College Sports

How Roy Williams ‘epitomizes Carolina-ness’ with his distinctive fashion sense

Roy Williams and his distinctive fashion sense

University of North Carolina basketball coach ‘epitomizes Carolina-ness’ with his distinctive fashion sense.
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University of North Carolina basketball coach ‘epitomizes Carolina-ness’ with his distinctive fashion sense.

The jacket is five or six years old now, and it’s the one piece Roy Williams wears that elicits the strongest reactions. Some people love it, the boldness, and others who say they love it might be lying. Williams has heard both sides, and at first he wasn’t even all that sure what to think of it.

“He didn’t wear it much in the beginning,” said Alexander Julian, who designed the jacket, and many others that Williams often wears. “I’m not sure he even wore it the first year he had it. And then he wore it and he got a lot of compliments. And he won.”

Williams, the North Carolina coach, wore it on Monday night during the Tar Heels’ 85-68 victory against Syracuse. It was his 800th victory as a Division I coach – a milestone victory – and as he’s known to do he picked out something special for the occasion.

The jacket he wore – “strong jacket,” Julian, 68, said – is made from custom English fabric, and is a gingham plaid lambswool. Streaks of Carolina blue intersect, leaving dark gray squares. At Julian’s on Franklin Street, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, a swatch of the fabric sits out on a table near the back.

The fabric, cut into a small square, is next to a picture of Williams wearing the jacket during a game. Nearby is a larger spool of the fabric, and if a customer is so inclined he can be fitted, the way Williams was, and own the same custom jacket for $2,000.

The fabric is so popular – so much the subject of questions, and curiosity – it stays out in view.

“Enough people ask about that, that I have to keep it handy,” said Bart Fox, the store’s men’s manager. Fox is Julian’s nephew and the grandson of Maurice Julian, who opened this store, originally on the other side of Franklin, as a small haberdashery in 1942.

When Williams wore the coat the night of his 800th victory, Julian took notice. He felt proud.

“I loved it,” he said.

Then again, he feels such a connection with a lot of what Williams, 66, wears, because he is responsible for perhaps as much as half of Williams’ game day wardrobe. Williams’ relationship with Julian’s, the store, dates to when Williams was a student at UNC. He at least knew of it back then.

If I believe in it and I want to push him, he’ll listen. He knows. He’s an expert on himself, and he knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like, and he makes a quick decision.

Alexander Julian on designing clothes for UNC coach Roy Williams

His relationship with Julian, the designer, dates to when Williams was an assistant coach under Dean Smith in the late 1970s and ’80s. Julian remembers meeting Williams in his days as an assistant, and when Williams coached at Kansas he bought suits from one of Julian’s friends in Lawrence.

Williams returned to UNC in 2003 to become the Tar Heels’ head coach and he and Julian, the father of UNC’s argyle design, grew closer. In the years since, Williams has become one of the most stylish college basketball coaches in the country, what with his affinity for plaids and pastels.

Julian isn’t behind all of Williams’ outfits, but he’s behind many of them – if not most of them. These days, he visits with Williams before every season. He brings garment bags filled with suits and jackets, shirts. He brings ties and accessories.

He brings Fox, too, and he handles the measurements and makes sure everything fits to Williams’ liking. Williams has his preferences – the pants pleated, for instance, and the jackets with enough room for him to pace the sideline, or stomp around it, as it were, in comfort.

Julian likes to say that “Roy knows what he likes.” But Julian knows what Williams likes, too, even before Williams might realize that he agrees. Take the jacket Williams wore the night of his 800th victory, for instance.

“If I believe in it and I want to push him, he’ll listen,” Julian said. “He knows. He’s an expert on himself, and he knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like, and he makes a quick decision.”

UNC connection

Williams doesn’t wear Julian’s clothes exclusively. His game attire, he said during an interview before the season, is about half Julian’s, half Peter Millar. And yet Williams and Julian are in some ways, many ways, tied together given they both share the same kind of deep connection with UNC.

The Julian’s store, after all, has been a Franklin Street mainstay for more than seven decades. Maurice Julian graduated from UNC in 1938 and made clothes for Choo Choo Justice. Alexander Julian attended UNC and was part of the class of 1967, but dropped out before graduating to begin his career.

When Dean Smith wanted to redesign UNC’s uniforms in the early 1990s he turned to Julian, who by then had designed the Charlotte Hornets’ first uniform. A prototype of it, the last remaining original, Fox said, is on display on a mannequin in a corner at Julian’s. Nearby is a prototype of Julian’s original UNC jersey, the first one with the argyle side panels that have become iconic.

At Julian’s there are homages to UNC history all around, if you know where to look. Sometimes, Fox said, people come in asking specifically about a jacket they saw Williams wear, or a tie. The ties are arranged in a part of the store that is known as “Roy’s closet,” because he’s worn so many of them.

There are the ties he wore during the 2008 and 2009 national semifinals – and the ones from both his championship victories, in 2005 and 2009. There’s another with pink squares popping out of a multi-blue background. At first only one of those ties had ever been made, just for Williams.

