Image by Texas A&M University-Commerce Marketing Communications Photography // CC BY 2.0
Let’s face it; football was segregated along gender lines from an early age, with the ‘big tough boys’ battling it out on the high school gridiron, while the ‘pretty girly-girls’ dance and wave their pom-poms as cheerleaders on the side lines. With such an inherent gender divide, it’s no surprise that female fans have been struggling for years to get the recognition they deserve. Fortunately, when it comes to women’s fashion in the NFL, the days of the ‘shrink it and pink it’ approach are fading fast.
Waking up to Female Fans
Despite the game’s image of leery face-painted men screaming from the stands, studies show that 45% of NFL fans are women, putting their number somewhere around 67.5 million. This is increasing rapidly, with ESPN reporting a growth in its female audience from 34% in 2011 to 44% last year. What’s more, the vast majority of these are real fans who know and love the game, rather than male ‘fan accessories’ that they have all too often been seen as in the past.
Who can forget the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ famously sexist Football 101 camp for women – as though struggling to understand the complexities of the game was a uniquely female problem. As an example of mansplaining, this misguided effort is pretty hard to beat, but it showed the way that female fans were seen at the time. The NFL, and its billion-dollar sponsors, underestimate the female fanbase at their peril, and they stand to miss out on huge opportunities if they do.
NFL Fashion Failures
Image by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from Washington, D.C. // CC0 1.0
When it comes to offering female fanwear, the NFL does not have a great track record. They have regularly fumbled the ball in the most crass and patronising ways, from the Victoria’s Secret NFL branded lingerie collection, to what one journalists described as ‘pepto-bismol pink’ versions of NFL team jerseys. As recently as 2013, Shawnee Barton used her column in The Atlantic to point out that female fans want more than team-logo panties and a fanicure to support their team.
Fans First and Foremost
The point is that female football fans are as game smart, as well informed and as passionate about the NFL as their male counterparts. Fans range from the casual to the committed, based on their interest in the sport and in their team, not along gender lines. What most female fans want is to show their team loyalty in the same way as the guys, but without having to be swamped by a shirt that is built for a beer-gut.
A New Era of Football Fashion
At last, NFL, the biggest brand in American sport, and one of the most lucrative and recognised brands in the world, appears to be waking up to the needs of the female football fan. The latest official NFL collection has very few pink items and, where there is a display of pink, it’s more likely to be part of the breast cancer awareness campaign than any patronising pinking of the male versions. Instead, the new collection has the same shirts, in the same authentic team colours, but cut to fit the female form. This not only means they look great, but they feel great to wear too.
A Woman’s Touch
Inevitably, it took a woman’s touch to get us to this point, and we have NFL Vice President of Consumer Products, Rhiannon Madden to thank for the new styles. “We’re always trying to have a product that our fans would be wearing whether it had a logo or not,” she explains about the look and feel of range. “We see more and more women of all ages watching the game and supporting their team by wearing their gear,” she says, and her goal is to cater for them without pigeon-holing them.
The New Collection
Check out the NFL official shop and you’ll find a huge range of game shirts, casual t-shirts, hoodies and more, all fitted for the female fan. These cover all the NFL teams, from sneakers to caps, all in team colours and all carrying the official team logos. The cut may be more flattering, and the scoop, sweetheart and v-necklines may be more feminine, but otherwise these are bang on brand and exactly the same as the guys are wearing, with not a lace trim or sparkling rhinestone in sight.
Of course, there are alternatives for those who are more interested in fashion than football. After all, you should not be dictated to by either side. If you want to support the Dallas Cowboys with a fuchsia pink lace up ‘Tammy’ t-shirt, then you’ll find that in the range too. There are also some quality accessories that steer away from the sportswear look, such as the logoed denim shirt from the NFC South contenders, the New Orleans Saints. Designed by Heather Andrews in a lightweight, heather black denim, it offers a more subtle way to show your support.
You don’t even have to be a football fan to follow the trend, as popular fashion blog, HighSnobiety.com announced last fall. ‘Sports jerseys have returned to the top of the style agenda’, they said, with NFL jerseys in particular emerging as ‘coveted style essentials’. As they point out, football fashion is much easier if you don’t have a strong allegiance to a particular team, as this allows you to pick from the huge spectrum of colours available, including unique shades such as the Jacksonville Jaguars blue, the Minnesota Vikings purple and the neon green of the Seattle Seahawks. You can also find several teams, such as the New England Patriots, offering camouflage styles.
The good news is that whether you are a life-long football fan, dedicated to your team, a casual follower of football, or just keen to keep up with the latest fashion trends, the NFL appears to be waking up to what you need. Female football fashion has finally come of age. All you have to do now is find the eye-watering $150 needed for the official custom game shirts.