A New Era of Athlete Fashion

The 2024 NFL Draft went down last night in glamorous Detroit, Michigan. As expected, USC quarterback Caleb Williams went to the Chicago Bears as the number one pick. 

It was interesting to see as much chatter online about the zippered Chrome Hearts suit he wore as the nail polish he didn’t. 

The Washington, D.C. native drew headlines earlier this year for his manicure game, and it threw an inordinate amount of people for a loop. To me, it was just another Gen Z student athlete expressing himself through style without fear of criticism…from fans his own age, at least.

RELATED: Duke’s Jared McCain is Paving a New Style Path for Athletes

Us millennials (and older) still have some catching up to do.

I covered the draft for a few years before the league realized I had no idea who anyone was, and it was always fun seeing what these men on the precipice of fame and fortune wore on their big night. What looks made them feel like a million bucks.

Some would play it safe with a conservative suit and tie, while others wore looks that can best be described as eye-catching

Would they wear the same thing today? Probably not, and that’s exactly as it should be. What you felt awesome in at twenty years old is probably not the same outfit that would make you do finger guns in the mirror today. You just forget because your frat formal wasn’t broadcast simultaneously on ABC, ESPN and the NFL Network.

newly drafted Caleb Williams smiling with his eyes closed and fists balled up in a navy zippered suit as a man behind him sits and smiles at himnewly drafted Caleb Williams smiling with his eyes closed and fists balled up in a navy zippered suit as a man behind him sits and smiles at him
image: @nfl

I asked Kyle Smith, who heads up fashion for the NFL (a role he created), about the evolution of player style in the league, and how he sees it continuing to change in years to come. 

“We have our avid fans on lock,” he told me. “So how can we speak to Gen Z, women, the queer community? 

His plan? A “helmet-off strategy” that includes providing players with the resources they need to leverage their personal brand off the field. If they want to feel better about their tunnel ‘fits? Smith can help with that. If they want to go to the Met Gala? Smith can help with that. 

While he doesn’t put stock in “best dressed” lists — probably for the best, as every NFL athlete in this year’s SG Madness was knocked out in the first round — he cited a few players as setting the standard for having fun with their fashion, including Stefon Diggs, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Travis Kelce

These players consistently use fashion to express who they are and what they stand for. Cleveland Browns linebacker Owusu-Koramoah, for example, often highlights his African heritage with his outfits.

As more men feel comfortable caring about how they dress, the better it will be for the league, and for the fans its players inspire. And for football to remain culturally relevant to Gen Z and Alpha, it will be the athletes willing to push fashion boundaries who they connect with.

Personally, I’m excited to see what Williams and the rest of this 2024 rookie class bring to the table, whether they’re walking a red carpet or into a game. At the very least, hopefully they’ll inspire more guys to take better care of their cuticles.

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