Forget street style. LeBron James’ headline-making wardrobe has men looking to sports style for outfit inspiration.
His influence reached fever pitch this summer, when the former Cleveland Cavalier’s forward rocked a gray shorts suit designed by Thom Browne to game one of the NBA Finals.
James is no sartorial wallflowe, and he’s worn the American designer before. Though on his athletic 6-foot-8 frame, this particular schoolboy-ish ensemble complemented with a matching shirt, tie and socks, all by Browne, cut an unusually striking figure. Then add in that $41,000 crocodile “Mr. Thom” man-bag? Game over.
San Francisco Chronicle sports editor Al Saracevic said that it was the first time in his career covering professional sports that a player’s wardrobe choice received so much attention.
A number of Texas men also experienced the unexpected wave of emotion. But would they wear it?
“I think it’s rad,” Rob Summers, an Austin filmmaker friend, texted me (unprompted) under a mini-collage of James’ outfit. “The suit, and material and tailoring with accessories, pocket square, loose tie… You gotta be tall, handsome and in-shape and kind of a somebody to rock this.”
He is right. Swagger isn’t sold as part of Browne’s collection, though it is a necessary accessory to nail the aesthetic without looking like, well, Prince George.
Fortunately, an age and body type-appropriate “somebody” presented himself.
“Have you seen this?” asked Wei-Huan Chen, Houston Chronicle theater critic and classical/opera writer, shoving his iPhone screen in my face. Neither he, nor my film friend had bothered to watch the actual game.
As I looked past yet another tribute of King James in what’s now been dubbed, “the shorts suit,” I couldn’t help but notice that at a slim 6’2,” Chen fit the bill for sample size, a.k.a. fashion lingo for a person with model-esque proportions.
Chen was our man to test-drive the shorts suit that’s been double-tapped into sports-style hall of fame.
Truth be told, an abbreviated suit in Houston is pretty practical. Come summer, what’s a guy to wear to all of those al fresco weddings and dinner parties? For men of a certain edge, the Southern khaki and navy jacket combo can read a bit stale. And long pants in August? Forget about it.
While the Bayou City is never lacking for social occasions, overflowing with fashion-forward menswear, we are not.
Inquiries to masculine boutiques such as Manready Mercantile, Suit Supply and M. Penner for knee-grazing formalwear returned unfruitful.
“That would be custom piece,” Festari for Men replied. “We could definitely make it, and one of the (Houston) Texans was actually thinking about having one made, but no serious requests at this time.”
“I wish we did (carry it),” answered Ben Freedland, divisional merchandise manager for Landrys Inc. including the Post Oak Hotel’s 29 North. “I personally have that Thom Browne short suit. It is my go-to summer event outfit. I think my friends are tired of me wearing it.”
Then Kevin Barnett, general manager of STAG Provisions, confirmed the unlikely, “I do have one short suit outfit.”
Chen had just the occasion, a mid-week, late afternoon performance at the Alley Theatre. Theatre attire is a topic that he and I re-visit often; jeans and a shirt feels irreverent, but with exception of opening or closing night, a dark suit or tuxedo is overkill. “I respect the craft, but its 90 degrees outside,” Chen said.
So I popped into STAG on Westheimer with his measurements, and with Barnett’s help, we Texas-ified a light gray and white striped blazers and shorts pairing.
“What shoes will he wear?” Barnett inquired. Chen had agreed to brown driving moccasins, no socks.
“What about this shirt?” Barnett suggested, holding up a salmon-colored, floral button-down. I dug it, but we added a classic navy option, too.
On the big night, Chen paired the blue shirt with his own brown leather belt under the suit. His female plus-one had strong opinions on the look:
“It’s like you’re dressed by Queer Eye.”
“You look like a very well-dressed baby.”
“You’re an arts critic, you look like a stereotype of yourself.”
For the record, Chen remains an unfazed shorts suit fan.
Via a highly informal Facebook poll, 18 out of 29 men said they would wear James-inspired formal-wear, too — with edits. Most vetoed James’ animal skin bag and socks. A few even volunteered photo evidence of themselves sporting the cropped look.
Tootsies creative director Fady Armanious has worn fringed, floral and all-white versions to Paris and the Hermann Park Conservancy’s annual spring dinner.
Dapper dad Chris Smitty captioned, “Since 2015, no shame in my leg game,” under a duo of poolside family photos.
Others responded with a “hard no,” “never” or “no way.”
One Chronicle reporter said, “Absolutely not, shorts are for boys.”
He’s partially right. But they’re also for ballers.