The Taylor Swift Super Bowl effect: How the singer can change lives simply by choosing what to wear

One morning last month, Scottish fashion designer Jade Robertson awoke to a startling text message.

A member of her design team sent a photo of Taylor Swift dining out in Brooklyn the previous night. The green crushed-velvet minidress that Swift was wearing looked strikingly similar to one from Little Lies, the upstart label Robertson and her husband co-founded.

Robertson stared at the photo in disbelief. That had to be her dress, she thought, yet how could it be? She hadn’t gifted one to Swift or her stylist. There was no way Swift just stumbled across it on her own … right?

It was then that Robertson said she began to do “a little bit of sleuthing.” She combed through recent orders for the dress in search of clues. The shipping address and pseudonym on one was a dead giveaway that Swift herself had purchased it.

“I was shocked,” Robertson told Yahoo Sports. “For somebody so well known, somebody who could buy anything in the world, to make the choice to buy our dress, that was a really proud moment.”

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The subsequent tidal wave of sales and intrigue was rocket fuel for an independent brand with humble origins. Jade and Stuart Robertson launched Little Lies in 2015 from the spare bedroom of their central Scotland home and grew it from an online boutique into an independent label featuring their original designs.

Before Robertson even verified that Swift’s dress was her design, buyers shelled out $75 apiece to snatch up the few dozen that Little Lies had left in stock. Pre-orders then sold in eye-popping numbers, as did other Little Lies inventory.

By nightfall, Little Lies did “six figures” in sales, Robertson said, exceeding the brand’s monthly target in a single day. Orders shipped to countries as far away as Paraguay, Kuwait and Estonia.

“My phone didn’t stop ringing the entire day,” Robertson said. “When I was on calls trying to answer questions, I was getting so distracted because I kept having to reject all the other calls that were coming in.”

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports illustration)

Stories like Robertson’s are a reminder that the Kansas City Chiefs or San Francisco 49ers may not be the only big winner to emerge from Super Bowl LVIII. A little-known fashion designer could also garner unprecedented exposure Sunday, assuming Swift makes it to Las Vegas in time for kickoff after four nights of sold-out shows in Tokyo from Wednesday to Saturday.

Since September, when Swift went public with her budding romance with Travis Kelce, she has turned appearances at raucous, beer-soaked NFL stadiums into improbable runway moments. Swift’s gameday wardrobe has included anything from varsity jackets and vintage sweatshirts, to plaid miniskirts and bedazzled denim shorts, to gleaming tennis bracelets and Chiefs-inspired rings. Many of those pieces have sold out within hours of photographers capturing Swift wearing them.

Kristin Juszczyk told "Today" that Swift “singlehandedly catapulted [her] career” last month when the pop icon wore her custom-made No. 87 puffer jacket to a Chiefs playoff game in sub-zero conditions. The social media splash that the jacket made turned Kristin into a media darling and led the NFL to strike a licensing deal with her, enabling the wife of San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk to sell pieces with team logos on them.

When Swift placed a December order for Chiefs gear from a Kansas City boutique, the store’s social media manager tucked a white and red beanie she had crocheted into the box. Kathryn Cacho had an all-caps moment on social media after she saw her beanie on Swift’s head during a Chiefs game the following Sunday, writing, “BRB PASSING AWAY RN.”

The avalanche of interest that followed was so overwhelming that Cacho had to stop taking new orders. She has enlisted the help of her sister and a friend and even seven weeks later they’re still working through the backlog.

“We will be crocheting until our hands fall off,” Cacho wrote on Instagram.

What's 'Taylor Swift' exposure worth?

More than 120 million people are expected to watch Super Bowl LVIII, meaning that there should be more than twice as many sets of eyeballs on Swift’s outfit this Sunday as previous Chiefs playoff games. The advertised price of a 30-second Super Bowl commercial is $7 million because the game is likely to be far and away America’s most-watched TV broadcast of the year.

Every time she graces TV screens Sunday, Swift will generate between $50,000 and $125,000 per second of brand exposure for the designer of a piece she wears, Apex Marketing Group president Eric Smallwood told Yahoo Sports. Smallwood said the variance is a result of a number of factors, from how visually prominent the item is on screen, to how distinctive and eye-catching it is, to whether it’s called out on the broadcast, to if it’s something that viewers can purchase right away.

