How Thom Browne's Radical Suit Found Its Way to LeBron James

<cite class="credit"><strong>PHOTOGRAPH BY MATT MARTIN</strong><br> <strong>1. The Fabric</strong> A slim-fitting gray flannel two-piece is basically the Platonic ideal of the conservative American suit. It became fashion when Browne shrank it to its radical proportions. <strong>| 2. The Trim</strong> Browne found his brand's signature tricolor grosgrain trim at a shop in Manhattan's garment district. <strong>| 3. The Shorts</strong> Browne says the ideal spot on the leg for the shorts to hit is right above the knee. <strong>| 4. The Socks</strong> Browne has said that bare ankles are the new male cleavage. <strong>| 5. The Cardigan</strong> Browne started wearing a midcentury university-inspired cardigan under his suit so he wouldn't have to wear a coat on a cold day. <strong>| 6. The Proportions</strong> James wears a customized U.S. size 46 jacket. The proportions are essentially the same as those of Browne's suit, just graded up. <strong>| 7. The Style</strong> When the Cavs debuted their Thom Browne suits, “they all had their own little interpretation of it, and that made it even more interesting,” Browne says. <strong>| 8. The Cutoffs</strong> Even before he started his label, Browne chopped a pair of trousers into shorts, and he did the same for James. <strong>| 9. The Boots</strong> James's boots are size 15. (Browne also made him a custom pair of black pebble Nike Air Maxes.) <strong>| 10. The Signature</strong> When you buy a Thom Browne shirt in the New York store, an employee handwrites your name and the date on the tag. James bought this one on October 30, 2015.</cite>

When Thom Browne debuted his signature shrunken suit in 2001, he had five made for himself and wore the schoolboy-size blazers and tailored shorts every day. Reactions were not promising. “The initial reception was: ‘What are you doing?’ ” Browne recalls.

Needless to say, his fortunes soon changed. Now you can't swing a Thom Browne dachshund bag in Brooklyn without hitting a grown man wearing high-water pants. But the true legacy of the Thom Browne suit may only just be coming into focus. It has become the unexpected uniform for some of the world's biggest athletes.

Literally the biggest. Check out LeBron James's personal Thom Browne kit here. Several years ago, perhaps in a quest to solidify his rep as the NBA's menswear classicist in a league of radically dressed Westbrooks and Hardens, James began ordering custom Thom Browne. “It happened very naturally,” Browne says. “LeBron just started buying the collection—I didn't even know that he was, initially.”

James's former teammate Dwyane Wade was also a fan, showing up at Paris Fashion Week in Thom Browne, carrying one of the designer's dog-shaped bags. Then, for the 2018 playoffs, James got the entire Cleveland Cavaliers squad in custom Thom Browne. Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona embraced the shrunken suit as an off-field uniform shortly thereafter. Odell Beckham Jr. took the look a step further for the 2019 Met gala, wearing a sleeveless Thom Browne tuxedo jacket and a pleated skirt.

It's a delightful paradox that a gray flannel suit has so much cultural purchase in the Drip Era. But as James and Beckham Jr. proved, the most exciting thing you can wear in our riotous fashion moment is a suit with personality. And by pushing his very conservative vision to the extreme, Browne created one of the boldest and most distinctive statements in men's style—even if that wasn't his intention. “I guess the fashion world turned it into fashion,” he says.

After 18 years, the design of the suit hasn't really changed, nor has Browne's devotion to it. His latest suit is here next to James's—and he still has five of them made for himself every season.

A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue with the title "How Thom Browne's Radical Suit Found Its Way to LeBron James."

Originally Appeared on GQ