Fashion As A Form Of Resistance
For the women of Athletes Unlimited Softball, fashion represents more than just the clothes they wear on their powerful bodies.
“It is a form of resistance,” said Tori Vidales, a 2020 Olympian with Team Mexico, who will compete in her fourth season of Athletes Unlimited Softball this summer.
The professional softball league, which debuted in the summer of 2020 and features a unique scoring system over a five-week campaign, ultimately rewards the top points-earner at the end of each season with the title of champion. The league’s teams change weekly following a draft before each week of competition, and players win and lose points based on their performance both as individuals and as a team. The top four points-earners after each week of competition serve as the captains of their respective teams the following week and make the draft selections.
Athletes Unlimited as an organization also features seasons of women’s professional basketball, volleyball and lacrosse under the same format, and has had its sponsorship revenue increase by 122% year-over-year, according to CNBC.
Through three championship seasons to date, along with two shortened campaigns called AUX, Athletes Unlimited Softball has not only given women the opportunity to compete and earn money on the diamond as professional athletes, but also to have a platform on which to display their authentic selves. More recently, walk-in photos taken by professional women’s sports photographer Jade Hewitt before Athletes Unlimited competitions have put the personalities of all AU athletes, and the social justice issues and causes closest to their hearts, on full display.
“Showing up as I am in the very moment that you’re seeing me and wearing some of the coolest things that I can find and that I love to wear makes me feel so authentically me,” added Vidales, who is a member of the Athletes Unlimited Softball Player Executive Committee that makes important decisions regarding the structure and function of the league. “I don’t have to try to hide behind the clothes. I can show up and I can stand out with the clothes at the same time.”
According to Erika Piancastelli, who competed for Team Italy in the Tokyo Olympics and will also play in her fourth Athletes Unlimited Softball season in 2023, the way the league amplifies her full self, including her style, breaks barriers for women athletes and onlookers alike.
“There isn’t a mold for women,” said Piancastelli, who has one of the most-feared power bats in professional softball and is a career .327 hitter for Athletes Unlimited. “You don’t have to look super feminine all the time. You don’t have to have the makeup and the heels and jewelry. I just like representing the athlete side of my life. I like looking like an athlete. I like feeling like an athlete at all times.”
As a Black woman competing on the professional softball stage, Aliyah Andrews also sees her style off the field as a method of rebelling against any expectations society may have for her and other women.
“Just dress how you want to dress and don’t think about what other people think,” said Andrews, who was a member of the Athletes Unlimited Softball All-Defensive Team in 2022. “When people say, ‘Who are you getting dressed up for?’ I say me.”
When they are not getting clutch hits and making ESPN-worthy plays on the field, the women of Athletes Unlimited Softball similarly enjoy putting together elevated athleisure looks and wearing clothes that can be categorized as street style.
“I really love street style,” Andrews said. “I think it’s so unique and it gives that sporty vibe.”
“I just base everything off of what sneakers I want to wear that day,” Piancastelli said. “I wear a lot of blacks and a lot of neutrals so that my shoes stand out.”
Sending subtle—and sometimes not-so-subtle—messages with their clothing is also a goal of many of the women of Athletes Unlimited Softball.
“AU has a shirt that says, ‘Love Is Unlimited,” and I love that, especially being from Texas where that’s not super supported,” Vidales said. “I love wearing it and being out and proud with it because some of my best friends are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I feel like that’s me standing up for them in my own crevice of the world in Texas and just letting them know I have their back.”
These softball stars also collectively garner inspiration from the women of the WNBA and Athletes Unlimited Basketball, whose walk-in photos before games often go viral on social media and feature looks of both advocacy for social justice issues and high fashion.
“The cool thing about the WNBA and their walk-ins is that it’s not just a fashion show kind of moment,” Piancastelli added. “A lot of the (athletes) use that time to bring out what they believe in and what they’re fighting for and statements that they want to get brought onto social media.”
“I love the way women’s basketball players dress,” Andrews said. “I feel like it’s in their culture how they dress. Sometimes I look at them and think, ‘Gosh, I have to put an outfit together that looks like that.’”
Ultimately, for the women of Athletes Unlimited Softball, the way that fashion makes them feel is what fuels them to dress and present themselves the way they do off the field.
“My style makes me feel confident. It makes me feel like who I am,” Vidales said. “It allows me to show up as who I am, and I think a lot of times growing up I struggled because I wasn’t comfortable with the body underneath the clothes, and now I look at it like, ‘Wow, look at these beautiful clothes that I get to put on my body.’”
“I think look good, play good, feel good, play good,” Andrews said. “I think that all goes together. If you don’t feel your best, then you might not play your best.”