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Women In Sports Are the New Style Icons

Off-the-court looks have become a powerful way for women in sports to express themselves—T.J.Maxx and Empower Onyx are partnering with three top athletes to help raise the style game.

Written by T.J.Maxx

For as long as women have been playing sports, they’ve been hit with stereotypes about how they should look on and off the field. “Young girls fall out of sports between the ages of 11 and 14 and a big part of that reason is because they don't know if they want to be [seen as a] tomboy,” says Sanya Richards-Ross, a track and field World Champion. For Black women who are athletes, the stereotypes become even more limiting, often dictating not just who belongs in the game but how they should present themselves when they compete. “I never thought style could be so impactful to other people until my track and field career," Richards-Ross says. "Young girls would reach out to me and tell me, ‘I've never seen anyone on the track that looks like me or that wears mascara or has their hair done—you inspire me to run.”

To celebrate the power of style in sports, Richards-Ross is one of three athletes—along with women’s tackle football champion Adrienne Smith and Chloe Jackson, a basketball champion-turned-stylist—partnering with T.J.Maxx, Empower Onyx, and legendary stylist April Walker to champion women defying stereotypes through their style.

Below are highlights from each of their conversations with sports journalist Maria Taylor, one of the most influential women in sports. She speaks with each athlete about the experience of being a Black woman in sports, feeling confident in the perfect ’fit, and how style has helped influence their careers.

Journalist Maria Taylor for T.J.Maxx Photo by Regina Fleming


Sanya Richards-Ross on Pushing Style Boundaries

Photo by Regina Fleming

Five-time World Champion Sanya Richards-Ross has one of the most storied careers in track and field. But along with the medals, the records, and the sub-50-second 400-meter sprints, she hopes her on-the-track style and her confidence are remembered as key parts of her legacy.

“For me, it was always a way to show young girls you don't have to choose. You can be an incredible athlete and you can also embrace fashion,” she told Taylor. “I pushed boundaries. I really do hope that when athletes think of my career, they think of the longevity, the hard work, and also my desire to show up fully as myself on the track.”

Throughout my evolution as a woman, I feel like I have become more and more confident in who I am, and that shows up in my style. ” -Sanya Richards-Ross

Photo by Regina Fleming


Adrienne Smith Knows the Power of a Power Suit

Adrienne Smith for T.J.Maxx Photo by Regina Fleming

The idea that women couldn’t play professional football never occurred to Adrienne Smith. She was three years old when she got hooked watching professional football. “I would set up my teddy bear, Ginger, and I would run and tackle him while the games were going on,” she told Taylor. “Thank goodness my parents told me I could do and be whatever I wanted to be. And when I expressed my interest in football, they didn't say no.”

“I will never compromise on having a sleek and powerful look.” -Adrienne Smith

Photo by Regina Fleming

When people see the Boston Renegades wide receiver outside of her helmet and pads, their reaction is usually “you’re so tiny,” she says. “I’m smaller than they imagine. But I think I play big.” With two gold medals from the International Federation of American Football’s Women’s World Championship, four national championships with the Women’s Football Alliance, and 10 WFA All-Star appearances, that’s an understatement. Smith plays huge.

As an entrepreneur, “I will never compromise on having a sleek and powerful look,” she says. “Style is an extension of who I am internally. It's the first way people get a glimpse of who I am as a person, what I stand for, whether it's on or off the field.”


Chloe Jackson on Styling Sports’ Biggest Stars

Photo by Regina Fleming

As a former college basketball champion and pro basketball player, Jackson knows better than anyone how an athlete’s off-the-court style can elevate their game. “If you look good, you feel good before you get on the court and you're going to feel good playing,” she tells Taylor.

But for women athletes, looking good is often a double-edged sword. “Some people are like, ‘Oh, she didn’t have a great game because she was too worried about being cute,’” says Jackson. “I think sometimes we feel like if we’re too feminine, we can’t be a good basketball player. But [style] is your mindset. You've got to have confidence in whatever you put on and carry that swagger.”

“[Style] is your mindset. You've got to have confidence in whatever you put on and carry that swagger.” -Chloe Jackson

Photo by Regina Fleming

As a stylist who has dressed some of the most stylish basketball players in the game, Jackson’s number one piece of style advice is to be confident in what you’re wearing, regardless of what other people think. “Those are the moments that matter the most for me as a stylist, when it just clicks for [a client],” she says. “They feel good about what they're wearing and they're ready to go bolder.”


April Walker on Finding Your Most Iconic Style

Photo by Regina Fleming

As a Black woman in fashion and one of the only women at the helm of a hip-hop clothing line, stylist and designer April Walker has been an important voice in fashion since the eighties. As she knows better than most, fashion trends come and go but a woman’s style can be vital to the way she shows up in the world. “Style starts with confidence and an attitude. You could put on something that is $20 and it could look like it's $2,000 if you have a lot of style—it's the way you wear it,” she says. “Fashion is nice clothes. How we feel inside of the fashion, that’s style.”

“Black women who are athletes can have strength, beauty, humility and softness, and still be assured. They don’t have to be defined by one quality. And that’s beautiful.” -April Walker

Photo by Regina Fleming

Style can also be a powerful tool in combating stereotypes, she says. In styling Smith, Richards-Ross, Jackson, and Taylor in partnership with T.J.Maxx, Walker relished the opportunity to use each woman’s style to “tell a story” about who she is. “Some of the stereotypes that Black women face is that they're tough and they're really not human,” she says. Bringing out each athlete’s confidence and personality through her style helped paint a fuller picture. “We dispelled that myth by showing that Black women who are athletes can have strength, beauty, humility, and softness, and still be assured. They don’t have to be defined by one quality. And that’s beautiful.”


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