It is quite a confusing idea that the sports star is now also a stylist by default. Shortly after the Versace moment, I cut off some of Chance Bateman’s dreadlocks and had them sewn into my own hair. It’s a fact that, when revisited now, makes me baulk a little and step instinctively toward the
shower, but at the time it seemed edgy, maybe even expressive.
The reason for doing a thing so explicitly desperate was probably to duck mainline trends in the hope of being cool by way of being «other». What a mess.
It is my recollection that Trent considered the dreadlock move unseemly, and it’s possible that he
was right all along, and that I would have been better served by more Versace, at least in the sense of the motto he regaled us with an abbreviated form of NFL player Deion Sanders’ dictum: «Look good, feel good, play good.»
To me it is a source of humour that an AFL player should try to align himself with American sports trends, the latest of which is self-marketing via high fashion. In the US this approaches haute couture, the type of almost unwearable stylings displayed by LeBron James that would, if displayed in some suburbs of Melbourne, still see a person robbed or beaten senseless.
One of the most hollow ideas ever conceived is to marry sports stars with high fashion and then
pass it off as self-expression. This, you find, is a new economy in sport, one long Instagram
advertisement disguised as self-love, or empathy for everything. Although it’s an obvious point to
make, it’s a somewhat pitiful and depressing thing to notice, since it is essentially dishonest, and boring.
This week the AFL tried on another of its borrowed American obsessions by suggesting the AFLX men parade their fashion choices en route to matches in the manner of American stars. It’s not a theory; it’s on their website. «The players have been encouraged to express themselves … in the manner of their American counterparts», etc.
When used as marketing, self-expression is a loathsome idea. What you get when you tell someone to express himself is usually not worth hearing, or seeing, and can produce the mild nausea one now associates with all native advertising.
Naturally, fashion in sport is mostly the same as it is elsewhere, as much about status as style, or
what even the NBA’s Russell Westbrook refers to as «self-expression». Westbrook, a glorious
athlete, has even produced a book related to his fashion life.
«Basketball is the axis that allows me to do things,» Westbrook told Time magazine. «I really love that they’re both different ways to express yourself. Basketball is one way, as is what you wear.»
Despite Westbrook’s passion for style, it’s hard not to notice the ease with which already famous people adopt someone else’s design and claim it as self-expression. And it is harder still to understand how the boys from Colac and Tasmania should lean on Westbrook for hints on self-expression via fashion, given his style is informed not only by the distorted life of a multimillionaire but also by his African-American heritage and culture.
Fifteen years ago there was a player of genuine style at Collingwood named Luke Mullins, who was ridiculed by his teammates for wearing no socks with his club suit, though admittedly it was because he’d failed to buy socks rather than present his ankles as a deliberate act of fashion.
Still, it is laughable to think of his teammates today at Flemington Racecourse, tanning their ankles beneath the pant line with confidence.
Scrolling the American sports medium, it is now hard to find a pair of socks on a sports star in a suit anywhere. The whole concept gave me pause to open my own wardrobe, momentarily, and imagine how I might in Trent’s absence express myself today if I were on the way to Marvel Stadium.
Upon first glance there was an alarming array of ashen greys, a kind of catalogue of apocalyptic camouflage. How many grey T-shirts does a man need to express himself? Whatever happened to
Versace, and Chance Bateman’s dreadlocks?
It is quite possible that sport makes unfair suggestions to a player about how stylish he is, and that when sport is gone the truth about his style moves in again.
Timothy Boyle is a sports columnist with The Sunday Age