I used to ignore the Fashion Week hype every year.
I usually pick up on fads as soon as they are visible in department stores, but I never really cared to know the second new style is introduced by designers. However, each year the Fashion Week news coverage I see teaches me little bit more about the fashion industry’s stances on body image issues, and its contribution to molding the way society sees beauty and gender.
This year, Dior made news for turning its runway into a feminist celebration, a seemingly positive step toward a more socially progressive fashion industry. But then, I read about how players from Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) have been trying to break into the fashion world for years now, to no avail.
Like many athletes and entertainers, WNBA players want to represent designer brands and start their own personal clothing lines. It makes a lot of sense—male basketball players make millions of dollars through these very ventures. Why wouldn’t the women want to follow suit, especially when runways market women’s beauty and clothing trends so heavily?
Until recently, women’s basketball players have generally strayed away from “high-fashion” trends that make them stand out. The reason for this is fairly straightforward: women are still constantly trying to prove themselves as athletes, even when they reach an elite level, while men can let their game performance do the talking.
It’s certainly easier for male athletes achieve multi-million dollar celebrity status, if only because sports networks respect and give money and coverage to men’s sports at a much higher rate than they do for women. As a result, people know the faces of these athletes, and paparazzi flock to them as if they were movie stars. If you’re an sports fanatic, you can find several minutes of video to watch your favorite team players strut from the team bus to the locker room. You will find the majority of them are expressionless, donning designer suits, dark sunglasses, and Beats headphones.
How would the media treat women’s basketball teams that treated the world like their personal catwalk? We have all heard the labels that are given almost exclusively to women in the spotlight.
Divas. Drama queens. Spoiled. Materialistic. Attention whores.
That’s really where the double standard comes in. LeBron James has effortlessly shifted between his roles as athlete, actor, clothing designer, and model over the past several years. Despite making multiple self-promotion efforts and business efforts off-court, his name has never been eliminated from debates about who is the greatest basketball player of all time.
This era of the athlete-celebrity, the one that thrusts football players in the center of Hollywood Met Gala gossip, has really been more welcoming to men in professional sports without compromising their day job. On the other hand, a woman who steps out of the bounds of her athlete persona risks losing her credibility as an athlete.
Imagine, for example, if a WNBA player conducted herself like Dennis Rodman did during the height of his career? Or if she showed up to press conferences dressed as eccentrically as Russell Westbrook? Or starred in a movie? Reporters wouldn’t just make a few fun comments and move on to talking about the game. They would take her appearance as license to ask about her personal life, beauty routine, and other irrelevant questions.
So she keeps focus on the game. She stays professional. She tries to spread her influence in other industries, like her male counterparts, but she just can’t strike the same million dollar deals.
Fashion designers should be falling all over themselves to dress up a tall, toned sports star like Skylar Diggins, for instance, but they are too busy placing male athletes front and center on Vogue magazine.
The role of traditional male and female sexuality may also be at play here. Fashion designers really only promote one type of body ideal to both men and women, and they may just still be unwilling to break away from the norm of frail, delicate women in their clothes. Male athletes, however, are ideal male models, exuding stereotypical hypermasculinity that is encased in a wide frame and well-defined muscle.
So NBA players can be fashionistas because they’ve already proved their machismo to the world, but women in sports are not feminine enough to play the Fashion Week game like the boys. This consistent exclusion of female athletes from the fashion scene calls into question whether feminism is a goal that runway designers are truly striving for, or if it’s just another passing fad.