Err Jordan: Where The Hell Did Michael Learn How To Dress?

Illustration for article titled Err Jordan: Where The Hell Did Michael Learn How To Dress?
Screenshot: ESPN

It’s almost taken for granted nowadays that to be in the NBA, you also have to be a style icon. Russell Westbrook in his Tom Ford goodness makes best-dressed lists everywhere, and pregame television coverage now includes obligatory shots of players arriving for games, walking through dank, underground parking garages and hoping not to get dripped on in their $20K worth of couture.

Of course, it hasn’t always been this way. For decades even, NBA players weren’t necessarily part of the fashion conversation. There were a few outliers, of course — Dr. J in a slick pair of bell bottoms, Walt “Clyde” Frazier decked out in fur and a fedora — but for the most part, players dressed mostly for practical concerns, something comfortable to cover a body while traveling from hotel to the arena. Fashion was for art students.

And then came the titanic shoe contracts, the global fusing of fashion and sports, the awareness of 24/7 brand building.

Which is what makes The Last Dance even more fascinating. Watching this old Michael Jordan footage, the brain short circuits a little. Hold up, a second? NBA stars dressed like this back in the day?

At the time, the outfits seemed less remarkable. Some were ill-fitting, others ill-conceived, but they fell loosely into the style of the time. But now, looking back at the vintage footage, and knowing what NBA stars would become with regard to fashion, it’s breathtaking.

How can the man behind the dopest (and often aesthetically pleasing) shoe line in the history of the game think he had an OK look? There are just people in this world that have too much money — Mark Zuckerberg, Zion Williamson’s stepfather — to dress like this.

What exactly was Michael Jordan doing?

The answer might take another 10-part docuseries. But it probably lies in the fact that Jordan was too caught up in his all-consuming passion for winning to worry about the cut of his trousers. Fair enough. Ignoring fashion worked for Steve Jobs, and disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes wore the same all-black outfit every day because she said it cut one thing to worry about from the day and allowed her to focus only on work. Jordan’s six rings and one NCAA championship have no doubt provided decent consolation whenever he’s gotten dragged over the years for having no style.

With that, let’s spin through five of the most memorable outfits showcased in The Last Dance, both good and bad.

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Illustration for article titled Err Jordan: Where The Hell Did Michael Learn How To Dress?
Screenshot: ESPN

Really, Really Wide Jeans

If you’ve ever suspected that celebrities have access to hidden worlds that regular folks don’t, look no further than Jordan’s jeans. While denim has been getting progressively skinnier for the past decade so that now it’s nearly impossible to buy a pair off the rack that won’t numb your calves, Jordan somehow has access to an inexhaustible supply of voluminous jeans that could fit two of him. These are not just relaxed jeans, these are pants as wide as the prairie sky, as wide as the distance now between shoppers at your local Target.

Are they custom? Does he have a secret pipeline to some Eastern European nation? No one knows.

But his love of comically loose-fitting denim is evidently strong enough that he chose to do the featured interview wearing a pair. Kudos to the film’s DP for finding — or perhaps special-ordering — a camera lens wide enough to capture them.

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Illustration for article titled Err Jordan: Where The Hell Did Michael Learn How To Dress?
Screenshot: ESPN

Oversized Suits Part I

The notoriously competitive Jordan couldn’t be second place on the basketball court — or evidently when it came to the length of his suit jackets. “Everyone can wear a three-button suit,” you can imagine Jordan’s tailor saying to him. “But what about 18?”

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Illustration for article titled Err Jordan: Where The Hell Did Michael Learn How To Dress?
Screenshot: ESPN

Oversized Suits Part II

As time jumps ahead in the series, the suits get progressively longer and longer. North Carolina days? Normal length. Nike visit? Normal. But then they start sprouting like a weed in the sun. The disorienting effect on the viewer is like that of being a distant uncle who only sees his nephew every couple of years until suddenly it’s the late 1990s and that little baby is now 6-feet tall and consists of enough fabric to power a small seagoing vessel. Not to mention he probably owes David Byrne royalties.

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Illustration for article titled Err Jordan: Where The Hell Did Michael Learn How To Dress?
Screenshot: ESPN

Oversized Suits Part III

The cut also baffles. Why is every suit so ill-fitting, so square, so loose? Were tape measures not invented until the 2000s? “Here,” the tailor says, “Stand in front of this refrigerator box and we’ll get you sorted.”

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Illustration for article titled Err Jordan: Where The Hell Did Michael Learn How To Dress?
Screenshot: ESPN

Oversized Suits Part IV

It’s inexplicable that you work as hard as Michael Jordan worked to get himself in top physical condition and then he chooses a suit that shows off his body in the same way a magician’s hat shows off the rabbit inside. In the end, The Last Dance will go down as not only the definitive doc on MJ but also the last word on oversized menswear.

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Illustration for article titled Err Jordan: Where The Hell Did Michael Learn How To Dress?
Image: ESPN

This Red Hat and Blue Shirt Combo

It’s disarming to see a young Michael Jordan looking this flashy and cool, decked out in a bright red baseball cap and an equally electric blue jacket because it’s a look that does something that MJ became increasingly hesitant to do: Make a statement.

As the series details, Jordan wasn’t looking to make waves off the court. He famously refused to endorse Senate candidate Harvey Gantt in 1990, and it’s difficult to remember a time he went out on a limb about anything. And that seems to have included his clothing.

The more famous he got, the more buttoned-down he became. By the late 1980s, he’s favoring suits for most of his public appearances that — while maybe not exactly conservative — were meant to convey a level of bland professionalism.

So it’s nice to catch a glimpse of him in his youth, at a time when he was more carefree and seemingly less suffocated by the titanic pressures of his public image.

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Illustration for article titled Err Jordan: Where The Hell Did Michael Learn How To Dress?
Screenshot: ESPN

This Monogrammed Black Shirt

This outfit is amazing in that MJ has clearly reached the late Howard Hughes era of his career in which he has so much damn money that he no longer has any idea what to do with it. Michael Jackson decided he needed a cleft chin. Jordan decided he needed an iridescent monogrammed shirt.

And it’s not just any monogram. It’s a 30-point monogram of his full first name that says less, “I’m a gentleman of exquisite tastes” and more, “Hi, I’m Michael and I’ll be your waiter at Olive Garden tonight.”

It’s unclear exactly what drives a man to monogram clothing this way? Maybe it’s about claiming ownership, but here’s the thing, you already own the shirt, my dude. It’s yours. You’re wearing it. It’s on your body. There are no misunderstandings or competing claims on it. Kindly remove your flag.

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Illustration for article titled Err Jordan: Where The Hell Did Michael Learn How To Dress?
Screenshot: ESPN

This Vintage Polo

This old photograph of Michael Jordan as a teen is especially remarkable because it probably documents the last tight thing His Airness ever wore. Forget the baggy T’s and three-foot-wide suit trousers that would come later. Jordan is looking plain cool in a hugging vintage polo shirt with a prominent ’70s-style collar and a breast pocket.

Jordan has admitted that some of his clothing choices are actually rooted in his insecurities. He was always skinny growing up, and he has said that he prefers loose clothing because it hides that slightness. He was also self conscious about his feet, which he thought were too big. He became convinced that wide-leg pants made them look smaller.

If he feels inadequate, there’s obviously no hope for the rest of us. Here’s hoping he can finally return to this polo, if not in size M, at least in spirit.

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