Steven Rudolf, LCSW

Hoop Themes

NBA Style: Do Clothes Make the Assertive Man?

Improve your communication by growing your fashion self-awareness.

Posted Nov 14, 2018

NBA players are known for their fashion sense: Russell Westbrook even has his own clothing line. Though basketball is a team sport, its players have a knack for showing individuality and flair both on and off the court, and many use their pregame arrival to the arena as an opportunity to show off their personal fashion style. (Some good examples can be found here.) Fashion is an opportunity to express ourselves, and just like other forms of expression, the clothes we choose to wear can be viewed through the lens of assertiveness. (Notice I said “choose to wear.” We make choices when we express ourselves, not just through our posture, voice tone and words, but also through our clothing.)

What's the connection between clothing and assertiveness? Before we can understand that, we first must define assertiveness. From a psychological perspective, assertiveness is a communication style in which you express yourself genuinely while remaining open to reactions from others. Successful assertive communication requires the ability to manage your own stress response, to understand the social roles you play, and to examine your beliefs that may place a higher value on a certain form of expression, whether that belief system supports passivity, aggression, passive-aggressiveness or assertiveness.

The Assertiveness Workbook by Randy Paterson offers a complete self-help approach to understanding and experimenting with assertiveness, and I highly recommend it for those interested. With regard to clothing, the book does a great job of breaking down how different communication styles show themselves through one’s fashion.

If you agree that your clothing is a form of self-expression, then ask yourself the purpose of the clothing you wear, beyond staying warm or not getting carted off to jail for walking the streets naked. What do you hope to communicate? 

Source: Free-Photos/Pixabay

Passive people may choose clothing that helps them “disappear” or blend in. This fear-based approach to dressing oneself is in the hope of not standing out. Accessories, such as a beard or glasses, may also be used to hide behind, or to stand out, depending on the person and purpose.

Aggressive people want to communicate strength, or rebellion against expectations. They may wear clothing that provokes. The key idea here is whether or not the clothing is intended to cause someone else to feel inferior or disrespected.

Assertive people dress in a way that embraces individuality, adaptability and awareness of their impact on others. If you are assertive in your fashion style, your goal is not to try and hide, nor is it to wield unspoken power over others. It is chosen more to reflect your personal style and personality.

These are simple ideas, yet powerful in their application if you are willing to experiment with your personal style. Consider these three ways to examine the relationship between the clothes you wear and how assertive you are:

  1. Would you benefit from showing a little more personality through your clothing? If so, how are you going to respond when you get reactions from people who aren’t used to seeing you wear something that stands out a little? Can you accept compliments or respond to criticism while remaining genuine?
  2. Are you causing friction with your personal style in order to communicate that you're superior to someone else or a group of people? Is there a different way to accomplish what you want to, without trying to make others feel “less than?”
  3. Does your clothing genuinely reflect who you are? Are you flexible to different situations and environments, and capable of trying out new styles when you feel like it? Do you embrace a sense of fun in your personal style?

Perhaps you want to envision a style that reflects you at your best—particularly if right now you are struggling. In this case, try to imagine a "future you" at a moment when you’re feeling really good about yourself. What types of clothing are you wearing during this time? How are you responding to comments about your clothing? Is your “feeling confident” style different from what it is now?

Your clothing is a way to express your personality and how you want to be seen in the world. Take a note from our NBA fashionistas: it’s okay to try something a little out there, or to be more conservative in your dress. The point is to wear what feels right to you, while factoring in the environment and others around you.


Peterson, Randy J. (2000) The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc

More Posts