Sports and fashion are not a new combo. NBA players have long been admired for their often effortlessly cool, occasionally ostentatious pre-game walk-in outfits; Serena Williams has appeared on the cover of Vogue three times; Super Bowl champ Travis Kelce’s city-jock-chic fashion game has only gotten better since his relationship with Taylor Swift went public (and the global pop star incorporated cute football paraphernalia into each of her highly publicized game-day looks); and Rihanna’s long-standing partnership with Puma has resulted in an array of athleisure and sporty sneakers. The one sport that has usually been left out of the trendsetting conversation, however? Hockey.

The reason is multi-layered, according to Sara Civian, a freelance hockey reporter who writes articles ranking NHL players’ style for online sports outlet Bleacher Report. Hockey, she explains, has a “storied history of professionalism,” which has resulted in a strict dress code for the NHL: Players, for the most part, are expected to wear suits and ties while adhering to some level of conformity to present a unified front as a team. “I think [the lack of style] is also due to the lack of diversity—it’s a very white, homogenous sport,” says Civian. “I’ve talked to some players of colour, and they’ve expressed that they look up to other players of colour in the league when it comes to expressing style. [More often], they’re able to work within the suit mandate and make it more interesting.”

Over the past few years, things have slowly started to change. During the travel-restricted pandemic season in 2020, the league temporarily loosened rules, and some teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, have since occasionally allowed their athletes to experiment a bit. Players are also increasingly working with stylists and custom-clothing designers on pre- game looks. (According to theScore, for example, menswear designer Tom Marchitelli frequently works with some of the league’s top athletes, including Boston Bruins goalkeeper Linus Ullmark.)

Meanwhile, young, hip social-media teams know how to leverage walk-in photos and buzzy events, which are becoming more of a fashion showcase. Just look at Justin Bieber’s giant polka-dot Marni puffer, which he wore when he got behind the bench as a celebrity coach at this past February’s All-Star Game in Toronto. And the athletes would be wise to keep that momentum growing, adds Civian. “[Fashion] is a way for players to not only get brand deals but also express themselves and gain recognition and [the kind of ] star power that the NHL is behind on.”

But the NHL has already been eclipsed by the new kid in town. When the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL)—a single unified women’s hockey league with widespread industry support and actual marketing efforts behind it—launched its inaugural season this past January, the athletes came to play sartorially as well as athletically. Before every game, each of the league’s six teams share fan-favourite photos and videos of players enthusiastically posing in outfits of all kinds, from pink blazers to low-key sweatpants to fringed jackets. The PWHL, which has no dress code, seems to have already recognized what it has taken the NHL decades to learn: that letting its athletes show personality through fashion (and letting fans interact with that side of them) has value when it comes to growing the game.

“I love that [the PWHL] has embraced fashion and that the athletes are acting like they’re aware of the camera and kind of being like, ‘Okay, take a picture of my outfit,’” says Civian. “You can tell that everyone wants this league to work, and pre-game outfits are kind of a representation of being legit. You have to show up, and everybody’s putting effort into it.”

To find out what goes into a game-day outfit, we called up stylish members from each of the PWHL’s three Canadian teams to talk about their relationship with fashion, their personal aesthetic and how they approach getting dressed.

Mariah Keopple, PWHL Montreal

Mariah Keopple, PWHL MontrealPWHL Montreal/Arianne Bergeron

PWHL Montreal’s Mariah Keopple quickly established herself as a player to watch—both on the ice and as arguably one of the most stylish athletes in the league. But something else has set the Wisconsin-born defender apart: She designs and makes most of her game-day outfits herself. It’s a skill she picked up when the pandemic started, shutting down Ivy League play. Keopple had always been creative, but on a COVID-prompted gap year from her studies at Princeton, she was itching to stay busy. She decided to pick up a sewing machine and teach herself how to make clothes by watching YouTube tutorials and getting helpful advice from her grandmother. “I’ve always been very hands-on—my friends and family say that I can never be bored,” she says. “And in regard to clothing, I’ve always thought that it’s really fun to wear something unique, so I’d go thrifting and try to find that. But then I started thinking, ‘Well, I can just make something unique myself.’”

It’s an especially helpful talent for someone like Keopple—she says her personal style is flexible and that she enjoys diving into different aesthetics. “I like a neutral and I love monochromatic looks, but I can also be very streetwear or go from wearing something very bohemian to wearing something very formal,” says Keopple, who has also designed pieces for American apparel brand Royalty Sports. Above all, though, she wants to feel good and put together when she gets dressed. When it comes to designing game-day outfits, it depends on how jam-packed Keopple’s schedule is, but she typically sketches and plans well in advance. For the team’s home opener, for example, she made a cream suit with the date, her team name and Montreal iconography emblazoned on the back. And running up and down her right pant leg were the jersey numbers and signatures of all her teammates. For another walk-in outfit, she fashioned thrifted floral placemats into a corset. Keopple is used to thinking about fashion—she even wrote her thesis at Princeton about the connection between clothing and identity—but now she’s excited to have an outlet for it while playing the game she loves.

“[On the team], people are always saying, ‘Oh, what’s Mariah going to wear?’” she says, adding that she hopes people can see the creativity and passion that goes into her game-day outfits. “It’s so incredible when someone says ‘I really like your top’ and I get to be like, ‘Thanks, I made it.’ Clothing is such a big aspect of who you are and who you are portraying yourself to be—it connects all of us in ways that I don’t think people understand.”

Favourite Designer: “Marc Jacobs. I watched his MasterClass videos, and I’m just obsessed with his aesthetic.”

