As a Brit, I’m accustomed to footballers entering the stadium on game day wearing dad-friendly, tailored suits. It’s a uniform that screams business; the kind of look that, while smart, crushes any scope for individuality. For a lot of fans, particularly those of an old-school disposition, that’s how it should be. These players aren’t representing themselves, they’re representing the club – and the club is more important than life itself. It demands a certain kind of sartorial conservatism.
That kind of thinking is probably why I find the pop culture phenomenon that is the NBA “concrete runway” to be such a bizarre spectacle. It’s sporting bombast that only America could dream up, taking a seemingly nothing-aspect of game day and turning it into (literal) red carpet entertainment ripe for monetizing. Once a bit of frivolous fun prior to the main event, these days it’s big business. Sponsored galleries of the best walk-in looks appear on the team’s Instagram galleries, while designers from all walks bid to get their clothing on the backs of the players, who have now become metaphorical mannequins. It’s all very serious.
Despite all this, a lot of the style is still terrible.
Without being overly cynical, it’s no bad thing that these athletes – a lot of whom, let’s remember, have probably lived in performance for most of their young lives – get to project another side of their personality through clothing. “Beyond the sponsorships, the collaborations, and the investments, basketball players come to fashion as many do: as a form of self-expression,” wrote Esquire. Who would deny them that?
But ironically, it’s self-expression that so many other players are bereft of. For every interesting look – and there are many who do it well – there seems to be an obsession with poorly executed streetwear and designer brands. Rather than a “concrete runway,” it’s often like an echo chamber of bad taste; a gaudy procession of hype, where originality scarcely exists. In 2019, does a multi-millionaire kitted out in all Off-White™ really say anything to anyone? If the answer’s yes, then perhaps it’s time for us to reevaluate what “cool” actually means. For me, a group of basketballers in (give or take) the same designer clothing is just as bland as a group of footballers in the exact same suits.
Some have gone as far as to label basketball players “the new tastemakers” and “style icons,” but any rich person can step out holding a $41,000 bag. Knowing fashion and understanding style are two different things, and a lot of these guys seem to flounder when it comes to the latter. How many pairs of unflattering jeans have you seen recently? Or weirdly cropped chinos? Don’t even get me started on the egregious color-blocking and bad trainers…
In the same Esquire interview quoted above, a notable fashion stylist and visual architect (I’ve no idea either) reveals that most player outfits are decided weeks, if not months, in advance. In the Instagram age, if a person doesn’t get a fit off on their feed then they apparently don’t get a fit off at all – perhaps that’s one of the reasons celebrity style is often so bad. A lot of it feels forced to the point of false, where looks are telegraphed to chase clicks on social media rather than convey anything deeper about the person wearing them.
This is also why logomania exploded, and why wildcard athletes who cultivated their own unique aesthetic – the Dennis Rodmans and Andre Agassis of this world – still resonate as style icons to this day. Give me an electric green hairdo or a pair of hot pink cycling shorts over any Off-White™ x Nike shoe. Personal spontaneity trumps any kind of look that’s been put together in a board room. Especially one that screams trying too hard.
Who knows – maybe this is all a bit “old man yells at cloud,” but there’s an artificiality about the NBA runway craze that’s a bit depressing. It’s nice to see these guys embrace fashion, sure, but wearing expensive clothes that you didn’t even pick out yourself doesn’t equal good style. The “concrete runway” is many things, but let’s not pretend it’s the new Fashion Week just yet.