have taken a lot of research!

John Craig said...

Steven --
I don't think I could honestly call it "research," it was more just Google-Imaging. It was actually sort of fun to write, though it did take more time than I like to spend on a post.

Rifleman said...

As goofy as these guys look on a computer screen imagine 6'6"+ in person in these outfits! Must look like giant clowns.

Michael Jordan in the leather blazer with the acid wash Mom Jeans! LOL.

Not showy just wrong.

On the other extreme from this are White guys dressing like retarded slobs and adult age children. Trying way too hard versus not making any effort at all.

John Craig said...

Rifleman --
Good point -- I'm sure the black athletes laugh at the white athletes for looking like such slobs.

And yes, the actual Shaft wouldn't have been caught dead in those jeans.

bluffcreek1967 said...

A very insightful post John! I've maintained for a long time now that blacks seriously lack fashion sense. I know I'm generalizing here, but I've seen it too many times. There's nothing subdued about what they wear. They go out of their way to be noticed and they often do it through mis-matched clothing and wearing too much 'bling.' They are gaudy and flashy, and they seem to have little sense of the concept that 'less is more.'

They will frequently wear the most outlandish suits, and then parade around like a peacock completely oblivious to how ridiculous they look. Most people are kind enough to not say anything (or just fearful that they might get attacked!), but a good many of them I'm sure privately snicker and laugh at such odd sights.

I see it as blacks mimicking the fashion sense of whites (although, admittedly, many whites too have poor fashion sense), but because so much of what they say and do is over-the-top, it carries over into their choice of attire. Go to any black church, and you'll see the most ridiculous outfits that screams, "Hey everyone, look at me!"

John Craig said...

Ambrose --
Thank you. I basically agree with everything you say, but after looking at enough of these pictures, I actually found myself being -- believe it or not -- a little more sympathetic to their sense of style than I had been. Yes, they're gaudy and over the top and look foolish to our eyes. But once you see enough of these outfits, the realization sinks in that for us to be judging them by our standards is also a little unfair. They look ridiculous by our standards, but in the end, they have their own standards, which are far more colorful and ebullient and really, celebratory. And by their standards, we look like drab little birds. They're peacocks, and we're peahens, and in their minds, there's no question as to which it's preferable to be.

By the time I was finished writing this post, I found myself still critical of some of these guys for simply paying too much attention to fashion, but a little less so for the outrageous styles.

Anonymous said...

Just four words to add to the subject,.... Don Cherry, and Barry Melrose.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Just Googled them to find out who they were. Yes, Cherry is outrageous, though he seems to be doing it as sort of a joke. Melrose dresses more like a typical NBA athlete in terms of his suits and voice of colors, though he doesn't seem to have all the accoutrements (diamond earrings, indoor sunglasses, pocket hankies, etc).

High Arka said...

Remember the context of all of this, too. These guys are, generally speaking, coming from poor backgrounds and suddenly having a lot of money to spend. In that sense, they're like any other nouveau riche: easy prey for snake oil salesmen. If a skilled salesman gets his hands on someone inexperienced, it's easy to make them feel inwardly nervous, out-of-place, and embarrassed, and convince them to blow a lot of money on pointless crap.

Fast, flashy, stupidly impractical (and uncomfortable) cars, and flashy, ugly clothes are part of it. But so many of these other suddenly-rich athletes fall prey to a lot of worse things. Spending $4 million on clothes is certainly a big heist perpetrated by some enterprising tailor. But imagine what happens when LeBron goes to his financial advisors: he ends up getting sold a bunch of specialty bonds, high-fee mutual funds, annuities, etc., which are flashy and expensive, but which really have the purpose (like the clothing) of extracting high fees from a money-newbie and transferring them to a parasitic class of salesmen.

Think about all of those jackals descending on the poor, stupid athletes...guys selling fine watches, guys selling luxury cars, guys selling convoluted mansions, guys selling custom stereo equipment and hot tubs, guys selling clever financial products...

John Craig said...

High Arka--
What these guys do actually has a slightly different flavor than what the nouveau riche usually do. With the athletes, it's more about showing off to each other; it's not about trying to fit in with the traditional upper class of this society and doing a lousy job of it. I think LeBron and Dwyane and company couldn't care less about fitting in with, say, the traditional East Coast WASPy establishment types, or with the Jewish people at the top of the power structure on Wall Street or in the media. These guys just want to have fun, not put on airs.

What does them in is not the purchase of bonds or mutual funds (I'm not sure how a mutual fund can be "flashy"). What does them in are, most of all, all of their hangers on: their relatives and former friends from the 'hood who have their hands out (and who recommend investing in a nightclub or the like). It's the women who try to get pregnant by them so that they can get child support payments which they themselves then live off of. And it's the hard partying lifestyle, where they can spend thousands in a single night buying expensive champagne and tipping strippers. It's also the purchase of fancy cars (plural) and homes.

I agree that they have a lot of jackals descend on them. But it's more the personal managers who just out and out steal their money through embezzlement and false expenses (think Don King), not ordinary stockbrokers or car salesmen (I don't think car salesmen can just jack up the price of a car or the add ons much beyond their retail value anyway, their dealerships wouldn't allow them to do that). And the relative and old friends. Most of these athletes would e a lot better off if they bought a portfolio of bonds and mutual funds.

Real estate tends to be a sleazier business, I grant you. But if you ask Mike Tyson these days who he resents most, his answer would probably be Don King and Robin Givens, not the various car salesmen he encountered along the way. (He also evidently hates Desiree Washington.)

