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The NBA continues to send a bad message with its specialized fashion for women

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Are "specialized" women's apparel options in the NBA keeping up with social changes such as women in coaching positions?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Rebecca (@beccaaftersix):

Kate, you wrote a really awesome op-ed last year about the message teams are sending with their options for women's wear. I was hoping the NBA (or the Mavericks) would get a hold of it, but alas, here's the Mavs' new "fashion" line this year.

It's somehow even worse than the options last year! I mean....hot pink with fringe and leopard print? Are the Mavs changing their team colors and forgot to let us know!?

For all the progress that women have made in making themselves part of mainstream sports fandom and sports reporting -- and it's still very much a work in progress, considering that a couple of female reporters were recently shut out of a NFL locker room -- I still have a hard time finding basic, simple apparel to represent my fandom that doesn't have rhinestones on it without going to the men's sections of most websites.

I can find things I like here and there, don't get me wrong -- but mostly it's frustrating. The message I'm getting with this new women's line is that I need to dress like a Hot Topic employee, be arm candy, and leave the "serious" sports fandom to the men.

Kate (@crawfordkate):

I like your theory that the Mavs just forgot to send us the color change memo. Chandler Parsons could totally pull off hot pink and leopard print!

But you're right, it's astounding that the NBA still makes it so difficult for its female fans to fully and authentically experience fandom. I find this doubly frustrating because the league office has consistently earned high praise for its commitment to gender diversity in its hiring, and we've even started to see that on a team level in the hiring of Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman.

When we wrote about this last year, a lot of the pushback focused on the idea that this isn't a moral issue but a marketing one. And it is true that the NBA core audience is very male and very young and that the league is catering to these viewers with its apparel marketing strategy.

But while women may be "only" 30 percent of the NBA fan base, the base is enormous! These guys can't possibly believe that more than five million female fans are interested in pink fringe tees and bad engagement ring jokes, right? We're willing to buy tickets and pay whatever exorbitant League Pass price they want to charge...do they really not want more of us buying t-shirts, too?

Rebecca:

I can appreciate the marketing argument on some levels, if I'm being honest. I'm sure (I hope) the NBA has some research that indicates women want to (and do) buy the glitter and lace version of a shirt over a more "traditional" design, or they wouldn't keep marketing them.

It does present an odd dichotomy though. To your point, it really is wonderful to see the NBA on the leading edge of welcoming women into the coaching ranks, and putting women like Doris Burke front and center as part of their in-game commentary. On the other hand, I had my first real brush with a couple of violent male fans in the playoffs last year, publicly calling me some pretty awful names I don't think they would have directed at a guy, for just doing my editing job on the blog.

So it's baffling to me, as a serious female sports fan, why the league can't catch its marketing up a little bit. In my opinion, things like this fashion line reinforce and even celebrate stereotypes that women can't have serious conversations about sports. That 30 percent of the fanbase has value! And I don't mind them having some more "fun" options for women who do like a pink "I Heart Mavs" shirt, but I'd rather top off my skinny jeans and patent flats with a slim fit traditional logo tee in team colors (without having to dig to the depths of the internet to find it), and I can't believe you and I are alone on that.

What do you think could finally shift the tide to seeing the marketing catch up to the real world progress here?

Kate:

I really don't know. But maybe all of our complaining about this is starting to have some impact. To its credit, the NBA store homepage does look better than it did last season. It doesn't label the mens' section as being for "serious fans" and the featured collection is so much better than the Alyssa Milano line they were really pushing a year ago (I'm not sure I'll ever understand why Alyssa Milano became the go-to celebrity sports apparel designer).

I think one thing that might help would be to work with real designers. I don't know how successful it was, but I'd love to see more collaborations like the Rachel Roy and Amar'e Stoudemire line from a few years ago.

It may not be to everyone's taste, but I really appreciated that you could show up to a game in almost anything from that line and look like an actual fan (wearing the team's real colors even!) without resorting to clothing designed for men. But I think it's telling that they only made these for five teams: the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Knicks, and Heat (where LeBron played at the time). They were obviously targeting more casual fans who liked to support big market or high-profile teams.

So maybe the NBA (and the Mavericks) just need to hear more from fans like us. My go-to outfit for watching the game at home is a logo tee, my fanciest sweatpants, and matching lipstick (I live in DC and am also a Wizards fan):

kate gameday

So what do you end up wearing for game day, Rebecca?

Rebecca:

I do like the idea of working with real designers. I would buy the crap out of that Rachel Roy collection stuff if there was a Mavericks version, and probably be willing to pay a small premium for the label even. The Touch collection stuff just tends to be a little TOO far on the "girly" extreme for me, no offense to Alyssa Milano. But the "Classics" gear on the NBA Store site does comes closer to hitting the mark than I've seen in recent years, you're right. (I am eyeing this hoodie in the men's section though, and wishing it came in women's sizing. Also holding my breath that these fancy new Stance socks will have a women's option!)

And since you asked - my game day look isn't too dissimilar from yours: some soft lounge pants, a tank top and this shockingly normal(!) and in team colors(!) slouchy logo tee that I managed to find buried on a rack at the team store a couple years back:

rebecca gameday

And what about the rest of you ladies who aren't into rhinestones and leopard print (at least when it comes to your team)? What does your game day outfit look like, and what would you like to see more of as women's sports fashion hopefully starts progressing the way the league is with women in other ways?