Why boxing is the most stylish sport — and why fashion houses can’t get enough

These days less than before, we gather in a room, my grandpa closest to the TV, and watch as two people beat each other up. There is always food — someone makes pozole, someone brings a Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready. The chorus of collective winces rises and falls and at least one person in our home audience becomes a backseat referee. It’s blood sport, but it’s also a dance — a performance that unfolds before our eyes. In my family, ordering the big fight is tradition. Most of us are watching to see who wins, who is in better condition, who is being shady with their technique. But my attention has always fallen on the pageantry of it all, the campiness, the fashion. Boxing is one of the few sports where there is a structure and expectation for a kind of uniform, but the details are up to interpretation. Landing a lead uppercut is one thing, but pulling up to the ring wearing leopard trunks with olive-green Adidas boxing shoes and winning (see: “Prince” Naseem Hamed vs. Kevin Kelley, 1997) is another.

If you’re going to put on a performance, you need a costume. In boxing, the performance starts long before the first punch is thrown: with the ring walk. It’s the ultimate exercise in anticipation and aesthetics. It’s an opportunity for a boxer to show you who they are, where they come from and what they believe in based on the color and cut they choose for their custom-tailored trunks, based on what song they choose to walk out to. It gets dramatic, of course. See: Floyd Mayweather vs. Oscar De La Hoya, 2007.

But from a certain angle, the ring walk looks like a runway. There is a popular meme that takes a snapshot of two boxers locked into each other’s arms, sweat and Vaseline intermingling on their dewy, swollen foreheads as their breath becomes slow and heavy like a car pulling into the gas station after running on “e” for 10 miles. It usually says something to the effect of, “I love when they hug.” An image of a boxing match, without context, can be violence mistaken for affection. In the same way an image of a ring walk, without context, could be mistaken for a catwalk. Squint hard enough and it’s all the same.

Muna wears GCDS top and bottom, Vitaly jewelry and Nike boxing shoes.

(Callum Walker Hutchinson / For The Times)

In October, I was sitting at an Amazon Music fashion show (styled by Image’s fashion director Keyla Marquez) and the final look was a pinstripe ball gown with a full skirt that upon closer inspection was cinched at the waist with that classic boxer short elastic band — the model, Pablo Simental, wore it like a wedding gown down the runway. The piece was from Tanamachi, a brand out of Mexico City whose references to the classic boxing uniform are freaked into maxi cargo skirts, miniskirts, pants, pant-shorts and faux jockstraps. The feel of the work is sporty and casual but specific — utilizing iconography that we all recognize for its proximity to both greatness and danger. This might explain boxing’s symbiotic relationship with fashion, a mutually inspirational dynamic that seems to peak every 10 years for the last few decades.

It’s ironic how sporty I dress considering the little-to-no affinity I have for actual sports — my own participation in boxing hasn’t moved past the point of my grandpa telling me to go “hit the bag” whenever I was anxious growing up. It’s giving, “She doesn’t even go here.” It’s giving, “Oh, that band is on your T-shirt? Name 10 songs.” I would fail these tests. I can’t talk stats, but I’m magnetically drawn to the subculture that surrounds sports. I live for the fandom. The beef. And mostly, always, the aesthetics. I’m even more drawn to fashion’s take on sports — it’s always without context; a yassified version of something that most athletes wear for safety or practicality reasons, re-created for vibe alone. Last year, you could see it in the way girlies (gender neutral) co-opted vintage motocross jerseys and pants, fluorescent polyester all over the Silverlake Flea. On a recent weekend, it was a woman in an Adidas boxing shoe at a warehouse party in the Fashion District (raving is a sport, right?).

Model holds punching bag wearing Rocawear top and bottom, Vitaly jewelry, Pleasers shoes.

Kimberly wears Rocawear top and bottom, Vitaly jewelry, Pleasers shoes.

(Callum Walker Hutchinson / For The Times)

Boxer hangs on punching bag.

Sierra wears HuDieGongZhu top, Lado Bokuchava bottom, Vitaly jewelry, Adidas boxing shoes.

(Callum Walker Hutchinson / For The Times)

French fashion icon Michèle Lamy, designer, performer and wife to Rick Owens, first started boxing nearly 40 years ago when she walked into a gym off Santa Monica Boulevard. She told i-D magazine in 2020 that “boxing is about standing for what you believe in.” She has infused the sport into her work over the last several decades, inspiring a 2018 pop-up that featured capsule collection boxing-inspired items including Supreme’s collaboration with Everlast. Lamy has also said that boxing is about “observing somebody that is observing you.” Boxers purposely wear flashy clothes in the ring to inspire this kind of observation — from their audience, mostly, but also from their opponent. Apollo Creed’s trunks worn by Rocky in “Rocky IV” were intended as provocation, as political statement — shorts for others to see and feel some type of way about. We couldn’t look away when Hector “Macho” Camacho wore a tasseled Roman gladiator skirt to fight “Sugar” Ray Leonard in 1977. In the same way we can’t look away when we see shiny satin trunks worn with a white tank top and heels at an art opening.