In other words, a one-of-a-kind top from an independent designer should produce more exposure during and after the Super Bowl than, say, a generic No. 87 Chiefs jersey or a pair of shoes that aren’t likely to be visible to TV viewers.

How unique Swift’s gameday outfit is will be key, echoed Hive president Dan Calpin, whose company uses AI technology to measure sponsorship valuation.

The custom-made jacket designed by Kristin Juszczyk is the one game-day piece of Swift’s that Calpin recalled breaking through to a mainstream audience. Everything else, Calpin told Yahoo Sports, “wasn’t the type of thing where Jim Nantz is on the broadcast saying that was made by X, Y or Z like a red carpet show.”

“The more neutral stuff will get niche coverage and will still have her fans talking on social media,” Calpin added. “Especially when you’re a smaller brand, that kind of amplification can still be super meaningful.”

How will people know what Taylor Swift is wearing?

There’s little doubt that the public will know what brands Swift is wearing by the end of the game. Sarah Chapelle will make sure of that.

Since 2011, Chapelle has meticulously cataloged and analyzed Swift’s fashion choices on stage, on the red carpet and in everyday life. Seldom does Chapelle fail to provide a link to where fans can buy a piece that Swift wore — and, when necessary, where they can purchase a more reasonably priced alternative.

“After doing this for almost 13 years,” Chapelle told Yahoo Sports, “you become aware and learn about not only the brands that she typically likes but also designer motifs or symbols that might make a piece distinctive to a certain brand.”

Chapelle started this passion project as a journalism student obsessed with storytelling, fashion and Swift. Now the marketing executive has nearly 250,000 Instagram followers and a book available for pre-order.

Chapelle describes Swift’s game-day attire as “a sporty extension of the intentional, thoughtful, feminine style she’s known for.” That means plenty of Chiefs-colored items that are local to Kansas City, that come from woman-owned businesses and that are sustainable choices like vintage.

Among the 1990s-era Chiefs sweatshirts that Swift has worn to a game is a bright red one from Toronto-based Ellie Mae Studios. Owner Ellie Mae Waters told Yahoo Sports that she and her husband had actually scooped up a handful of Chiefs-themed vintage items in Los Angeles well before Swift and Kelce started dating.

When the couple went public, Waters reached out to Swift’s stylist via a mutual PR contact and said, “We’ve got this stash of vintage stuff. Do you think there’s a chance she’d be interested?” The response was positive, but Waters has been in the fashion business long enough to know that didn’t mean Swift would actually wear it.

On an October Sunday afternoon, Waters was scrolling through TikTok while getting her nails done when she came across a video of Swift entering Arrowhead Stadium in a familiar looking red sweatshirt. Within minutes, the Ellie Mae Studios website was on the verge of crashing from too much traffic, and social media followers began bombarding Waters with questions about where they could buy the sweatshirt.

"You can’t buy it!” Waters remembers thinking. “It’s vintage! It’s one of one!”

Undaunted, Swift fans snapped up many of the vintage items that Waters had available. The Ellie Mae Studios website did 160 times as much traffic as usual the next three days and the brand gained about 1,000 new social media followers.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to have a few celebrities wear our pieces before, but I’ve never experienced something like the Taylor Swift effect,” Waters told Yahoo Sports. “Other people don’t move the needle like she does.”

That’s exactly how Robertson feels as she reflects on the publicity her label has received since Swift donned her green crushed-velvet dress four weeks ago. People Magazine and the Times of London are among the high-profile media outlets that have interviewed the Scottish designer. Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Rolling Stone have also each done stories.

“That exposure is so significant and so helpful,” Robertson said. “I hope Taylor knows she literally has the power to change lives. Just by wearing something from a small brand, she has the opportunity to put them on the map and set them up for life.”

Even better for Robertson, she may get to experience the Taylor Swift effect a second time. The pop star recently placed an order for some more Little Lies pieces, Robertson said, many of them in red.

The thought has crossed Robertson’s mind: Could Swift wear one to the Super Bowl?

“Can you imagine?” Robertson said with a laugh. “I think my phone would melt and so would my brain.”