High Arka said...

That's the brilliance of the best kind of salesmen: they leave the victim feeling as though the transaction were positive, even after the money is gone and the product has worn out. The most powerful salesmen have constructed vast cultural edifices to convince people of the value of their worthless products. Ergo Tyson is mad at Don King for honest embezzlement, but not at the many luxury import dealers he's visited--because Don King doesn't have magazines news programs, and fan clubs devoted exclusively to embezzlement (as opposed to exotic cars, watches, shoes, etc.).

You seem to have had the fortune of not interacting with a lot of "luxury products" salespeople. Artwork, footwear, cigars, vehicles, and financial products can all be made to appear flashy, and in really convincing ways; particularly to people, like pro athletes, who don't understand the true nature of the elite signaling that occurs between "establishment types." (And God bless you for that!)

In fact, you might even say that tailors and managers guide ignorant new multimillionaires into such bad ideas on purpose, in order to produce peacocking effects to allow the establishment to more easily differentiate between themselves, and those who are only meant to be wealthy for a generation or two.

John Craig said...

High Arka --
I agree that a good salesman will leave you feeling good about your purchase as you walk out the door. And I agree about the worthlessness of various cultural edifices. But I don't think most salesmen have quite the power that you ascribe to them.

I've stayed away from (and couldn't afford) artwork, and have no desire for fancy footwear or cigars. But I have dealt with luxury car salesmen (I've had one fancy car in my life, which I bought 14 years ago, still have, and plan to have for another 6 or 10 years). I never felt manipulated by those salesmen, to be honest; those cars pretty much sell themselves. The only car salesman I ever found manipulative was the one who sold me my Toyota Corolla in 1996.

I also used to work for a firm which peddled financial products (though I wasn't a salesman). Trust me, those financial products were never perceived as "flashy." Some were arcane, but the people who bought the more arcane product were generally sophisticated investors. Money itself is sexy, but individual stocks and bonds themselves are not boast worthy, at least until after the fact ("I made a killing on…."). And all of the salesmen in my department were pretty staid, straightforward types who had surprisingly little pizzazz. There were a few who proved untrustworthy, but most were okay. Surprisingly, the sociopaths tended to be more on the trading side.

I've dealt with tailors, too, and none that I've met have ever had social engineering in mind. If they were that sophisticated, I doubt they'd be tailors. (They do try to promote snob appeal, though, I grant you that.)

And a manager's primary concern is how he can extract the most in fees from his client. Generally, this takes the form of seeing that the client is as successful as possible. I've known a couple, and both were very concerned with keeping their client happy, so that they could keep their jobs. I agree, though, that those with clients whose career spans are shorter-lived (as with pro athletes) would have less concern for their clients' long-term satisfaction and more concern with milking them in the short term.

Steven said...

I just saw this and thought it wouldn't look out of place in this article:

John Craig said...

Steven --
I've never heard of Gilbert O'Sullivan; at first I thought it was Howard Stern. He does look like a dandy though.

Steven said...

Irish singer songwriter who was pretty famous in about the 70's. I guess he never made it in the states. He used dress like a schoolboy.

Which makes me wonder which famous British artists that we take for granted as part of popular culture don't you know about as an American? There must be quite a lot.

btw have you ever noticed, the worlds biggest bands are British while the biggest solo artists are American?

John Craig said...

Steven --
Aha, thank you.

Actually, that had never occurred to me, but it's a good observation. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, Eric Burden and the Animals, the Kinks, Queen, theDave Clark Five (I know, I'm really dating myself), U2, Although, back in the day, the US had plenty of bands as well (the Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, Cream (mostly American), the Grateful Dead, the Doors, Creedence Clearwater, etc.

Steven said...

If you look at the best selling artists of all time (verified sales), 5 of the top 6 bands are British while 5 of the top 6 solo artists are American.

Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd are British bands in the top 6 you never mentioned. The best selling ever American bands are The Eagles and Aerosmith.

Elton John is the one British solo artists in the top 6.

Right now, amongst the young ones, the biggest band is One Direction (British).

John Craig said...

Steven --
Ah, Led Zeppelin and PInk Floyd, I had forgotten. And the Eagles and Aerosmith. My knowledge of pop music basically peters out after the 70's. One Direction is just a name to me, I couldn't name a single one of their songs.

Steven said...

Neither could I. They're a manufactured pop band for teenage girls. There is very little chance that their music is good.

Anonymous said...

I think some of these guys actually look pretty good, even in some of the more ridiculous outfits. Plus, it's not as if they are dressing for the office, they are dressing to get attention from the paparazzi, the Hos, and their rivals and fans. And I'll bet more than a few were being paid to wear that stuff. Most are high testosterone, high ego, preening peacocks. So if you've got it, why not flaunt it, particularly if a few extra bucks come your way.

John Craig said...

Anon --
That's a good point about them not dressing for the office. And I agree, they do look sharp -- IN THEIR OWN WAY. Which is to say, they seem to have taken some of those fashion show outfits seriously.

But that aside, I don't disagree with anything you said.

MarieCurie said...

"Never Matures. Attracted to Superficial Signs of Beauty and Strength: Very into physical appearance..."

Oops, John, this isn't you, right? (Noticing/writing about other folks' appearances... jk :-)

John Craig said...

MarieCurie --
OK, you've caught me; I just write about sociopathy in order to hide my own….

I actually disagree with that as a criterion for sociopathy: EVERYBODY is attracted to signs of beauty and strength, if not quite in the exclusive way that sociopaths are.