Go-To Piece: “Mock-neck long-sleeves—I can wear one with every style of outfit.”

Shopping Wish List: “I went to Italy last summer, and every time I passed a Prada store, I really wanted to buy one of the headbands. I just think it would complete a lot of my looks, especially because I wear a lot of wide- brimmed hats, and I’ve got to switch it up.”

Sarah Nurse, PWHL Toronto

Sarah Nurse, PWHL TorontoPWHL Toronto/Heather Pollock

Sarah Nurse can recall the first time she ever had to think about what she wore to her hockey games. She was seven years old and playing on a boys team, and the coach wanted all of the budding athletes to wear suits and ties. “I remember thinking, ‘But I’m a girl; can I wear a skirt?’ And my coach immediately shut that down,” says Nurse, who’s from Hamilton, Ont. “So my version of a suit and tie had a pink button-down shirt, and I really liked the Toronto Maple Leafs, so I had a Toronto Maple Leafs tie. It’s the first time I remember being able to play within the rules of fashion while still making it my own.” She’s carried that mindset with her throughout her professional career. (She’s also a two-time Olympian and has won gold with the Canadian women’s national team.) Hockey, she says, is a “pretty masculine” sport, and many of her friends were “little tomboys,” so she’s always experimented with fashion to express the more feminine side of herself.

Today, whether she’s heading to a game, running around the city or just hanging out at home, Nurse loves playing with textures and fabrics to bring glamour to her style. “I don’t like to save outfits for a special occasion,” she says. “I like to be happy and feel good in what I’m dressed in. I want to feel my best regardless of where I’m going. I like to be able to glamorize my life.” For actual game-day outfits, Nurse practises a mixture of planning ahead and putting on what feels right in the moment so she can channel the vibes of the day—Saturday-night games, for example, feel like more of an opportunity to get “jazzed up,” but away-game looks border on a business-casual (but still fun) aesthetic because she’s getting dressed out of a suitcase rather than her closet. She also likes bringing in the signature blue hue of her team, PWHL Toronto, and statement pieces, like the electric-blue faux-fur cropped coat she paired with a bedazzled Prada bag for one of the season’s earlier games.

Nurse loves that the pre-game photos enable her to put the unique aspects of her personality on display while also highlighting a different side of women’s hockey. “I hope [when people see my outfits], they think that I’m not afraid to be bold and show off who I am,” she says. “Hockey has been such a traditional sport for so long, so the fact that we can push those boundaries and show how creative we are is really important to me. So many women in our league have different styles and different points of view, so if you tune in and look at our walk-in ’fits, there’s going to be somebody who represents you.”

Favourite Statement Piece: “I’m a purse girl through and through, and I recently picked up a pink sequined Fendi bag similar to one Carrie Bradshaw had in Sex and the City. I love being able to dress it up or down.”

Style Icon: “Rihanna. She pushes boundaries and isn’t afraid to mix materials and textures but can also really blur the lines between sporty and high fashion.”

First Big Purchase: “A little Gucci Soho crossbody in black. I was so proud—it was probably like $900, which is a lot of money, and I wore it everywhere.”

Lexie Adzija, PWHL Ottawa/PWHL Boston

Lexie Adzija, PWHL Ottawa/PWHL Boston PWHL Ottawa

Lexie Adzija is a self-proclaimed shopping addict. It’s a habit she started during childhood. She and her mom loved going to malls for quality time together and would sometimes even make the trip from her hometown of St. Thomas, Ont., to Toronto so they could browse the racks. “I was so busy with hockey, so whenever I got the chance to get dressed up in a cute outfit, I took advantage of that,” she says. “[When I was] growing up, [fashion] was a big part of my life—from a shopping sense but also [in the sense of ] being able to be creative with it, creating my own style [and] finding out what I like and don’t like as trends evolve.”

As a PWHL Ottawa forward—her first time playing professionally after university—Adzija sees fashion and her game-day outfits as not only a way to express herself but also an opportunity to develop a personal brand that complements her many on-ice talents. (In March, after this interview was completed, Adzija was traded to PWHL Boston.) Adzija describes her aesthetic as either “bougie” or street-style cool. Which side she favours depends on her mood and what she’s doing—you might see either version of Adzija ahead of a game. On a high-energy day, for example, she leans more luxe-preppy, but she also likes incorporating nods to the team she’s playing against. Take one matchup against PWHL Montreal: She wore a black-and-white top with lace sleeves, a black miniskirt and a red beret. “My teammates were jokingly calling me ‘Lexie in Paris,’” she says, laughing.

Generally, she starts with her fave basics (blazers and leather pants) in neutral shades and then finds ways (usually accessories, like handbags, shoes and hats) to add pops of colour. She also tries to have outfits planned out at least a couple of days ahead of time to avoid extra stress. For Adzija, game-day looks aren’t just about her love of fashion, having fun and looking good—they’re also about reaching hockey players and fans, especially young girls, and showing them that they have choices when it comes to how they present themselves. “I’ve put a lot of thought into the message I want to send,” she says. “So my personal brand is that you can do both. You can be a girlie girl and get dressed up and show off your style, but you can also be a fierce competitor on the ice.”

Favourite Place to Shop: “Simons—I love it because it meets my two [style] vibes. I also love that it’s Canadian.”

Go-To Piece: “My Yves Saint Laurent bag. It’s just classic black and gold, and it ties pretty much every outfit together.”

Shopping Wish List: “I’ve had my eye on a Dior bag and Dior high-tops for a while. [With high-end purchases], I’m normally pretty good—I have to like the item for at least three months before I get it.”