Break Out Your Umbros, Yellowjackets Is Heralding the Return of the Hot Soccer Girl Aesthetic
It's the end of the summer 2003 and on the East Coast, the air is thick with humidity. Most people heading into their first year of high school are soaking up the last days of summer in the air conditioning but not me and my best friend. We were trying out for the varsity soccer team. Both of us put on white ribbed tank tops over visible black sports bras. We tugged the shirts up just high enough to reveal the main feature of our outfit, a pair of high gloss and matte checkered Umbro shorts. The shorts, which were a staple in any soccer girl's closet, were always too long so we would cut a little slit at the thigh making it easier to roll the elastic waist band until they were short shorts. We put on our knee socks and scrunched them down into Adidas shell toe shoes just before we nervously arrived to the messy field where we would cross over into our new lives as high school girls.
This memory came barreling back into my head last week, about three minutes into watching Showtime's viral hit show Yellowjackets, which stars Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci as present-day adults unpacking a tragedy they lived through on a trip with their high school soccer team. In the series premiere, which takes place in 1996, the girls varsity soccer team is getting ready in the locker room before a pep rally. They are the state champions, about to head to nationals and they are the main attraction for the school's celebration. It's not the football players or the cheerleaders getting all the applause, it's them.
Maybe I was biased, but that was sort of the experience I had of soccer growing up. Even though we were treated as less than every boy's sport (our jerseys were literally the old ones from the boys' team), there was a certain cache that came with being on the girl's soccer team. On game day we would wear our tear-away track pants that we would only snap half way. Some people would make headbands out of the purple medical gauze that was supposed to go over your knees and twisted ankles. And the captain and all of the starting players? They were popular — just like the main characters on Yellowjackets before, you know, their plane crashed in the Canadian wilderness.
Perhaps we all forgot about this particular brand of hot girl aesthetic because decades worth of teen movies have relied on the trope of cheerleaders as the end-all, be-all of school royalty. But for every Bring It On, and Sugar and Spice in those years, there was Bend It Like Beckham, and She's the Man. The movies, and the commentary that came along with them, were laced with sexism, no doubt — cheerleaders have to prove that they're smart and athletic despite being pretty, and soccer players have to highlight their femininity, in spite of their prowess on the field. Still, they brought to the fore the two types of cool sports girl that everyone wanted to be or befriend at the time.
The soccer girl's mystique was, of course, about more than just athletic ability, it was also about the look. When I was trying out for that varsity team (which I didn't make that year, by the way), I remember watching the older girls and their friends in the bleachers wearing Kappa track jackets with their knee socks bunched down around their ankles, confident that they were about to make some freshman puke from exhaustion before they headed off to whatever parties cool kids went to.
Some of the players would have no shame in showing off their logo laden sports bras just like Keira Knightley did in Bend it Like Beckham or more aptly Brandi Chastain did after she scored the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup. Coupled with those rolled up Umbros, they felt untouchable. The purposefulness of the sporty look for turn of the century soccer players was what was so compelling. Each piece served a purpose for the sport but was styled in such a way that it was an aesthetic in and of itself. It wasn't really for sport until you changed into your cleats and shin guards and took the field.
The other piece of this aesthetic, and really athletic style in general, was that it unified people across the high school hierarchy silos they'd been placed in. On Yellowjackets, for example, teen Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), is grunge with bleach blonde hair, ripped t-shirts and leather jackets. Jackie (Ella Purnelll) is the polar opposite, a preppy girl who wears tied up collared shirts and bows in her hair. On game day, though, they are one in the same — both perfectly embodying one vibe for their sport.
It's not to say that this idea ever left the mainstream: We have the women's soccer team in the United States which has dominated for years now. Players like Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach have become style icons in their own right with colorful hair styles and fashion campaigns. Lately, though, alongside the late-'90s and Y2K style resurgence, a more nostalgic soccer girl aesthetic has reared its head.
Before the Yellowjackets entered our homes, in season 1 of Euphoria, Jules played by Hunter Schafer wears a lime green Kappa track jacket that sold out soon after. 20-year-old Canadian soccer player Jordyn Huitema has quickly become one of the most famous athletes in the world with her butt-length ponytail reminiscent of Kat Stratford played by Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You. She's not playing soccer or even a sport but try to convince me that HoYeon Jung wasn't giving this vibe in her Adidas tracksuit on Squid Game.
It's not just a coincidence either because if you look, soccer influences are popping up all over the fashion industry. Balenciaga put full soccer uniforms on three models during the A/W 2020 show before releasing a pair of $725 cleats. Grace Wales Bonner's second collaboration with Adidas in March 2021 included V-neck soccer jerseys and vintage-inspired soccer shorts. Umbro also made a comeback over the last few years releasing several high fashion collaborations including one with Off-White in 2018 and more recently one with Rowing Blazers in Summer 2021. The viral Brother Vellies cloud socks, which purposefully bunch at the ankle, might not have a direct link to soccer style but paired with sneakers and shorts, create the exact look those older players on the bleachers had perfected back in my day.
It's probably not more than a simple trend resurgence coupled with the fact that millennial nostalgia is at an all time high, but the soccer girl is back. So what will she get into while we wait for Yellowjackets season 2? Maybe we'll catch her on Ted Lasso next season (please?) — or wearing a skinny headband and track pants in a street style photo during fashion week.