I was prepared for the excitement of the Fifa Women’s World Cup. I was not prepared for The Suit.
On Saturday morning I went shopping with my husband to buy him some new clothes. I sat next to a rack of men’s suits as he tried on some perfectly nice jerseys. Out of the corner of my eye, I observed someone emerge from a changing room, trying a new suit on. I didn’t give it a second thought or a second look. It was a man in a perfectly fine suit.
Half an hour after leaving Dress Smart, I innocently opened Instagram as we drove home, perfectly nice jerseys bagged up in the back of the car. A friend had posted a video of the US women’s football team leaving their Auckland hotel before their game with Vietnam. I watched that video approximately 193 times, growing more and more fixated on the team’s formalwear with every viewing.
The rest of my Saturday was spent on a feverish research mission to discover everything I could about The Suit.
The Suit is a collaboration between British designer Martine Rose and Nike. It’s part of a gender-free collection that includes a trench coat, shirt and accessories.
I initially thought the jacket was double-breasted – a bold choice for visitors to a country where that look is the sole preserve of Winston Peters. With unwavering certainty, I can tell you that it’s not that association that caused my jaw to drop to the floor.
I’m now not sure if they even are double-breasted. The buttons are hidden – deliberately, according to Rose – to preserve the suit’s sleek silhouette. I wondered if it was the suit’s sleek quality that had sent me spinning. I tested this theory by looking at pictures of otters and Ian Thorpe in his swimming suit. Nothing.
The fabric is jacquard. I didn’t notice this when I first saw The Suit, but read about it later, nodding wisely, muttering about the weave. Is it the weave that’s commanded me? Or the slightly military blue colourway? I don’t know what a colourway is, but I’ve seen it used before in fashion commentary. If anything, that colour should put me off, burdened as I am with a distaste for the US military complex.
By Saturday evening, I was being sent unsolicited Instagram posts featuring more photos of the team in the suit. Each fresh piece of content was a clue on a quest to unlock the precise qualities that elevated the suit to stratospheric heights. One particular collection of photos taken by Hannah Peters as the team arrived at Eden Park elicited an audible gasp. I’ve since been told it was a groan. I may have also yelled “US of Slay” without a hint of irony.
Somewhere between my 95th and 97th loop of the video, a friend noted that the suit is elevated because of who’s wearing it. He was specifically referring to the footage of Megan Rapinoe leaving the hotel who, as he correctly observed, walks like the President (capital P), complete with a salute and bonafide sports star swagger. His note on the walk drew me into a forensic examination of the trousers, which I initially thought were bootcut – a bold choice for visitors to a country where that iconic style remains the sole preserve of Glassons circa 1997. Zooming into the photos I downloaded from Nike’s website (to be saved to a hard drive and buried with me), I now see they’re not.
From the trousers I shifted to the shoes, also a Martine Rose x Nike collaboration. Based on the hundreds of comments I read, the shoes are a bit divisive, but the slightly squared toe elevates them beyond sportswear and into realms where I imagine people walk on water.
I’m not sure I’m qualified to pinpoint what it is about The Suit, aesthetically at least, that’s gripped me so. With the exception of a comment about Jacinda Ardern’s earrings in 2020, I have no pedigree in writing about fashion. I have written almost next to nothing about sport. Nonetheless, I am incredibly comfortable announcing that The Suit sets a new bar for team formalwear for all sports codes, irrespective of gender, and a new bar for suiting.
Teams have suffered for years wearing bland or radically “inventive” designs that we all delight in criticising while watching opening ceremonies. Nothing about this suit feels disempowering or diminishing. It’s also not just a well-tailored suit. Rose’s design makes it feel like it belongs to a sports team without making it a sports team uniform.
We are well past women’s suits “having a moment”. There’s no real novelty factor in women wearing them anymore, and certainly nothing scandalous about it. I stand willing to accept charges of being superficially engaged with women’s sport by commenting on what the US women’s football team are wearing. It’s a common form of reductionism experienced by women. The US women’s football team are genuine sporting superstars and deserve to be celebrated for the game they play and the strides they’ve made in working towards pay equity.
But women in sport still battle ancient diktats about what they should wear while competing on the field or court. It wasn’t until this year that the Football Ferns were allowed to ditch white shorts as part of their playing kit, an acknowledgment that half the population menstruates once a month. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club also made a similar concession for the first time at Wimbledon last month.
Just as sport is political, so too is clothing. There is still something subversive about the wearing of a suit by people who have had to conform to standards of dress, often ascribed by gender, for centuries. When that suit is as jaw-dropping as the one I’ve now spent days losing my mind over, it says something about the heights women’s sport is hitting. That suit is no afterthought; it’s a considered and elevated decision. Those athletes are as entitled to convey their dominance and power as men are. Sometimes, what we wear is part of doing that. Sometimes clothing is ceremonial armour.
As I hoovered up suit content all Saturday afternoon, a pig at a fashion trough, my husband mentioned my birthday was coming up and that the collection would be on sale from July 25. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “I would never…”
But maybe I would. This drive-by suiting may have altered me at a molecular level. If you see me in spring, sporting a new Martine Rose x Nike trench coat, a sports star swagger to my step, you will know that I am that ridiculous, and The Suit was that powerful.