June 5, 2008
By ELLEN FREEMAN ROTH
Sometimes making a fashion statement is a team effort
Speedo-clad Weston High School boys gather, pour bleach into
each other's hair, and emerge from the natatorium neon blond
in preparation for a championship swim meet. The Winchester
girls' swim team wears ballet tutus and Swedish dresses to
school for race day. For the Haverhill hockey team, it's
Mohawks down the line.
still the surest way to the finish line, but some teams use
fashion for extra kick.
These are not
simply variations on standard uniforms, like the New York
Giants' occasionally-worn fiery-red jerseys or the French
rugby team Stade Franšais's
we're-so-macho-we-can-wear-pink-floral uniforms. It's about
leveraging the power of style on the field and off, whereby
high school and college teams - not to mention the pros -
use hair shears or creative outfits to gain a competitive
edge. It can be as simple as wearing goofy socks, as the
Haverhill High School volleyball team does. Or shaving their
heads, as members of the Boston Celtics did in Rome last
fall as a bonding experience.
So, why do
they do it, and what do they hope to accomplish? Team
fashion statements are all about mutual accountability,
according to David Yukelson, director of sports psychology
services at Penn State University. Teammates are
demonstrating that they have a commitment and responsibility
to each other.
growing a goatee so I'm growing a goatee," he explained. The
goatee itself doesn't improve how well players work together
on a court or field, but the ritual promotes bonding, a
sense of being there for each other, and team identity.
"Those things are important to what goes into making a
athletes seem to embrace such rituals, school administrators
tend to be more cautious.
circumstances does the school approve of it as a
motivational tool," said Brian McDonough, Norwood High
School athletic director. "If the kids do it on their own
and there's no form of coercion or pressure to do it, that's
[a different] thing."
"When I was a
freshman, I loved it," raved Chris Rossborough, senior and
outgoing tri-captain of Weston High School's varsity boys'
swim team. The boys bleach their hair before first-round
championships; for the next round, each senior shaves a
funky pattern into a freshman teammate's hair, which the
freshman wears until shaving down for maximum efficiency in
the water in the final meet.
us, made us one, and that was pretty cool - even though we
weren't the most attractive guys," added Rossborough.
coach Claude Valle described it as a rite of passage. "From
the outside it might sound like hazing or some weird
hierarchical thing, but it's not. It's a really connected
thing, a real honor."
varsity girls' swim team has game day "psychs," a "crazy mix
of tradition and pre-game adrenaline pumping," said team
captain Susan Colt. There's Twin Day (when two or even four
swimmers coordinate outfits like ballet tutus and authentic
Swedish dresses), Dress for Success psychs with formal wear,
and Clash Day featuring dizzying polka dots, plaids, and
"In a sport
like swimming, races go by quickly and the difference
between first and second place is often a mere arm's
length," Colt said. "Anything extra such as these 'psychs'
that will get your blood pumping for those few minutes in
the water can be the difference between winning and losing a
For the pros,
team fashion builds unity but, on occasion, also builds
excitement among fans. The 1972 Oakland Athletics baseball
team owner Charlie Finley paid each of his players $300 to
grow a mustache for the fan promotion Mustache Day, recalled
A's equipment manager Steve Vucinich, who's been with the
team since 1968.
"We were kind
of a trendsetter with hair," he said, noting that at the
time many ball clubs had rules against facial hair. "We
played in the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, and
because they were so clean cut, [it was] the Hairs versus
The A's won,
but not because of their facial hair, Vucinich joked. Nor
did bald pates rescue the 2003 Red Sox during the American
League Division series.
But style may
lighten things up. "There's got to be a certain looseness
that helps you play with the right amount of intensity in
pressure situations," Yukelson suggests.
State University Long Beach junior and men's volleyball
player Dustin Watten said that his team's "Fear the Stache" campaign
"loosened us up a lot and we were able to compete better."
Stache" took root after a friend suggested the phrase for
T-shirts. After the team lost in the semifinals, most
players shaved. But not Watten, who competed in a national
tournament that ended last week.
guys on that team want me to keep it for a while because
it's so ridiculous," he said before the tourney. "I want a
mustache tan before I shave it off." Now what does he think
about his pale upper lip? "It's still pretty fun."