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Nobody Had More Style Than Jay Wright

By any objective measure, retiring Villanova coach Jay Wright leaves men’s college basketball as one of the greatest to hold a clipboard in the modern era, a Hall of Famer who elevated a private Catholic research institute in Pennsylvania into one of the capitals of the sport. Under his purview, the Wildcats advanced to four Final Fours and won two national championships over 21 seasons. Only Gonzaga won a higher percentage of games since the 2012-13 season, but unlike the Bulldogs, Villanova converted that success into banners in March. 

Wright will be remembered for transforming an already formidable program — matured under the watch of Rollie Massimino, Jack Kraft and Alex Severance — into a blue blood. He’ll be remembered for the consistent, fluid efficiency of his 4-out motion offenses, and for effectively turning Villanova into a professional basketball factory for guards and wings. 

But for many, Wright will be remembered simply as someone who looked fly as hell on the sideline.

In 2016, the Los Angeles Times determined that Wright — fresh off a championship won on a buzzer-beater — was “cooler” than both James Bond and Batman. His wardrobe plays a big part in his image. There has been an unspoken agreement for more than a decade that “GQ Jay” is peerless when it comes to fashion. The 60-year-old set such a lofty sartorial standard that when basketball benches saw a mass exodus of suits in favor of more relaxed attire, many national outlets covering the switch centered their pieces on Wright. Villanova’s student newspaper even published a piece requesting the return of Wright’s fashionable textiles to Finneran Pavilion. 

From pleats to paisleys to pocket squares, Wright’s wardrobe was equal parts stylish and charming. “It’s a constant battle to not embarrass him, in terms of looking like slobs,” said former Villanova assistant coach Baker Dunleavy. Wright was comfortable in solids or pinstripes, understated Oxfords or polished wingtips, puff or cagney folds.

The high-end custom look of the bespoke suits was credited to Wright’s late friend Gabriele D’Annunzio, an Italian-born tailor who worked with stars like Frankie Avalon and Frank Sinatra over 50-plus years in the industry.

“I think he has the image and the look of somebody in the ’30s or ’40s, an industrialist,” D’Annunzio said in 2016.

To properly celebrate the legacy of perhaps the most stylish college basketball coach in history, FiveThirtyEight analyzed 100 of his outfits from 2004 to 2020,1 breaking down each look by style and color.2 We began with each of Villanova’s 40 NCAA Tournament games in that time frame and then combed through Getty Images to fill out the sample. (As a result, more recent games — particularly from the last five years of the period — are slightly overrepresented.)  At least one game against every Big East member school was included in our highly scientific sample. 

Grid of suit icons showing the color combinations of suit, shirt, ties, and pocket squares worn by Villanova Jay Wright during 48 NCAA Tournament games and 52 regular-season games, though the 2020 season. Wright’s most common combination was a navy suit, blue shirt, blue tie, and blue pocket square — which he wore seven times in our sample.
Grid of suit icons showing the color combinations of suit, shirt, ties, and pocket squares worn by Villanova Jay Wright during 48 NCAA Tournament games and 52 regular-season games, though the 2020 season. Wright’s most common combination was a navy suit, blue shirt, blue tie, and blue pocket square — which he wore seven times in our sample.

The vast majority of suits worn were traditional two- or three-piece numbers, but there were a handful of double-breasted varieties, a D’Annunzio favorite, that made their way onto the court.

Villanova’s brand-approved colors are blue and white, so it’s perhaps no surprise that both feature prominently in Wright’s wardrobes. Of the 100 outfits analyzed, navy suits were the most common (37 percent), followed by gray (35 percent) and black (28 percent). White was the most common shirt color (48 percent) in our sample, followed by blue (30 percent) and purple (8 percent). Blue was the most common tie color (40 percent), followed by silver (17 percent) and purple (13 percent). White was the most common pocket square color (32 percent), followed by blue (30 percent) and silver (10 percent). 

Rare is the coach’s closet that launches a Twitter account. Rarer still is the coach’s closet capable of launching an entire vertical. Wright became a fashion icon in a sport of sweat, a legacy that will endure just as the trophies won along the way. Andy Katz reported that a broadcasting career is potentially in the works for the sport’s most sophisticated head coach. Unlike many who trade in the whistle for the mic, Wright won’t need to go far to pick out a wardrobe for the industry.

CORRECTION (April 22, 2022, 5:30 p.m.): An earlier version of this article referenced a collaboration between Jay Wright and Jos. A. Bank. That collaboration does not exist; the story written about it was a (very convincing) April Fools’ Day prank.

Footnotes

  1. We prefer not to speak about the transition to polo shirts and slacks.

  2. Attempts were not made to distinguish gray from charcoal, blue from navy, etc.

Josh Planos is a writer based in Omaha. He has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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