When my grandpa was young, he had a reputation for being a fearless fighter. His nickname was Oso, a.k.a. “bear.” He fought on the street, then in a ring, where he never lost — inside or out — he reminds me. He moved to California at 17 to see if he could go pro. (When he arrived, one of the only boxing gyms in San Diego had been closed as a panic response to a number of young men getting killed during fights.) He trained both of my uncles how to box when they were young — the 30-year joke is that one of them fought Julio César Chávez (not the iconic Mexican boxer Julio César Chávez, but a boy named after him). My mom spent a chunk of her childhood standing on side of the ropes, yelling for her brothers to win and eventually jumped into her own exhibition fight, where she beat up a boy named Beto.

Two boxers face off in a ring.

An image of a boxing match, without context, can be violence mistaken for affection. In the same way, an image of a ring walk, without context, could be mistaken for a catwalk. Squint hard enough and it’s all the same.

(Callum Walker Hutchinson / For The Times)

Two boxers dance in a ring.

The hope with a sporty outfit is that it communicates that you’re ready for anything.

(Callum Walker Hutchinson / For The Times)

A boxing bag and gloves are always in close proximity to my mom’s house, waiting there in case inspiration should strike, or if there is unforeseen steam that needs to be blown off. My grandpa has always wanted his grandkids — all 7 million of them — to learn, “so they can defend themselves,” so no one messes with them. I had a sense of pride about this being the sport my family did, the thing we connected on. It felt as closely associated with toughness and discipline as I wanted to imagine myself being.

Two boxers pose in the ring.

A boxing-inspired look is all about reverence.

(Callum Walker Hutchinson / For The Times)

It felt kindred when I thrifted a pair of vintage boxing-style Fred Segal shoes last year. Of course I should have these, I thought, it’s in my blood. I also considered myself blessed: It was around this time that I felt something happening again with boxing and fashion — in the same way it was with Prada’s silky SS14 boxing shoes, or Chanel’s AW92 red leather runway look complete with gloves and protective gear. In the last six months, I can’t not see it. Maybe it’s a Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon thing, when you think of something so much you start seeing it everywhere, or the algorithm. But I felt it: The rest of the world was starting to catch on once again. (I’m just waiting for the moment the trend hits Santee Alley, then I’ll know for sure.)

A similar pair of boxing shoes is selling for hundreds on Depop right now. Last month, one of my favorite online vintage curators, @copmeifyoucan, posted a pair of Jean Paul Gaultier SS88 boxing shorts, pinstriped with a bone design and embellished with an image of a boxing gym. (The designer was inspired by the sport throughout his career — from the’90s, when he made a bag inspired by boxing shorts that’s still coveted on resale sites, to his FW10 show where models strutted out in gloves.) And in Paisaboys’ fall collection, the brand released a pair of Campeones Shorts — red, green and white satin with scorpion appliques at the legs. A campaign image captioned: “Arms too short to box with God.”

A boxer and coach strategize in a corner of a boxing ring.

Boxing has a symbiotic relationship with fashion, a mutually inspirational dynamic that seems to peak every 10 years for the last few decades.

(Callum Walker Hutchinson / For The Times)

Model poses with hands behind her back in the ring.

A boxing shoe is an ideal vehicle for modern life in L.A. — for moving fast enough so that you don’t get hurt, for keeping yourself grounded or reaching for some semblance of balance.

(Callum Walker Hutchinson / For The Times)

A boxing shoe is lightweight, close to the earth. It’s an ideal vehicle for modern life in L.A. — for moving fast enough so that you don’t get hurt, for keeping yourself grounded or reaching for some semblance of balance. A model at a shoot recently told me she’s been thinking of getting a pair as a replacement for her Nike Cortez. Every time I wear the vintage Fred Segals they spur comments, memories — someone recently called them “the Nacho Libre 3000s” (yes, the fictional character was a wrestler, but the association is there). They remind us of something we want (to be tough, brave, quick) or something we’ve seen.

The hope with a sporty outfit is that it communicates that you’re ready for anything. There’s a cheeky irreverence to basketball shorts off the court, or a soccer jersey worn tight at the club. But in my case, a boxing-inspired look is all about reverence. A cosplay of my family values. “You’ve got nobody to blame,” my grandpa told me the other day when I asked him why he was drawn to boxing instead of any other sport. “If you’re making mistakes or something happens, it’s up to you.” Wearing a boxing shoe is my connective tissue to this sentiment, and all the other lessons from boxing that have infiltrated my life. A tether to my grandpa. A reminder that even if I’m just dressing the part, I’m a fighter too.

IMAGE Issue 24 boxing fashion story

A boxing-inspired outfit may serve as a reminder that even if you’re just dressing the part, you’re a fighter too.

(Callum Walker Hutchinson / For The Times)

Models Sierra Fujita, Muna Malik, Kimberly Nolasco
Makeup Selena Ruiz
Hair Adrian Arredondo
Styling Assistant Izzy Hyun

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