Why Are Sports and Fashion So Connected?

Why Are Sports and Fashion So Connected?

by Ian Peterson

Sports and fashion have developed a gradually stronger connection throughout history. Over time, more focus on design comes out of sportswear brands, plus the increased celebrity status of athletes.

Changes in this relationship have meant a slight shift in the goals of the world’s biggest franchises, shown no more clearly than by French outfit Paris Saint-Germain. Toward the beginning of the 2021/2022 season, PSG’s internet-breaking signing of Leo Messi began one of the sport’s most iconic footballing trios to ever exist: Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe. The club’s business may seem like an effort to increase their win tally, but their real goal can be realized with one quick look at their merch sales–Messi’s shirt sold out in under 30 minutes.


The truth is, PSG is a brand that just happens to compete amongst the soccer elite. Their acquisition of the sport’s biggest personalities gives that team an edge similar to the likes of Dennis Rodman, boasting unique tattoos, hairstyles, and dress sense. Reasonable comparisons can also be made with the legendary Michael Jordan, who’s brand partnered PSG’s success in 2018.


For European football fans and jersey collectors, the newly added Jumpman emblem would become the first of its kind in wardrobes internationally. But for sneakerheads and streetwear connoisseurs, its sleek look became a trend and style symbol, especially after being worn by the likes of Kendall Jenner, Rihanna, Steph Curry, Justin Timberlake, and countless others.

Not only that, but the presence of sportswear in fashion has only risen in recent years. Another rather unlikely example can be found in a brand all too familiar with LIKELIHOOD: Brain Dead. Just under a year ago, the streetwear pioneers worked with legendary Italian club Roma on a limited edition long-sleeve kit. Not only did the collaboration sell out rapidly, but those who missed out are still able to wear it virtually in Pro Evolution Soccer’s eFootball game.


The world of track and field received similar nods between 2019 and 2020, when both Sacai and Off-White transformed the sport’s legendary Pegasus, Vaporfly, and Vaporstreet trainers and placed them at the forefront of fashion week. The releases of both turned the sneaker world on its head, and completely normalized their cleated undersides, so much so that the feature became more akin to Sacai than track and field itself. Since helping to spark popularity years ago, Nike have since put out countless versions of the simplified Waffle Trainer and recycled Waffle Racer models, both among our favorites from 2021’s stacked drop schedule.


It’s far from new information to discover how many of sneaker culture’s largest labels began with basketball sneakers, but many neglect the sport’s role in bolstering brand’s we consider household names today. The first instance of this can be found as early as 2008, where Lebron James casually sported Beats by Dre headphones and in turn rocketed them to new heights of notoriety, more as an accessory than their intended purpose. Since then, large brands like Supreme, Stance, and Market have teamed up with both the NBA and some of the league’s most prolific talents.


If Nike and Jordan Brand’s success are based in basketball, then Adidas is easily the ruler of tennis…Tennis is in some ways the godfather of early sneakers, as “tennis” shoes created the first collections by the massive brands we know today. Stan Smith’s two Grand Slam title wins led to the creation of the player’s signature shoe, along with Aussie Rod Laver, who’s collaboration with the three stripes continues to hold strong over five decades after its initial 1970 release.

Observing the current state of Adidas’ designs shows how the brand’s original collaborations have acted as a canvas for today’s work. The Stan Smith is now entirely represented as a lifestyle shoe, and has been reworked by fashion giants like Pharrell and Nigo of Human Made. Additionally, more abstract work can be found in Craig Green’s Adidas collaboration, which strips back and redevelops classic Adidas sneakers into footwear of a foreign planet.


Largely popular and ever changing trainers continue to adapt into new contexts as well, with football as the main example. Don’t believe me? Take a quick look at the cleats available on sites like StockX and GOAT. In doing so, you’ll see a selection of alien-like sneakers… classic Jordan silhouettes and colorways as well as Adidas Ultraboosts with spiked bottoms.


Through time, both legendary past athletes and new celebrity ones have greatly developed the state of both performance wear and the fashion industry.