Then, Fox said, “Every time he wore it on TV, we’d be flooded with phone calls.”

And so they made more. Now for $95, anyone can buy “Roy’s Pink Windowpane.”

Williams’ ties are one thing. Some of his jackets, though, are Roy originals, one of a kind.

That doesn’t stop the imitators – or perhaps the inspired – from inquiring about the latest piece they saw Williams wearing. Ask Julian just how much of his stuff Williams owns, and the answer doesn’t come easily, if it’s even an answerable question at all.

“Through the last 10 years,” Julian said, “between the socks and pants and cufflinks, ties, dress shirts, sports shirts, pocket squares, sport coats, suits, sweaters, sweater vests … It’s a wonderful representation. I would say he epitomizes Carolina-ness, in his style.”

Williams has “no idea” how many jackets he owns.

“A lot,” he said.

‘Country club jackets’

Basketball coaches, both in the pros and in college, are the most fashionable men in sports, at least during competition. They stand in contrast to baseball managers, whose uniforms often look comically out of place on the middle-aged, or older.

Many football coaches, meanwhile, favor the sort of attire that might best be described as Mowing the Lawn Chic. Then there are basketball coaches, with their pressed slacks, cufflinks, shined shoes.

Still, much of what they wear can all sort of look the same, one bench of dark, personality-less suits bleeding into the next, an assembly line of easily forgettable business wear. Williams is an outlier with a style Julian describes as “cool traditional.”

Stilman White, the Tar Heels’ senior guard who has been around Williams longer than any of his teammates, put it another way. White smiled while he gave the description after a recent UNC victory.

“He likes the country club jackets,” White said.

Sometimes Williams keeps it simple. Coach anywhere from 35 to 40 games per season, and not all the jackets and ties are going to be memorable. And yet Williams’ stand out enough, whether it’s with that gingham plaid lambswool coat or another brown plaid number that had White searching.

He scrolled down the screen on his phone, looking at the images from a Google search. He found it.

“I remember this one,” White said. “This one right here. Remember the brown one?”

“I hate that one,” said Nate Britt, the senior guard, looking over White’s shoulder.

“I like that one,” White said. “Brown. Oh, yeah. Right there.”

Players may disagree about the fashion sense of some of Williams’ choices. At least once earlier this season, though, junior forward Theo Pinson said there was collective appreciation among the team for an outfit Pinson described as “real smooth.”

He couldn’t remember the jacket, exactly, only that it was “bluish.” Yet Pinson and his teammates know.

They know that when Williams dresses a certain way, the stakes might be higher.

“He’s got his own taste, for sure,” White said. “And we appreciate that. We know when he’s wearing a fly jacket like that, he’s ready to coach us up for a big game.”

A new fabric

For the game earlier this month against N.C. State, the school and team Williams might want to beat more than any other, Williams broke out one of Julian’s newer jackets. From a distance it looked like a heavy tweed coat.

As Julian described it, though, the coat is “cotton tweed” – a new fabric that Julian said he recently invented. The tweed pattern is printed on lightweight stretch cotton, a “digital printed Donegal tweed,” Julian said, speaking his native language: fashion.

“And then,” Julian said, “Just for him, nobody else has this, but I put a Carolina blue-dyed pearl buttons on the jacket.”

The Tar Heels won by 51 points, and so Williams will likely wear the jacket again. And again.

He has relationships like that with some of his clothes. That’s part of the reason why he continues to wear the jacket he wore on Monday night – it brings back good memories, ones of winning. Williams can tell you about the suits he had on during UNC’s two national title victories.

He can remember ones he wore in less happier times, too. A few years ago, Williams wore a new suit for the first time for a home game against Miami. He thought the suit was “pretty neat,” he said, but its debut coincided with a defeat.

“And I’ve never worn it since,” Williams said.

He’s not sure if he’ll ever wear it again for a game but he thought of another utility for it:

“I can wear it to a funeral.”

Many options

Some of Julian’s designs are undoubtedly among the collection Williams has banned from his rotation. Julian said he’s “afraid to ask” what happens to those cursed clothes, though Williams simply keeps them in his closest with all the rest, a mental Do Not Wear tag attached to them.

It’s not as if Williams lacks for options. Julian is working on something new all the time, and he designs clothes with Williams in mind, just for him. Julian is already thinking ahead to next year, the way a coach might think about an incoming prospect.

There’s a prized new jacket in the works. Williams hasn’t seen the fabric yet, but no matter.

“I guarantee you he’ll love it,” Julian said.

He’s been wrong before, though. Julian always liked that lambswool gingham – the one Williams wore for his 800th victory – but it took Williams some time to come around.

Pinson recently called that jacket “the classic one.”

“You know what I’m talking about,” he said. “That’s a classic. I know it’s a big-time game when he’s wearing that one.”

"Dadgum" or "daggum"? No matter how you spell it, UNC coach Roy Williams possesses his own lexicon and perhaps should come with his own glossary. Call it Roynacular, Williams’ use of expressions and words like "dadgum," “Jimminy Christmas,” “blank

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter

UNC at Boston College

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Online: ACC Network Extra

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