The Dress Code Shall Set You Free
Steve Marsh wrote a fantastic piece for GQ about fashion in the NBA these days. Rather than deal solely with the surface (meme-worthy press conferences and vanity glasses), Marsh gets into both the heavy specifics (who styles who; who goes to what fashion shows and why) and the roots of the movement. It’s the latter that makes the most provocative claim: that the dress code, rather than stifle identity politics in the NBA, instead laid the groundwork for a new era of image. Hip-hop wasn’t left in the dust; rather, basketball players undertook the same shift in paradigm that’s come to define Jay-Z or Kanye. Style of dress is shorthand for the way they make their way in the world, both professionally and personally.
Dressing like Iverson was a salute to the “real”; all too often, it was also indicative of an inability to adapt to the demands of the NBA life. The dress code, on paper, was to be the worst kind of assimilation. Instead, it forced players to confront maturity on their own terms. Stern wanted suits? Players discovered couture and the rekindled the grand tradition of looking fly. Stern wanted accountability and respectability? Today, players are more self-aware and serious than ever about their roles as businessmen and power brokers. It’s not just about fighting for the right to wear XXXXXXL. They’ve got bigger fish to fry. Ironically, the dress code may, in the long run, have made NBA players even more troublesome. It was the last stand of one era and, in the message it sent, a clear sign that players needed to start working on a stronger, savvier alternative to what they stood for.