- Want to dress like an NBA player? There's more to the process than you know, as Pistons forward Tobias Harris showed The Crossover.
Among the various subcultures that permeate the NBA, player fashion is quite literally the most visible. What started off as a side effect of David Stern’s controversial dress code has seemingly become part of the game, as the outfits players wear when arriving for work are as heavily analyzed as what they do on the court. (Does tonight’s Russell Westbrook outfit mean he’s angry or happy or going for 80 points?)
As NBA players’ sartorial choices have changed significantly from the days of throwing a sport coat over a dark t-shirt, the amount of effort that goes into curating an outfit for the arena tunnel walk has grown exponentially. The Crossover recently caught up with Pistons forward Tobias Harris and his stylist, Eric White, to get a better sense of what exactly goes on in the fashion sphere of an NBA player.
Harris described himself as someone who was always into clothes growing up, and he began taking his work outfits a little more seriously a few years ago. White used to work in the financial world, but his passion for fashion led him to the NBA, where he works with Harris, Markieff and Marcus Morris, Boban Marjanovic, Jon Leuer and John Henson.
It was actually Henson, Harris’s former teammate in Milwaukee, who introduced White to Harris. The stylist is responsible for the clothes Harris wears to all 82 regular season games, as well as the playoffs and most off-court events. White and Harris are now in their third year working together, and I’m not sure if there’s anyone in my life who I trust as much as Tobias Harris trusts his stylist. Here’s how the sausage gets made.
Of course, outfits don’t just appear out of nowhere. It’s White’s job to make sure that Harris not only looks like himself, but to also make sure that he doesn’t look like anyone else. To find unique looks, White mixes and matches items that he curates from a plethora of sources. White maintains a spreadsheet with over 1,000 Instagram accounts, blogs, websites and articles from which he draws inspiration. His goal is to go through every single one of these resources over the course of a month.
Harris maintains his own level of input, pointing out looks he enjoys to White. Harris prefers clothes that are very fitted to his body, and he’s a big fan of trenchcoats, particularly in the Detroit winters. Armed with Harris’s preferences, White flips through GQ, Esquire, his favorite blogs and Instagram accounts to see what’s trending.
“A lot of stylists go to Barney’s and buy an off-white jacket, but then all six of their guys are wearing the same thing,” White told The Crossover. “I don’t have a single way that I buy clothes. I search all over. I’m not afraid to admit I search all over the Internet. Tobias has a classic man motto, and we try to keep him in that look.”
To help keep Harris in the right frame, White will send him photo streams of outfits so the two can discuss specifics before anything is purchased.
“The biggest thing is being myself and what I want to wear,” Harris said. “I try to go with a business casual look. Games are work for me, so having a business type attitude for going to games is important to me.”
While the most crucial step may be scouring the far reaches of Instagram for unique outfits, the whole process is moot if you can't acquire the clothes. White is very passionate about making sure he doesn’t break the bank when it comes to dressing his players. A lot of base items are found and bought at the same stores where you or I may shop—Gap, Banana Republic, Zara, H&M, or J Crew.
White blanches at the thought of dressing his clients in outfits that cost up to $20,000 before even considering jewelry, watches and shoes. But you won’t see his players in the same H&M sweater you wore to your friend’s birthday party, either. Part of White’s job is to develop relationships with various brands in order to acquire more custom or limited pieces.
“Fashion is more than expensive clothes. I want to give my clients autonomy to dress a certain way. But that’s not who Tobias is,” White said. “Designer things are cool and I get it. If you can get custom made sizes it’s worth it. But I worked in finance, I worked on Wall Street, I consider myself business savvy. Just because they have that money does not mean they have to spend it. I don’t want my guys to come back to me and say my financial situation didn’t work out, and Eric was part of the problem.”
If Harris is going to spend money, it’s usually going to be on shoes. A pair of Yves Saint Laurent shoes that cost $850 or a pair of Christian Louboutins that cost $1200 are among the most expensive pieces in Harris’s closet. (Harris, signed to Nike, also has a large sneaker collection that would make the rest of us quite envious.)
Sizing, of course, is also a big deal. It’s a little bit easier to shop for the 6’8” Harris than it is for the 7’3” Marjanovic. Tops and coats are usually a little bit easier to buy—Harris fits into a Gap large, and also wears some tall sizes—while jeans can be a bit more difficult. Apparently, most stores don’t carry a 38 by 38 pair of pants that sit well on an athletic body.
The research and acquisition phase typically occur about a month before the outfit will be seen by the public. White and Harris plan outfits a month at a time. In early March, White had already begun the process for determining what Harris would wear for every game in April.
The least glamorous part of the process is trying everything on. Once White has everything Harris will wear for the month, the two meet up—usually in Detroit—to spend a day sweating the details of every outfit.
Again, Harris is particular about how clothes rest on his body, so every item must be tried on to ensure success. If anything doesn’t look exactly right, White will run outfits to tailors to provide a custom finish.
White is also unique in that he himself knows how to sew, which means he can take care of some last-second fashion emergencies.
“You don’t get a lot of people who can sew!” White said. “A couple of weeks ago Tobias was running late to shootaround. One of his shirt buttons popped off. He really wanted to wear that shirt. If I didn’t know how to sew we would have been stuck. It’s little nuances like that we always have to be prepared for.”
Gameday is when everyone will finally see the fruits of White and Harris’s labor. Harris said he prefers to keep his best outfits for his job, and you can expect to see clothes that are a little poppier if that night’s game is a little more important.
And it’s not just fans and players who appreciate the hard work that goes into finding the right fit. Among the admirers of Harris’s style is his coach, Stan Van Gundy.
“When I first got here last year, I had a couple of the fedora hats. And [Van Gundy] was like, ‘I really like that hat, where’d you get it from?’” Harris said, “Later on I heard from somebody that one of his kids got him a fedora and he’s been hooked on them since. He’s big on fedora hats. And he knows a good suit. Whenever we roll up somewhere, he knows his suits.”
Can you dress like an NBA player now?
Probably not, says White.
“At the end of the day, there’s nothing like looking like an NBA player, because those guys are out of 99% of everyone’s tax bracket," White said. "Instagram has given a lot of people this false sense of fashion worthiness. You see bloggers wearing Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana and then young people think they have to go out and get it.
"Well, there’s only two people who can do that, athletes and entertainers can do it because they make the money, and bloggers can do it because they’re influencing you to buy it. But when you go out and buy it? You won’t have the money to make rent. So it’s a tough thing. I do a lot of mentoring with people who want to get into fashion, and I just tell them, if you don’t have it, then don’t do it. Find your own style. You don’t have to be like an NBA player.”