Tunnel walks, 'aura' and bombshell brand deals: WNBA stars emerge as powerful players in fashion

Chicago Sky guard Kysre Gondrezick arrives for a WNBA game against the New York Liberty at Wintrust Arena on June 4, 2024.
Chicago Sky guard Kysre Gondrezick arrives for a WNBA game against the New York Liberty at Wintrust Arena on June 4, 2024.

When Kysre Gondrezick walked down the WNBA tunnel before games, she meant business.

With her flowy blowout reminiscent of R&B legend Aaliyah, a modelesque walk, and dauntless attitude, the guard demonstrated that her outfits were more than just serving a look.

"I think that my style right now truly resembles where I'm at in my life," Gondrezick, now formerly of the Chicago Sky, told USA TODAY. "It's a testament to the embodiment of me being in my womanhood − the wisdom, the grace. I also think it gives me the confidence to completely express myself."

With the league under a bigger spotlight and acquiring more dollars, the 26-year-old is one of many players promoting themselves on and off the court. They are getting tapped for opportunities in a different arena − the fashion and beauty space.

It's "a new generation of women that are being unapologetically themselves and [setting trends] through their own styles, their own brands," she said.

Rookies take The Met

In recent months, one of the biggest names in the WNBA, the Chicago Sky's Angel Reese, made an appearance on the carpet at the Met Gala and was modeled in a Good American campaign. She has also collaborated with brands, including Revolve and Fashion Nova. Another star, Indiana Fever's Caitlin Clark, donned high-end pieces from Prada worth thousands. Their draft night alone was a fashion lover's dream.

Multi-million and billion dollar brands are taking heed. Last year, beauty giant Glossier sealed a deal to partner with the WNBA. In May, the league and shapewear brand Skims, co-founded by Kim Kardashian, announced their official underwear partnership. The campaign featured the Los Angeles Sparks rookie Cameron Brink, Connecticut Sun guard Dijonai Carrington, Las Vegas Aces' Kelsey Plum, Seattle Storm's Skylar Diggins-Smith, and WNBA legend Candace Parker.

"I'm thrilled to be included in the first-ever SKIMS WNBA campaign alongside this amazing group of rising stars and all-stars. As I move onto this next chapter in my life, I hope to leave the game in a better place and continue to be an example of what is possible both on and off the court," Parker said in a press release.

Mielle, a Black-founded beauty brand, has inked a multi-year deal as the league's official textured hair care partner in 2023.

"For a league that is so heavily represented with Black women, it was powerful to see that cultural sponsor," said Dr. Ajhanai Keaton, an assistant sports management professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Sports & Fashion: Angel Reese, Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams among sports stars at 2024 Met Gala

Chicago Sky forward Angel Reese (5) arrives at Wintrust Arena before a game against the Indiana Fever on June 23, 2024.
Chicago Sky forward Angel Reese (5) arrives at Wintrust Arena before a game against the Indiana Fever on June 23, 2024.

Non-stop viral moments show how fashion in the league has evolved

While scrolling down your timeline, you couldn't escape Gondrezick's looks.

Most notable, she says, was her black Mugler two-piece set and her outfit with a Ralph Lauren men's suit, Victoria Secret's lace bra, and a white Calvin Klein oversized button-up. She paired it with black shades and bold red lipstick to make it pop − inspired by Hall of Famer Tina Thompson, known for a red MAC Diva moment on the court.

"I'm walking in here with the best, knowing people will capture that moment," she said. "Now, however, people receive it, and that's on them, but I'm going to work. That's how I feel that I carry myself, not just through my fashion but in my aura."

Gondrezick and her peers' ensembles have inspired a popular Instagram page, @wnbatunnel, started by ex-collegiate athlete and fashion publicist Velissa Vaughn. She underscored that the current spotlight on beauty and fashion in the WNBA is right on time. As a result, teams are increasing the promotion of players on their online platforms.

"I think the influx of storytelling through social media has become so important," Vaughn, owner of JXV Collective, said. "In terms of the players and the fashion, I don't think there was a landscape for them to do it, but now it's like a game. Teams are making sure they're hiring people that focus on the tunnel walk."

Rickea Jackson arrives prior to the 2024 WNBA Draft at Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 15, 2024 in New York City.
Rickea Jackson arrives prior to the 2024 WNBA Draft at Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 15, 2024 in New York City.

Vaughn's page includes players with different styles, from New York Liberty's Breanna Stewart popping out in Savant Studios to the Sparks' Rickea Jackson dripping in Luar. A'ja Wilson is regularly featured on the page. The Aces center could go from wearing heels one day to sporting a relaxed, casual look with sneakers or fuzzy slippers the next, showcasing the basketball star's style versatility.

"I wish the respect for the game was there much sooner, but if this is what it takes to get us here, I'm not mad at it," Vaughn continued, referring to the growing popularity of the WNBA on social media. "It's pivotal for sure."

Keaton agrees that there has been a shift, pointing out the stark difference between the 2008 draft and 2024, when the world saw Reese, Clark, and Brink take center stage.

"Women were very secretarial," Keaton said of the players dressed in business casual in the 2000s. "We've opened the doors for more presentations of what women can look like."

This includes players who are queer and "dressing in styles and clothes that are more authentic to them."

Non-casual fans are now tuning in

The WNBA continues to set records with "unprecedented growth" in its viewership.

The league credited the 2024 rookie class with the boost in fan engagement from the preseason to the end of May. Game attendance has spiked, as have merchandise sales.

A detailed view of a bejeweled basketball is seen in the hands of Aaliyah Edwards prior to the 2024 WNBA Draft at Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 15, 2024 in New York City.
A detailed view of a bejeweled basketball is seen in the hands of Aaliyah Edwards prior to the 2024 WNBA Draft at Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 15, 2024 in New York City.

"Their cultural aesthetic is bringing people who are not just fans of the game," Keaton said. "People who are fans of fashion makeup, culture are also tuning in."

From a player's perspective, the growing popularity is a blessing: "Our community is doing a really good job of staying true to who they are, which promotes the beauty and the essence of each one of these women," Gondrezick said.

"If we can stay true to that…we will continue to be accepted by the right people. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters."

Taylor Ardrey is a Trending News Reporter for USA TODAY. You can reach her at tardrey@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: WNBA games see fashion takeover with viral tunnel walks, major deals

Advertisement