c.2012 New York Times News Service

c.2012 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — Few NFL locker rooms actually have runway stages or red carpets — the New York Giants' is mostly blue — but with professional athletes becoming more attuned to personal style, the 20 minutes after each game increasingly feels less like a hospital waiting room and more like something out of Fashion Week in Manhattan.

This culture of couture is not unexpected. During the three hours football players spend on TV every week actually playing, they are subject to a litany of strict equipment rules, making it look like they were just plucked off an assembly line. The NFL even employs inspectors at each game site to be sure each player complies with the code. Want to wear black socks? Sorry. White only, please. And make sure they are pulled up to just the right height.

After the game, though, the players can break out stylistically. Not surprisingly, choices around the league run a wide gamut. There are hats and handkerchiefs. There are fedoras and the occasional fur coat. There are pinstripes, penny loafers and many types of man purses.

"We don't get a lot of time where we're not in our uniforms and people are looking at us," Giants receiver Victor Cruz said. "So if you get those few minutes, you want to show people that you have an identity."

Cruz is among the many who take those opportunities for personal expression seriously. To help him with his fashion statements, Cruz — who started his own casual clothing line known as Young Whales — works with a stylist, Rachel Johnson, who counts NBA stars LeBron James, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Paul among her celebrity clients.

Johnson consults with Cruz on what he likes to wear and helps put together an ensemble that represents that vision. After the Giants routed the Carolina Panthers two weeks ago, Cruz wheeled his suitcase out of the locker room while wearing a natty khaki suit from the Calvin Klein collection.

"With gentlemen, it's all about the little things," Johnson said in a telephone interview, noting Cruz's recent penchant for boutonnieres. "Everyone is wearing a shirt and pants and jacket. That's a given. But the adornments are a big part of what give a gentleman his signature."

Options are varied. Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III established that socks were his calling card when he wore Superman hose to the Heisman Trophy ceremony last year. New England's Tom Brady, who is married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen and is often cited as one of the best dressers in the league, has been known to integrate scarves into his wardrobe when the weather turns cold.

Giants tight end Martellus Bennett has such an affinity for fedoras that he will occasionally don them on practice days even if he is just wearing sweatpants to run over to the team facility.

"He takes longer than me to get ready," Bennett's wife, Siggi, said recently as Bennett nodded proudly.

"My hats are the kind where if I leave them somewhere, no one ever says, 'Oh, whose hat is that?'" Bennett added. "They just know."

Of course, not all players embrace this aspect of their existence. Quarterback Eli Manning said he generally asked his wife to help him figure out what to wear and did not spend too much time on his wardrobe, although he admitted, "if we're playing a night game or something, I might make more of an effort."

David Baas, who is in his second season as the Giants' center after spending the previous six in San Francisco, said he was so ambivalent about style that he still had the suit he wore during his rookie year.

Baas added that he enjoyed seeing his teammates preen for each other but never felt particularly interested in expanding his sartorial standards.

"I've got a couple of things and I recycle them," he said. "That's how I do it."

Most teams have strict dress codes for road games, when players are traveling through hotels and airports. For the Giants, coach Tom Coughlin requires a coat and tie, as well as black dress socks — a rule former receiver Plaxico Burress learned well during his tenure with the team when he was fined for breaking it.

At home games, the Giants' regulations are slightly more lax but still call for a professional appearance. No ratty T-shirts or flip-flops, and no jeans — a rule the players have tried to get changed constantly over the years to no avail.

"Coach doesn't really get that jeans nowadays can be almost formal and people wear them everywhere,"said guard Chris Snee, who is married to Coughlin's daughter. "When we go out to dinner with them, I always try to wear jeans and a button-down to show him that jeans can be a clean look, too."

Snee shrugged.

''I don't think it's working," he said.


Cornerback Corey Webster was a popular choice among those asked to identify the best-dressed Giants player, and Manning noted that "I'm always looking to see what Webby has on."

Webster's style, which punter Steve Weatherford described as "Southern classy,"included a sharp Louis Vuitton wallet attached to a silver fob following the game against the Panthers.

Weatherford, who often favors trim, European-cut suits, added that he even noticed a few teammates —including defensive tackle Marvin Austin and running back Andre Brown —wearing the lens-less glasses popularized by James and several other NBA players during last spring's playoffs.

Johnson, the stylist who works with James, said that the look developed "organically" and that she did not expect it would become an NFL staple.

Cruz agreed, saying, "some of it was a little iffy."

Both agreed, however, that attention to fashion will likely continue increasing as media coverage and TV exposure of NFL players becomes more widespread. Some observers even draw a parallel between how players dress and how they perform.


Rich Eisen, a host on the NFL Network, said that each Sunday as he and analyst Deion Sanders watch footage of players arriving at stadiums around the country, Sanders noted which players look particularly spiffy.

Sanders, of course, has always been known for his own style, particularly his hats, and Eisen said Sanders did not hesitate to factor in fashion when making his weekly game predictions.

"He believes that guys who dress well know they're going to be getting more airtime at the winner's press conference," Eisen said. "It's not new — if you look good, you play good, right?"