Why Michael Jordan is our new favourite ’90s style icon

It’s all about ‘the Michael Jordan effect.’

By Nadia Salemme for Vogue

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Wearing a backwards Nike beret, a single gold hoop earring, and a pair of Air Jordans, Michael Jordan is being celebrated as the GOAT–and it's not just for his legendary NBA career.

The reason? His slam dunk personal style. It's all because of The Last Dance, the addictive Netflix and ESPN docu-series about the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty in the 90s when the club won six championships (the explosive finale dropped last night, Australian-time).

With it, has come a new appreciation for Jordan as sport's OG style influencer. He is responsible for pioneering the big brand endorsements that NBA stars see today, and for turning the corridors of stadiums into mini-catwalks, in a beyond-the-court legacy dubbed ‘the Michael Jordan effect’. And thanks to The Last Dance, Jordan has made his biggest comeback since 1995 ... baggy power suits and all.

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Though Jordan's dress sense (and his Nike parachute tracksuits) wasn't always as appreciated as it is right now. There was a Tumblr blog dedicated to “What the F*** Is Michael Jordan Wearing?” that prompted critics to debate whether Jordan was, in fact, “the worst-dressed athlete of all time”.

Since the ’90s returned to fashion's radar as the decade-of-influence for designers from Balenciaga to Bottega Veneta, it turns out that Jordan's Last Dance-era styling has actually held up well. In the 10-part doco, we see Jordan wearing berets on the Bulls’ tour of Paris–in a display of Big Beret Energy that only MJ could pull off with the unseen accessory of style and swagger. He wore Ray-Bans, muscle tanks, turtlenecks and limited edition Bulls merchandise, and famously draped his 6′6″ frame in immaculately tailored, wide-legged suits (some of them, Armani) during post-game press conferences.

Untitled-1_11-4From Left to Right: Ksubi Sequence Funnel Neck Jacket, Nike Mens Nike Air Max 97

“I’m a suit guy,” Jordan said, according to GQ . “I have anywhere from 100 to 150”. He saw himself as “a petite-type person, well, skinny” and explained that he hid under “fabrics that drape.” Jordan said: “I've always thought my feet were big. Baggy pants make your feet look smaller.”

His approach to his own off-duty wardrobe was as precise as his skills on the court–he wanted to look his best, and would stop at nothing to achieve it. “What Michael did, he came in and started wearing these beautiful Italian suits but they were modified,” Tinker Hatfield, Nike’s former creative director for product design (who was behind the Air Jordan sneaker), told the Chicago Tribune. “He would modify them not only to fit, but he would also play with the look a little bit and he would take an Armani suit and restructure so it would drape differently. He really started coiffing himself so well and he did it in a high-class way that was really appealing to other athletes.”

Jordan’s signature suiting style was “baggy pants, jackets extra long and extra full”, with Chicago-based tailor Alfonso Burdi behind many of his gangster-esque suiting ensembles. The Bulls star would order up to six suits a week that were intended to sit in a draped manner on his lithe and lanky frame, the tailor’s son Rino Burdi said, according to GQ. Jordan was basically responsible for transforming the NBA into a kind of runway, paving a way for players to make a statement through their personal style.

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“It’s really pretty fascinating, but if you were around the NBA 15 years ago those guys dressed very poorly,” Hatfield told the Tribune. “Now when you go to a game, everybody dresses well and it all comes from the Michael Jordan effect.”

MJ’s influence, of course, is unmatched when it comes to his $US3.14 billion-plus Air Jordan brand. After The Last Dance premiered in April, searches for Air Jordan 1s–his signature sneaker–were up 35 per cent month-on-month, according to UK-based global fashion search engine Lyst confirmed to Vogue (and in Australia, enquiries for Jordan's signature shoe are up 17 per cent).

Prompting a bidding war, a signed pair of Air Jordans once worn by Jordan on the court sold for $US560,000 (that was more than three times the estimated price) in a Sotheby's auction over the weekend. The red, black and white Air Jordan 1s sent a new world record auction price for sneakers, according to Sotheby's, which noted that the record price reflected the “incredible appeal of Michael Jordan as one of the most recognizable and legendary athletes of all time.”

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From Left to Right: Carhartt S/S Titan T-Shirt, The North Face Graphic Collection Pullover Jacket


“Following a bidding war which drove the value up by US $300,000 within the final twenty minutes of the sale, the pair achieved more than 3.5x their $150,000 high estimate,” the auction house said. “Produced between February to April 1985, Jordan wore the present pair of Air Jordan 1s during an early, pivotal point of his career and thus catapulted the sneaker's popularity,” the statement continued. “Wearing mismatched shoes most of his career, the pair is in a size 13 (left shoe) and a 13.5 (right shoe).”

Perhaps inspired by the on-court attire of Jordan and his Bulls teammates Scottie Pippen and Denis Rodman, shoppers are also searching for basketball shorts (demand is up 13 per cent) and muscle-style tank tops (a 15 per cent jump), Lyst said.

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In March, The RealReal saw an 85 per cent increase in Air Jordan sales. After the premiere of The Last Dance, the California-based luxury consignment store saw a 55 per spike in Jordan-related demand, The RealReal confirmed to Vogue. The average resale price of Air Jordan sneakers on The RealReal was up 53 per cent in April, the site said. And on The RealReal, rare and limited edition Jordans are now selling for as much as $A1300. On eBay, the doco has sparked a near-frenzy for vintage Chicago Bulls merchandise, particularly Jordan, Rodman and Pippen emblazoned T-shirts (a vintage Nike Rodman tee is selling for $US469).

Despite the peak of his influence, fashion was also a source of scandal for Jordan. He was fined $US5000 per game for wearing Air Jordan sneakers as it broke the NBA's then-rule that required players to wear Chuck Taylors or Adidas’s Stan Smiths.

Jordan, who was sponsored by Nike, famously covered up the Reebok logo with the American flag as he accepted his Gold Medal for basketball at the Barcelona Olympics as part of The Dream Team.

The fiercely competitive star didn’t want to endorse Reebok–a direct competitor to Nike.

“They said they are going to try to hide the Reebok on it,” Jordan explained in a scene in The Last Dance.

“But they can’t hide it like I’m going to hide it. They in for a big f**king surprise.”

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From Left to Right: Harmony Paolo Pant, Saturdays NYC Waffle Crepe Beanie

 

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