There is not a long history of good NFL Draft suits. Think about Brett Favre’s country boy chic in 1991, sitting on his bed in jean shorts, or Keyshawn Johnson’s 1996 flowy white arrangement. In the last decade, two-tone garnishes were fashionable: Trent Richardson in an awful brown around his lapels in 2012 and Dante Fowler in 2015 with bad lapels and a double bowtie catastrophe stick out. From aggressive, out of touch pinstripes to unusually bland pattern choices, football players are often our gaudiest fashion offenders.
The bar sometimes is in hell. Yet, as the years move on, talent innovates. And at last night’s 2021 NFL Draft, we saw more of the modern flourishes that might turn the event into the red carpet fashion runway the NFL yearns for. Football can be stylish, too. At least, this year’s crop of players are trying to prove that they belong in the conversation. There’s nothing as courageous as LaKeith Stanfield’s titillating Oscars jumpsuit. But, the boys are trying…for the most part. (The less said here about the vaunted class of quarterbacks, most of whom came dressed to kill the local prom, the better.)
Trey Lance, the No. 3 pick this year, told me before the draft he didn’t want to do too much with his look. Basic was fine by him. “I’ve been looking at my suit hanging in my closet for a couple weeks now,” he says. It came with Christian Louboutin loafers, a dazzling Cartier buss down watch and a navy finish on the suit with darker, designed lapels from the bespoke company Pantheon Limited. “It’s nothing too crazy, though. That’s just not really my personality. I saw Jaire Alexander’s suit from a few years ago and he had a red version of this, a little bit different, but I loved it. And I wanted to go with it.”
A great draft suit is all about the flashy accoutrements. Jaylen Waddle’s custom plaid and patchy double-breasted suit (from Brand Williams) was the most unique thing on the red carpet. He mixed a few of his favorite patterns together, along with bedazzled Nike Dunks and an equally loud chain. It was delightful. His ambition for his look was to be cozy and comfortable. “I ain’t gon’ lie,” he told me. “A lot of suits be uncomfortable. I really wanted to make sure I’m comfortable, however long I’m sitting, as long as I’m comfortable, I’m good. I can sit in this thing all night.”
Comfort is one of the north stars of fashion. Who wants to die for a fit? Kwity Paye, the eventual No. 21 pick, was nervously wiping his brow when I talked with him a few hours before draft time. He chose to highlight his own lineage: Born in Guinea, Paye and his family escaped the Liberian War, which claimed the life of one of his family members. They lived as refugees before he starred at Michigan. His look paid homage to his Black pride—and gave a nod to the late Chadwick Boseman with a few subtle Black Panther touches.
Created by former Packers player Adonis Jennings, the garnishes of the suit made it look like it was stitched in Wakanda, with the fictional Marvel country’s lavender and cerulean astral plane lining the inside of the jacket. Jennings had seen Paye imitating the Wakanda Forever salute during his games while he celebrated and wanted to give him something special for his big night. “Growing up, you didn’t see many Black superheroes,” Paye told me. “Once [Chadwick] came onto the scene he gave a lot of young, Black men a superhero who looks like them and someone to look up to. For me, I try to embody that. I continue to do the celebration on the field in respect for [Chadwick].” He also wore a sweet little elephant chain.
But Paye’s neckwear wasn’t the night’s most inspired. Pat Surtain II’s “PS2” inspired chain was a thing of beauty. The No. 9 pick said he was tired of other ‘Bama players stealing the show with their looks. Of course, his salmon Brian Alexander Bespoke suit, with roses printed in the jacket lining, was a royal feat. But the flourishes, from his chain to his Rolex, and diamond earrings from Marc Robinson Jewelers, were the stars of his ensemble. Actually, now that I think about it, most of our conversation was him showing off these gorgeous gemstones.
“It’s a little different look, a little different type of style,” Surtain said. “I was just trying to look a little different, a little classy out there, but still be fresh at the same time.”
Yet the not so quiet rumor around ‘Bama’s campus for months has been about what DeVonta Smith would wear. Surtain, Waddle, Jones and more have told me in the last month that Smith’s fits are the stuff of legend. His mentor, Vincent Sanders, is usually the one who picks out his gameday attire, which often ranges from bright blues to double breasted suits in a rust sheen. And when I saw him last month in Tuscaloosa, he promised he’d bring it for the draft.
Well, we weren’t disappointed. “Anytime I get a chance to put on a suit, I’ma do what I gotta do,” Smith told me. “It was something different. It was something I had never even seen before.” He smiled like a man who knew he had the look of the night. “Do I show him the shoes?” he said. “You gotta show him the shoes!” a stylist responded. After running through his fit, Smith said, “I’m gonna have a different suit every week. I been doing this in college. I gotta bring it with me. Every game: suits.”
Once again, he unleashed the quiet storm of a personality and game that he swears will take over the NFL. For now, at least, we can say that the newest Philadelphia Eagle was right, with a small stipulation. He took over the NFL runway. I asked him what the inspiration for this electric ensemble was.
“I came to step.”