NFL coaches have never based their reputations on fashion. Remember Bum Phillips, his white belt as wide as the Mississippi? Tom Landry’s dour fedora, as gray as the man himself? Or John Madden’s tentlike shirts, which usually held the left side of the menu from yesterday’s steakhouse?
Well, Joe Gibbs had his own bad aesthetic—call it Gibbswear—that fit right in with these coaching fashion plates. Windshield-wide glasses. Redskins-logo feed cap, with enough headroom to store a playbook. Tight burgundy
Sansabelts topping white shoes. Polo shirts with seagull-wing collars—embroidered Redskins helmet gracing each point, and so stiffly starched that they could clothesline you. The whole package was enough to give Mr. Blackwell writer’s cramp, and since leaving the team, Gibbs’ taste has gone further south. To promote his NASCAR Winston Cup racing team, he wears a logo-festooned polo that sports…epaulets.
Despite his wardrobe, though, Gibbs doesn’t hesitate to weigh in on the fashion industry’s peccadillos. In fact, he played smashmouth last summer against what he called a “sexually provocative campaign” by clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. In a late-August open letter to Michael Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch’s chair and chief executive officer, Gibbs announced that he was joining forces with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Young Life in a nationwide campaign against Abercrombie & Fitch’s Winter 2003 A&F magalog, subtitled “David Abercrombie and Ezra Fitch’s Christmas Field Guide.”
What offended Gibbs’ about the “field guide” wasn’t the firm’s winter line, but its photo spreads of naked young men and women cavorting and cuddling in the great outdoors. “I want to be one of the Americans to stand up and say I’m embarrassed by your efforts and I’m embarrassed for each of you,” wrote Gibbs to Jeffries.
Gibbs also promised to slam Abercrombie & Fitch to the “hundreds of thousands of race fans and football fans” whom he claimed to speak to during the course of each year, as well as to his “numerous friends on Capitol Hill.”
“I can promise you—I will devote my full efforts to spread the word about this campaign,” wrote Gibbs. “My hope is your business will indeed suffer as a result.”
Abercrombie & Fitch pulled the catalog from its stores in November, and its sales for that month were off 13 percent.
Let’s hope Gibbs doesn’t hop online and take a look at some of the offerings on the Redskins’ own online catalog. Like the “Logo Print Thong,” whose elastic string sides and rear connect tiny patches of red satin with the team name and logo in a “snapshot pattern.” Or the “Women’s Glitter Tank,” with rhinestones and “Redskins” in script curling across the left breast. Or the knit shorts with the “screen printed two color name across the seat,” as the catalog’s text delicately puts it.
Karl Swanson, spokesperson for the Redskins, says there’s no chance right now that Gibbs will be able to influence what’s in and out of the Redskins’ catalog.
“He’s dealing with just football stuff” as the team’s new president, says Swanson. “The two are completely separate. He certainly has his opinions, but it’s way too soon to tell. He’s focused on looking at coaching résumés.”
Gibbs might also want to review the Redskins cheerleaders’ Web site—where he can see their usual uniforms of halter tops and plunging-waisted white-satin boy shorts (with embroidered script “R” positioned off-tackle left). Or he can page through their 2003–2004 swimsuit calendar, which features the “First Ladies of Football” preening and lounging at a Mexican resort. The calendar’s photos are also available in a $75 set of trading cards. “Over the past several years, the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders have become the most visible cheerleading squad in the NFL,” boasts the group’s Web site.
Swanson says that the organization has the final say on the cheerleaders’ costumes and merchandising, although clothing suggestions usually come from the cheerleaders themselves. “If they have something they’re interested in wearing, they’re the ones who have to wear it,” says Swanson. “It doesn’t consume a lot of meeting time.”
But now that Gibbs is back, could Gibbswear make a resurgence? Look for headgear to be a leading indicator, according to Swanson.
“With the previous two coaches,” he says, “the most immediate items that people requested were hats. [Marty] Schottenheimer—he wore big straw hats in training camp, and we got requests for those. With Steve Spurrier, it was visors. So it’s not unrealistic that hats will be part of the equation.”
Don’t peel off your Wuerffel jersey just yet, though. At the Washington Redskins Store at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Va., employee Josh Holland says “it might take some time” for Gibbswear to hit the stores.
“We have nothing [about Gibbs], really,” says Holland. “We have just pictures on the wall from the Super Bowl, and those are not for sale.” But Holland says one Gibbs item is guaranteed to ship: a bobble-head doll. “They do a new one every time they hire a new coach,” Holland says. “The Spurrier one looks just like him. It’s not selling real well.”
“He did have a distinctive look,” Holland says of Gibbs. “But those shirts are kinda dead right now.” —Robert Lalasz