It’s what’s inside that counts.

At the ESPY’s red carpet on Wednesday, recently retired New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski wore a classic black houndstooth three-piece suit with a simple polka-dot tie. But as he parted his lapels for photographers, he revealed some charming personal touches: a flashy brocade lining, embellished with his number — 87 — and an image of him doing his trademark football spike.

Athletes are using their sports coats to make not-so-subtle statements on the red carpet, as well as the draft stage. They’re lining their suits with all manner of custom-made messages, from personal photographs, to patterns that nod to their ethnic backgrounds, to pictures of college mascots and even — in less sentimental moments — the logos of corporate sponsors.

“It’s very specific to the younger guys who are having those significant moments like entering the draft or going to the ESPYs,” says stylist Courtney Mays, who dresses NBA superstars such as Chris Paul and Kevin Love. “Because for a lot of them, the draft suit is their first one.”

Mays says these unique garments are as much for the stars themselves as they are for the audience. “These guys keep the suits preserved. LeBron always had his hanging in his closet. That’s why it’s important for them to have these special touches.”

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RJ Barrett is turning heads in his bright pink NBA draft suit And the trend is catching on: The most recent NBA and NFL drafts saw a huge bump in players sporting suits with customized linings.

At the NFL draft in April, former Buckeye and new 49er Nick Bosa lined his JCPenney jacket with Brutus, Ohio State’s bobble-headed mascot. Last month at the NBA draft, new Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant had a patchwork of family photos secreted inside his gray striped suit, while Canada native RJ Barrett — who was picked up by the Knicks — had cascades of maple leaves hiding inside his Pepto-pink jacket.

Japan native Rui Hachimura —whose mother is Japanese and father is from the West African country of Benin — used his clothes to acknowledge his multiracial background. He devoted one side of his jacket to a motif from his motherland, and featured an African print on the other.

“In those moments, it’s a tear-jerking kind of situation and the guys are using fashion as a sentimental piece. I think that’s special,” says Mays.

Nick Bosa
Nick BosaAP/JCPenney

Indochino, the custom apparel brand that dressed RJ Barrett for the NBA draft in June, says they are getting more requests for custom linings from their athlete clientele.

“We’re putting a bigger focus on linings because of the demand,” says Aly Habib, Indochino’s director of corporate sales and partnerships. He adds that in the last year, their technology has allowed for a quicker turnaround of custom linings. “We are now able to do them for small orders and personalized for athletes.”

Top sports stylist Dex Robinson says that personalized linings are more about flash than fashion.