Some observers argue that these guys would be better off if they actually did have stylists. Cultural critic Raven Smith characterizes Nobu style as “shop-bought not home-grown” and “paint-by-numbers rather than feel-it-out.” There’s certainly a safety in it, which can feel crucial in our era of public scrutiny. But this, Smith says, seems to miss the point of getting dressed in expressive clothing in the first place, and ignores the creative possibilities of collaboration. “References that marginally tweak tradition are so accessible that it’s become easy to consult nobody and dress with a palatable feeling of flair, without any genuine personal commentary,” he says.
Then again, Nobu style might represent a watershed moment in American masculinity. It’s significant that a famous corn-fed tight end who lives in Missouri considers shopping for fancy clothes to be one of his favorite hobbies. If that’s a new status quo, it’s a meaningful one. And it’s clearly catching on throughout the NFL, which was long resistant to the more flamboyant fashion choices seen in Hollywood and the NBA. According to Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara, one of the most original and soulful dressers in all of sports, the locker room at Ford Field is often filled with chatter about planned shopping trips to Japan. “Guys feel like they have a little more freedom to be themselves,” says Okwara, who adds that when he played for the Giants a few years back, all-team meetings on the eve of games became the scene of competitive fit battles. “It was just guys shopping and buying stuff they fucked with,” he says. Which is important, whether the results are paint-by-numbers or not.
What does this all portend for actual stylists? The “no stylist” movement has been strong in hip-hop for years, and the likes of Timothée Chalamet, the king of chaotic daywear, have proved that Nobu style is by no means a requisite for fame. (And in fact we spill more ink over the most unpredictable dressers—looking at you, Adam Sandler—than those who hit every note.) But the role of the modern celeb stylist is broader than making moodboards. Well-connected stylists are critical for celebrities who want to land lucrative brand deals and get invited to fashion shows and industry tentpoles like the Met Gala. And as I’ve previously reported, as red carpet events have grown in frequency and scale, stylists have, if anything, become overburdened. Their influence is in no danger of waning, and in fact the rise of Nobu style is an affirmation that the work they do is resonating.
Nobu style, on the other hand, strikes me as a mere stop on a long journey of discovery, an expression of genuine enthusiasm that can lead to a more personal relationship with clothing. It’s anyone’s guess how Kelce’s passion for his walk-in closet will develop. His rumored girlfriend, Swift, has a stylist but famously looks unstyled. It will be fascinating to see how they influence each other. But for now, Kelce appears to be steadfastly following his own sartorial instincts. As he put it to the WSJ, he already considers his gametime outfits to be bigger than himself. “For the most part,” he says, “I do it to put a smile on somebody’s face.”
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