WNBA players are the next big fashion icons, styled in Dior and streetwear for events and photographed in trending pregame outfits
- Women’s National Basketball Association players, from Sue Bird to Candace Parker to Kelsey Plum, regularly top social media feeds for what they wear
- Their statement pieces, bright colours and streetwear are a sign of how far the WNBA’s fashion scene (traditionally feminine and heteronormative) has come
Clothes blanket Jewell Loyd’s king-size hotel bed. Black trousers, charcoal trousers, striped shorts, a long white jacket that looks like a high-fashion lab coat next to a light grey zip-up. A white, short-sleeved button down top decorated with red poppy flowers screams in the centre.
“What are we feeling?” stylist Sydney Bordonaro asks Loyd, a professional basketball player.
On any given day, Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) players can offer a wide array of answers to the simple question. They’re feeling cosy. Sometimes swaggy. Other times sexy.
The Seattle guard walked the orange carpet in her prized sneakers on July 8 as the WNBA gathered in the US city of Chicago for All-Star weekend. The league’s brightest stars showed off their best looks. All-Star team captain A’ja Wilson stunned in black leather shorts and thigh-high boots. Candace Parker, welcoming the midseason event to her hometown, rocked an olive green silk suit.
Simply put: “Fly is fly,” Bordonaro says.
The change that brought the WNBA to the top of fashion-savvy social media feeds is “like night and day”, Seattle point guard Sue Bird says.
The 21-year veteran remembered a “limiting” dress code that was lifted almost verbatim from the NBA when the top men’s league was trying to replace streetwear with suits on the sideline. Similar to the NBA’s strict guidelines, WNBA players were discouraged from wearing T-shirts and jeans – the league wanted collared or button-down shirts.
The primary fashion rule for WNBA players now is no hats or bandanas on the sideline. Everything else is fair game.
“That’s how it should be,” says Loyd, a four-time All-Star. “Everyone should be able to be comfortable in their own bodies, feel comfortable in what they wear and they shouldn’t have to explain themselves.”
Popular social media feeds like League Fits, ProTrending or GQ Sports highlight WNBA players walking into games wearing ensembles that go between masculine and feminine or casual to dressy.
Celebrating the league’s diversity through fashion is “low-key part of being a role model”, Bird says. “[It’s] showcasing different parts of yourself so little kids can see that and maybe see themselves in somebody.”
Bird has stepped up her tunnel game this year by working with stylist Courtney Mays, the fashion mastermind behind the looks of NBA players Chris Paul, Kevin Love and DeAndre Jordan.
The stylists of the WNBA are a blend of fashion gurus, personal shoppers and psychologists. Before clothes come into play, stylists study a client’s personality. Are they bold enough for bright colours? What about chopping the sleeves off a shirt?
“You get into their minds and you understand them,” says McLeod, who styled Parker’s orange carpet look that included a unique cut-out in the back of the jacket. “I don’t take them out of their element because what they’re known for is playing. I just elevate that with fashion.”
Chanel Robinson-Hill immediately clicked with Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale after she messaged the part-time stylist and full-time bioprocessing engineer on Instagram. Robinson-Hill styled Ogunbowale for her high school jersey retirement ceremony last year.
To capture the moment, Robinson-Hill chose a hoodie with the iconic 1991 photo of basketball player Michael Jordan clutching the Larry O’Brien Trophy after winning his first NBA championship, a nod to Ogunbowale winning her high school’s first Wisconsin Division I state title.
“When you wear this piece, I want everyone else to understand this is how you felt without saying a word,” says Robinson-Hill, who styled Ogunbowale in a two-piece suit for the orange carpet event on July 8.
Robinson-Hill scours the internet to find unique pieces for Ogunbowale. With players travelling almost nonstop, working with a stylist makes life simpler for fashion-savvy, but time-crunched pro ballers.
Loyd doesn’t like shopping and would often buy online, but when something inevitably didn’t fit, she didn’t have time to return it. Bordonaro takes care of it all now.
The LA-based stylist who works with players from Seattle to New York searches for pieces online and in person, gets them sent to her clients’ homes, delivers them by hand or even overnights packages to different hotels while players are on the road.
To finalise Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum’s All-Star outfit, Bordonaro drove to Las Vegas with a trunk full of clothes and spent the day with the former No 1 overall pick, who walked the orange carpet in a crisp white blazer, white bodysuit and beige pants.
Plum says she naturally lacks style, but wanted to “come with a little bit more oomph”. She enlisted Bordonaro, whom she met through mutual friends.
Plum’s “personality is just through the roof, but she never really dressed like it”, Bordonaro says. “So it’s like, all right, let’s just dress how you feel.”
Plum is spunky, but structured. She wants everything neat and clean-cut. Although they’ve grown close, Bordonaro and Plum sometimes disagree over outfits. The 25-year-old stylist who often wears her long blonde hair in buns on top of her head loves bright colours. Plum would live in all black if she could. She hates pink.
Yet after some lighthearted argument, Plum carried a fuzzy pink purse into an arena last month to complete an outfit of loose black trousers, a grey John Geiger T-shirt and white sneakers. The internet loved it.
“I never thought I would say this,” Plum says, “but you feel good, you play good.”
Bordonaro never intended to start a styling empire. The Pittsburgh native aimed to work in marketing and become a sports agent after earning her master’s degree in sports management. Yet styling athletes has shown her it can be a one-stop resource for fashion, marketing and branding.
She hopes opening Plum’s wardrobe, along with the guard’s blossoming play, will help turn her into one of the most popular professional athletes in the world.
“The clothes are just a platform really for them to show who they are, what they’re about,” Bordonaro says, “and then just expand into marketing.”
As her business grows, Bordonaro hopes to secure more deals with brands to support her clients with not only free products but payment for social media posts. Sponsored posts can earn thousands of dollars based on an athlete’s online following.
“A James [Harden], he just wears it, he doesn’t want to tag [on social media], he don’t want to do anything and brands are like, ‘Oh my God, I gotta send him more’,” McLeod says. “For us, women especially, we go the extra mile, and I think it’s very important also to set the blueprint for other years to come that they don’t gotta work so hard.”
Among the armfuls of clothes Bordonaro brings to Loyd’s hotel room during their initial All-Star Game fitting was a suitcase of gifted items. After they finish planning Loyd’s All-Star outfit, they open the swag bag to find T-shirts from John Geiger, brightly coloured Bristol Studios shorts and sweatpants from Seattle-based Sky Blue. Loyd won’t have to shop for the rest of the year.
An oversized Styxx tan hoodie catches Loyd’s eye. As Bordonaro starts organising the fashion tornado, she asks what Loyd wanted to pack with her now and what could wait. The Seattle guard motions towards the heavy sweatshirt.
She’s feeling that one.