Coach Sydney Carter Styled Me For the Women’s Final Four and I Felt Like a Winner

Courtesy of Chandler Plante

Image Source: Courtesy of Chandler Plante/Mariott Bonvoy/Getty

Game day style comes naturally to Sydney Carter. Throughout her past two years as the Director of Player Development for the University of Texas Women’s Basketball team, you may have caught her in a pair of monogrammed Gucci thigh-highs, a cow-print miniskirt and matching cowboy boots, or even a particularly controversial pair of pink latex pants. Haters will tell you Coach Carter’s fashion is “too much” for a basketball game. But in a blockbuster year for women’s basketball, where women continue to inspire, break records, and take up space, Coach Carter reminds us there’s no such thing as “too much.”

“I always say if you want to take up space, take up good space,” Carter tells POPSUGAR during a discussion hosted by Marriott Bonvoy. “To be taking up good space in a male-dominated field is so empowering.” That might mean feathers, rhinestones, or designer brands, but above all, it means staying true to herself and tuning out the criticism. “Women aren’t afraid to take up space anymore. We are not afraid to bet on ourselves or show that we are more than what we do on court. We are multifaceted. We are inspirational. We are HERE,” Carter says.

“Women aren’t afraid to take up space anymore.”

To her point, in 2023, only 42 percent of head coaches for women’s teams in NCAA Division I were women themselves. Yet, Iowa State’s recent victory over LSU in the Final Four made history raking in 12.3 million viewers on ESPN, while the national championship final (Iowa vs. South Carolina) drew in 18.7 million viewers, making it the most-viewed ever NCAA Women’s basketball tournament. This sudden spike is in part due to generational stars like Caitlin Clark, but also to increased coverage, and people like Carter who refuse to dim their light.

For several of these burgeoning stars, fashion feels like a natural pairing. Angel Reese, one of the most highly publicized players of the year, announced her journey to the WNBA via Vogue spread. Dawn Staley, head coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks, pushed her team through an undefeated season in a Louis Vuitton bomber jacket. On TikTok, creators have taken to the app to share how they’d style stars like Caitlin Clark, even theorizing about hypothetical designer collaborations with Christian Dior. But truthfully, fashion has been a part of women’s basketball since its inception.

WNBA icons like Sue Bird and Candace Parker have been setting the bar high with their street style for years. In 2016, Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen wore “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts to make an impactful statement before a game against the Dallas Wings, even prompting a police walkout. In 2021, Liz Cambage became the very first WNBA ambassador for Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty, and at the 2021 WNBA Draft, Charli Collier stepped out in a custom Sergio Hudson look. Following in these women’s footsteps, the next generation continues to show out, whether it’s on the orange carpet for the WNBA draft, or on their own social media platforms. Fans might come for the basketball, but fashion remains a major part of the players’s brand, and it’s hard to look away.

“There’s so many young women that are looking at the game now,” Carter says. They might be inspired by a particular player and their skills on the court, but they might also take interest in what they’re shopping, who they’re wearing, and what makes these women feel and look the most confident. “There could be a kid that’s coming there for basketball, or coming there for the fashion show that’s happening,” Carter says. Having played in the WNBA herself, she has been merging her love of fashion and basketball long before she ever went viral on the sidelines. “I started really early, like wearing my mom’s shoes when I was in fourth grade. I wanted to [wear them] with the school uniform,” she says. “When I got to college, my college coach noticed every time the banquet came around at the end of the year, I always had on loud colors, a heel, something like that. So I feel like it’s always just been something natural for me. Like it’s always gone hand-in-hand with my passion for basketball.”

Given her game-day fashion sense, as a part of the Marriott Bonvoy Moments experience – a loyalty program that enables Marriott Bonvoy members to redeem points earned from travel and everyday activities for exclusive access to premier sporting events, concerts, and restaurants – Carter helped me design a look of my own for the NCAA women’s basketball championship game.

Image Source: Courtesy of Marriott Bonvoy

I started by choosing a style of bomber jacket – an oversized silhouette, with buttons down the front. Thankfully, Coach Carter approved. Then, she noticed my fruit-themed nails (hers are razor sharp and painted to look like pastel basketballs), so we added a patch decorated with hot pink nails to one sleeve of the jacket. I suggested a Cleveland patch for the other sleeve, and we decided to write my name in metallic silver embroidery right beneath the collar. As for the back of the jacket, I already had a phrase in mind. “Eye on the prize,” I told Coach Carter, pointing to my eye patch. Having lost vision in my right eye three years ago, I figured the idiom was an appropriate embodiment of Carter’s values: to express yourself unapologetically and embrace the things that make you stand out (my rainbow beaded eye patch included).

Coach Carter high-fived me and encouraged me to write the mantra in bright pink, using the largest font. “Being your authentic self is your superpower. No one else on the planet possesses what you have. Life is not meant to be lived to please everyone all the time. In fact, that is impossible,” she told PS. “If you wake up every day and are happy with yourself and [how] you present yourself. . . you’ve already won that day.”

The final design emulated game-day spirit, and it was easy for me to envision myself wearing it to the championship. Although I’m not the world’s foremost basketball expert, in that moment, I felt like women’s basketball – a space I had always been mildly intimidated by – was actually holding space for me. One that felt supportive, uplifting, and genuinely inclusive in a way I never anticipated, and made me excited to witness even more women excellence. As we gave the jacket one last pass, I wondered aloud if I may have added “too much.” Maybe there’s a patch I should’ve left off, or some embroidery I should’ve toned down. In the midst of my worry, Carter whipped her head around mid-sentence and summed up her entire fashion philosophy in a single eloquent reminder.

“What’s ‘too much?!'”

Image Source: Courtesy of Chandler Plante

Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for POPSUGAR Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group.

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