Every colorful outfit Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey wears on the sidelines is a reflection of who she is on and off the court.
“I always want to look elegant, classy, but strong, powerful [and] confident because that’s who I am,” Ivey said. “The way that I look is the way that I feel about myself.”
Ivey is among several Black female coaches in women’s college basketball who consciously choose their sideline fashions to display personal style, express their personalities, project confidence and inspire their players.
“I think that’s something that as I’m standing in front of my team, you know, they always love when [coaches] dress up because it shows, you know, a different side of us,” Ivey said. “I know that everybody’s watching, so I always want to make sure that I’m appropriate, but I’m also showing the elegance of who I am.”
Ivey’s outfits start as a blank canvas inside her home with model Julie Henderson, her former teammate at Notre Dame and best friend of two decades. At least once a month, Henderson flies from New York to South Bend, Indiana, to help Ivey select styles for upcoming games. When Henderson is booked and busy, Ivey consults another New York-based stylist.
“I’m lucky I have my best friend that was my roommate [and] teammate. She’s helping me a lot, and I hired a stylist to kind of give me some extra pointers this year,” Ivey told Andscape. “So I think I’m going to try to show my feminine side a little bit more [and] my personality. I love fashion. I love beautiful clothes. I love beautiful things.”
While Ivey completes a long day of team practices and film review, Henderson organizes Ivey’s closet and sets out clothes for Ivey to try on after work, pieces Henderson collects from New York and buys online that she believes Niele might love. Ivey and Henderson collaborate to create styles that fit Ivey’s feminine chic style, and during their bedroom runway sessions, they also brainstorm multiple ways to wear a blazer, blouse or skirt.
“My first thing [is] the color scheme and then it’s kind of like a vibe and energy. So this year, I’m going to try to plan out more games in advance. I don’t mind patterns, but I think I like bold colors and sometimes I like bright colors. I kind of like showing my femininity a little bit more,” Ivey said. “I will say that that would probably be my beginning stage of understanding and learning fashion. I’m big on if I feel good in the clothes.”
The styling sessions occasionally result in disagreements.
“I want to push her because she’s uncomfortable with some things … and we have actually heated debates. [She says] ‘I’m not ready for that.’ [I tell her] ‘But you can be.’ We actually do get into little fights about it,” Henderson said.
“I’m gonna make her try [clothes] on. And she may not take them, but I really like to push her and then see where she wants to go because she doesn’t always know until she tries it on.”
While planning outfits Ivey and Henderson are careful to stay away from rival teams’ colors. Ivey’s color palette largely has featured Notre Dame’s primary colors, navy blue and gold, and she has filtered in numerous shades of green as well. This season Ivey has sported a gold blouse, a mint green suit and a Kelly green blazer on the sidelines.
The emphasis on gold represents where Ivey wants to take the Irish this season.
“It’s gonna be lots of color, lots of power suits, lots of gold. [Ivey’s] mindset is national championship,” Henderson said. “I think part of her power and part of her magic is getting dressed in her power suits, in her battle suits. I want her clothes to enable her to do all that she [needs to] on the court. And when she walks into the gym, you can feel her. I want her clothes to really empower her and embody all that she is and all that she’s becoming.
“Fashion is a great way to really embody the women that you are being in that moment, [and] I love watching Niele discover more and more of who she is.”
Ivey’s sideline style caught the attention of Jackson State head coach Tomekia Reed, who draws her fashion inspiration from Ivey and another top coach in women’s college basketball.
“Niele Ivey, years ago, she started making dresses on the sidelines so popular and so accepted and so sexy. She’s the one that I watched, and I was like, ‘You know what, it’s time to wear some dresses.’ So I started wearing dresses after watching what she did for dresses on the sideline,” Reed said. “Dawn Staley is my new [inspiration] who I like to look at on the sideline. She wears trendy, high fashionable outfits.”
Reed, who dresses herself, describes her style as classy and trendy. Her usual go-to clothing choices include pencil skirts, knee-length dresses and double-breasted blazers – all choices she believes exude strength and power as head coach at a historically Black college.
“I want people to say when they see me on a sideline and how I portrayed myself that I am a strong Black woman who never gave up. I am a strong Black woman with a lot of fight. I am a woman who’s fighting for a difference,” Reed said. “When they see me, I want them to think professional, classy and a lady who has amazing expectations, who is a force for success and by any means gets it done.”
She prefers to mix traditional business attire such as blazers and skirts with designer brands. When the Tigers advanced to the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game last year, Reed was wearing Burberry – a black shirt and a Burberry plaid skirt. For Jackson State’s NCAA Tournament matchup against LSU last year Reed decided to wear something to stand out: a two-piece Versace set with a black short-sleeved top and matching skirt. Reed’s rationale behind her outfit was to look as good as LSU head coach Kim Mulkey, who is known for her vibrant and multicolored styles.
The game set the bar for Reed’s sideline outfits this season.
“I don’t have a stylist. After we played LSU in the entire Versace outfit that I chose, a lot of people have been holding me to that standard. So before big games, I get DMs [direct messages]. ‘OK, Coach, what are we wearing next week? What are we wearing this game?’” Reed said. “So now it’s like everybody has an expectation. So now I do prepare ahead of time what I want to wear on the sidelines.”
