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College hoop stars showcase their fashion prowess at the WNBA draft


The WNBA wears Prada.

The stars of the game wore top fashion labels Monday night that turned the draft into a mini-Oscars where style was front and center along with the picks.

Caitlin Clark. Cameron Brink. Kamilla Cardoso. Angel Reese.

They all stepped onto the stage and met the challenge essentially every woman can identify with: Overcoming the trepidation of finding just the right outfit for that special occasion.

“There’s never been a bigger spotlight on women’s basketball, thanks in large part to players like Caitlin Clark and coaches like Dawn Staley,” Rose Minutaglio, ELLE senior editor of features and special projects, wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

Usually, when a woman finds what she wants, it’s not a question of whether alterations are needed, but how much. The taller the woman, the bigger the challenge can be.

These tall ladies appeared to pass the test.

It was the perfect time for a fashionable splash just like NFL and NBA players do on their draft nights. Last year, Taylor Hendricks of UCF wore a pink suit with the jacket lined with photos representing his journey to the NBA and the people who meant the most to him.

“With more eyes on the league, players recognize the opportunity to showcase their personalities through their style,” Minutaglio said. “Because of glaring pay discrepancies, fashion partnerships and brand sponsorships will continue to play a big role for female athletes.”

Staley and her South Carolina Gamecocks’ victory over Clark and Iowa in the women’s national championship game outdrew the men in television ratings, and this is shaping up to be the WNBA’s most-watched draft.

The 6-foot Clark was joined in New York by the 6-7 Cardoso, 6-4 Brink and 6-3 Reese, among others. They’ve been busy since the NCAA Tournament, too, especially Clark, who made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”

Clark went with a white jacket and skirt with a sparkly cut-off top, sunglasses and black heels. She credited having people help her prepare keeping it less stressful.

“The first time Prada has ever dressed a male or female for WNBA or NBA draft so pretty cool,” Clark said during the WNBA’s livestream from its orange carpet.

Brink and Reese wore outfits that wouldn’t be out of place during Fashion Week or a red carpet in Hollywood. Brink wore a diagonal black and white dress showing off both shoulders with a slit exposing her right leg.

Reese shimmered in a hooded, backless gray dress with a plunging neckline after a late wardrobe change with help from designers Bronx and Banco, Simon Miller and Christian Louboutin.

“I got this two days ago,” Reese said. “My original dress didn’t fit.”

Rickea Jackson of Tennessee made a wardrobe change between the orange carpet and the draft itself before being selected fourth overall by the Los Angeles Sparks.

“They’re just going to be falling in love with my personality,” Jackson said of Sparks’ fans.

Rickea Jackson celebrates after being picked
Rickea Jackson celebrates after being selected fourth overall pick by the Los Angeles Sparks during the 2024 WNBA Draft on April 15, 2024 in New York City. Sarah Stier / Getty Images

Alissa Pili, the eighth pick by Minnesota, worked with a designer to pay tribute to her Alaska Native heritage in the black and gold pattern of her dress.

Most of these glam looks didn’t come off the rack.

Being tall is an advantage and not a hindrance for WNBA players. Models who grace the runways during fashion week and the covers of fashion magazines often stand at least 6 feet and taller.

The league’s own growing popularity in recent years also has helped.

“Players are also starting to work directly with designers, who help outfit them, and stylists, who focus on game-day drip,” Minutaglio wrote.

This was only the second WNBA draft with fans in attendance, and 1,000 tickets sold out in February for the event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Fans got to attend the 2016 draft at the Mohegan Sun when former UConn All-American Breanna Stewart was the top pick.

Shakira Austin, the third overall pick in 2022 by the Washington Mystics, understands the angst Clark and others faced. While the 6-5 center was playing in college at Mississippi, Austin was forced to be creative as she struggled to find pants that fit or any clothing that captured her style.

So she got busy with a sewing machine and became her own designer. Now that Austin is in the pros, she’s a fashionista tapping into her creativity, doing more than just pants, leggings and shirts. Austin told the AP earlier this year that it’s a great time to dive into both modeling and clothing design.

On her way to becoming the NCAA Division I all-time leading scorer, Clark was surprised by designer Kristin Juszczyk, whose husband, Kyle, plays for NFC champion San Francisco in the NFL. She created a puffer vest with Clark’s No. 22 in Iowa black and gold, putting the player in select company with the likes of pop superstar Taylor Swift.

Minutaglio said several brands work with female athletes, with Glossier and SKIMS teaming up with the WNBA specifically. She noted sports brands like Puma, Adidas and Nike all work with women in basketball.

“What’s interesting is we’re seeing players and teams branch out into high-fashion, wearing Dior and Louis Vuitton and Gucci,” Minutaglio said.

Staley herself was decked out on the sideline of the title game in Louis Vuitton, from her silver jacket down to her sneakers, grabbing attention for her look far beyond the sports pages. Minutaglio noted New York-based women’s wear brand M.M. LaFleur has a multiyear deal with the New York Liberty.

“I wrote a story for ELLE in 2022 predicting the rise of WNBA game-day fashion, and since then, the looks just keep getting better and better,” Minutaglio wrote. “The fashion set is excited to see where it goes from here.”

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