Say what you will about the wonders of the United States’ previous World Cup winners, but historically, achieve extreme glamour has not been high on their to-do lists. This year’s champions represent the dawn of a new era. The 2019 U.S. Women’s National Team has been swaggering and stumbling from one celebratory public appearance to the next, pausing only to pour Champagne into one another’s mouths and to lead ecstatic crowds in chants against wage discrimination. Between the team’s parade in Manhattan, their segment on Good Morning America, and their onstage moment at the ESPYS, a lot of fans of the USWNT have gotten their first opportunity to see the players out of their soccer kits. They have not disappointed.
The USWNT’s victory tour has been marked by high fashion, showy accessories, and individual stylistic flourishes, even when they’re clothed in matching T-shirts. Despite their relatively paltry pay compared with their male counterparts, members of America’s favorite team look the part of sports superstars.
Take the sunglasses many players wore for the entirety of their week’s agenda: on the flight to New York from France, all through their victory parade, during the ceremony in which New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gave them keys to the city, and inside City Hall. Yes, they were probably trying to conceal the evidence of their extreme hangovers, but they were also making it easier for us to tell them apart. (There’s a lot of long brown hair on this team.) Also: Is there anything cockier than wearing sunglasses inside a government building? And not just any sunglasses, but these flashy pairs, with bulky colored frames, wraparound lenses, graphic shapes, and gold chains? While drunkenly tossing around and eating pages of your own equal-pay lawsuit?
At the ESPYS, where the USWNT won the award for Best Team, there were a lot of gorgeous gowns, which are nice to see on muscled, human-size bodies. But the suit jackets, most of them worn with no shirts underneath, won the day. Check out striker Christen Press, with her delicate gold body chain, on-trend tiny purse, and sumptuous buttercup-yellow ensemble—about as sexy and feminine as a suit can be. Or her best friend Tobin Heath, in sunglasses (again!), blue sneaks with a red ziptie, and a boyish shorts suit. Or, goddess help me, Megan Rapinoe, who, like Heath, wore shorts (hers leather) and white ankle socks, with her blazer buttoned down to there. Rapinoe’s partner, WNBA star Sue Bird, also wore a satin-lapeled jacket with no top underneath. It’s not clear whether the luggage containing all these women’s shirts was merely lost or deliberately sabotaged by thirsty fans, but I heard few complaints.
I want to be clear: The holy admiration these shirtless suit jackets inspire in me has nothing (well, maybe the smallest bit of something) to do with what’s exposed between the lapels. It has everything to do with the style statements these women are making. They’re wearing clothes traditionally known as menswear, but they’re emphatically not men. They’re showing skin, but they don’t appear to be contorting their style instincts to appeal to the male gaze. They’re subverting expectations of gender, formality, and fashion in their own gorgeous and extravagant ways. These things are called power suits for a reason.
Every USWNT player is perfect and special, but Rapinoe, co-captain Alex Morgan, and second-string goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who earned a bunch of new admirers this week with her profanity-ridden Instagram stories, deserve special credit for their victory-tour wardrobes. Morgan has been a total glamazon in casual Versace for TV and a stunning sequined train at the ESPYs. Rapinoe’s graphic shirts and flamboyant suits have livened up the cable airwaves. The gold wire-rimmed aviators she threw on the night of the USWNT’s big win were superb, and her white footwear—loafers and cowgirl boots—is extremely up my alley. And I have never seen anything like the sheer organza Thom Browne tuxedo Harris wore at the ESPYs; I wouldn’t be surprised if she snags a deal with a major label after this week, to complement her gig as a face of Umbro. Both Harris and Rapinoe have a well-documented thing for fashion: Rapinoe has called it her “primary form of self-expression”; Harris posted a video of herself outside Barney’s this week, telling her fans that when the USWNT players aren’t dousing one another with bubbly, “We fuckin’ shop.” It’s been fun to watch them show off and peacock in their well-earned spotlight.
There is pure aesthetic pleasure to be taken in looking at beautiful people wearing beautiful, expensive things. But I’m more excited by the USWNT’s vigorous rejection of the stereotype that female athletes are dowdy or don’t care about their appearance, and that lesbians in particular are frumpy and unfashionable. I love that the gays on the team have been playing with their gender presentations in media appearances, with feminine touches and masculine silhouettes, or masculine touches and feminine silhouettes. I love that they don’t seem to feel boxed in to one end or the other of the gender spectrum—boxes that, for all their stifling, can also feel safe and comfortable. Their looks augur a bright future for gender-expansive fashion—an industry Rapinoe, Press, and Heath have recently entered into as business partners, starting with a $125 T-shirt. (Respect the hustle!)
Each player has embraced athleisure, labels, formalwear, glitz, and whimsy in her own way, apropos of a team that’s unified in greatness but made up of singular talents. Their bold looks feel especially right in this moment, as the team asserts its own value in equal-pay negotiations and individual players speak out against racism and Donald Trump. In their uniforms, they’re soccer players. In their expressive off-field looks, they’re whoever they want to be.