For several months after Jackson State’s close loss to LSU, Reed followed the same dress code for big games on her team’s schedule. When the Tigers defeated Power 5 opponent Texas Tech in November, Reed wore a multicolored dress – to her players’ delight.
“When I put on the dress for Texas Tech, the players came in the locker room and [were] like, ‘Oh, my goodness, Coach, oh, it’s the legs for me. Oh, it’s the paisley print for me, you know?’ So they were super excited,” Reed said. “You can see for that moment their minds were completely on something other than being pressured to win a game.”
Reed’s players have followed her lead with intentional fashion choices for big games. When facing Power 5 opponents, competing in conference championships or playing NCAA Tournament games, the players prefer their black uniforms with embroidered Jackson State lettering in white with red trim.
“I’m definitely a big stickler when it comes to what works [and] what works for us. Black uniforms, black suits for the coaches. Black uniform for the players – that’s a sign of fight and when we beat Texas Tech we had on black uniforms. When it’s a big game and my players really want to make a statement, they ask, ‘Coach, can we put on black?” Reed said.
“If it’s a good outcome of the game, [people] remember you by what you wear. If it’s a bad outcome of the game and if the outfit is hot, people still want to talk about it. You try to win. It’s like we gon’ win something today. If it is not the game, we’re gonna definitely be the best dressed.”
For Sydney Carter, director of player development at Texas, fashion and basketball were two of her childhood loves.
Carter’s love of fashion dates back to her elementary school days. Though her mother wanted her to model, Carter developed a passion for basketball, but her passion for fashion didn’t waiver.
Carter’s wardrobe consists of pieces she finds in stores or via online shops she discovered while playing professional basketball overseas.
She chronicles her game day outfits on social media – and she refuses to repeat outfits.
“A lot of people ask me about a stylist. I’m like, it’s me. When I wake up, I always say I’m gonna put on a two piece, no mannequin, so I’m just gonna throw some things together. … I don’t plan ‘fits unless it’s a themed game,” Carter said. “I kind of just wake up, see how I’m feeling and then just kind of put it together.
“I am very much on the lines of sass and class, because I am extra and I pay attention to the details. So I’m very critical when I’m piecing things together. But I’m never not classy, never not presentable.”
When most NCAA coaches relaxed their personal dress codes during the COVID-19 pandemic as teams played in empty stadiums, Carter didn’t budge.
“They were like, ‘Oh well, nobody’s coming to the games. I don’t want to dress nice.’ That was never me,” Carter said, “I was blessed to have a coach [Gary Blair] … and he was a firm believer in wearing his suit and tie to the game because this is business. You’re at your job, and he used to tell me, ‘Don’t ever let anybody tell you what you can’t wear.’”
While Carter’s style showcases her love of vibrant colors and materials, one of her choices ignited some controversy. Last season when Carter was a member of Texas A&M’s coaching staff, she decided to wear a white turtleneck and bright pink leather pants with pumps for a breast cancer awareness game against Kentucky. Although only her hands and ankles were exposed, her outfit went viral on social media as some questioned the appropriateness of her attire.
“I can’t leave my curves at home at the end of the day. I have to be authentically myself every day because it’s all I have,” Carter said. “I feel like it was my time to lead [the conversation] in the form of not just being a Black woman, not just being a curvy woman, but I am a woman in a male-dominated profession. So every day, every game, you’re gonna get the same Black, curvy woman and her outfit.
“There are so many characteristics and components to me that I hope people can focus on rather than how dare she put on a pair of pink pants and be confident in that.”
Ivey recalled similar incidents occurring when she was an assistant coach for Notre Dame.
“I remember I would wear dresses and my curves, and my shape would show, and I remember receiving positive feedback and then there was negative feedback about it,” Ivey said. “I just wanted to be appropriate regardless.”
Carter shook the controversy off and instead focused on her supporters. A young girl mimicked Carter’s infamous pink leather pants with sign that read “I am Coach Carter #BlackGirlMagic.”
The ordeal was an opportunity for Carter to show how her mentality has evolved throughout her career.
“I have gotten a different kind of confidence about myself to wear what I like to wear. I wear it for me. I don’t wear it for anybody else,” Carter said. “So I feel like a lot of my growth is from maturity realizing I don’t dress for men. I don’t dress for women. I don’t dress for comments. I don’t dress for opinions. I just dress how I want to dress because I like it. As you grow older and you start living for yourself, it just starts to hit different.”
Sideline fashion is an open space for self-expression for these Black female coaches, they said.
“Women coaches are being allowed to dress to their liking and are not being penalized or judged for that. … I like that the coaches are able to wear what fits their personalities,” Reed said. “It’s OK to wear dresses on the sideline. It’s OK to be passionate and intense with a dress on and still be considered a lady.”
The coaches agree: Their style on the court doesn’t hinder them from effectively doing their jobs.
“I love that Black women are presenting themselves in such a way where they can embrace their individuality but still be able to be in a professional setting,” Carter said. “I can dress this way and still be classy. I can dress this way and still do my job well. The way that I dress has nothing to do with how well I am able to do my job.
“It’s just a good thing to see that people are confident enough now to be able to say, ‘I look good [and] I’m coaching good.’”