Immediately after Taylor Swift’s new romance with Travis Kelce landed her in the company of Brittany Mahomes at a Kansas City Chiefs afterparty, she earned a new identity, whether she welcomed it or not.
The multi-Grammy winner and globally famous recording artist was said to be entering her “WAG” era. That is, she also now was the wife or girlfriend of a professional athlete, like her “fellow WAG” Brittany Mahomes, as Page Six said in its chronicle of the women’s first time partying together in the presence of their male significant others, tight end Kelce and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
As Swift became a fixture at Chiefs games through the NFL season, the term WAG came back in fashion, despite its troubled history. A British import, the term was probably coined in the early 2000s by that country’s cheeky and not always respectful tabloids and mostly applied to the wives and girlfriends of English soccer players, including Victoria Beckham.
With this NFL season’s onset of “Traylor,” WAG began to regularly turn up in stories about Swift and her new BFF Mahomes, as the women dined in luxury restaurants in Manhattan, or were photographed with “other WAGs” in the luxury suites at Chiefs games, cheering on their men on the field.
The media’s attention also turned to newly anointed WAGs from other sports teams, notably the photogenic wives and girlfriends of San Francisco 49ers players. Now, in the the run-up to the Chiefs-49ers match-up in the Super Bowl this Sunday, pop culture may be achieving Peak WAG.
In just the past two weeks, the term has become ubiquitous in some of the breathless coverage of NFL wife-and-girlfriend-related news: Brittany Mahomes’ Sports Illustrated swimsuit photos, Olivia Culpo’s attempt to pay for a luxury suite at Allegiant Stadium for her Christian McCaffery’s family, and Kristin Juszczyk inking an NFL licensing deal to produce stylish, sports-themed fashions. While celebrity-friendly People magazine doesn’t seem inclined to use the word, it has been happy to provide WAG-related content that answers such burning questions as: “Who is George Kittle’s wife? All about Claire Kittle.”
With Swift joining their ranks, these wives and girlfriends have been elevated to a new class of lifestyle influencers, possibly transforming the WAG concept. On social media accounts, these women model fun game-day fashions and share glimpses into their personal lives, including the decor of their well-appointed homes and occasional insights into personal struggles. Then there’s Sydney Warner, who has proven her broadcasting chops by partnering with her 49er linebacker husband Fred Warner to produce “The Warner House,” an engaging TikTok show in which they chat about upcoming games or lovingly reveal preparations for their new baby, who is due next month.
While it may not be possible to find any of these women referring to themselves as “WAGS,” their growing fan bases seem to have no problem affixing the hashtag #WAG to videos devoted to them. It’s as if a new generation has embraced the term, giving it a more positive spin than it enjoyed in the past.
Indeed, etymological deep dives show that U.K. tabloids in the 2000s tended to use the term as they reported on the extravagant, party-girl antics of the wives and girlfriends of World Cup players, including David Beckham’s pop-music star wife, Victoria.
A 2002 article in The Telegraph described the women embarking on a five-day trip to a luxury resort in Dubai to do some female-bonding by the pool or in nail salons. “It was never guaranteed that the wives and girlfriends (or “the Wags,” as staff at the Jumeirah Beach Club call them for short) would get along,” the article reads.
The acronym continued to gain popularity in subsequent years, particularly surrounding the 2006 World Cup, The Telegraph later reported.
That’s when “Posh Spice” and several other WAGs stayed near the team camp in the spa town of Baden-Baden, Germany, “creating a spectacle the likes of which we may never see again,” Glamour writer Hanna Lustig reported in her own anaylysis of the term.
While the women attended games together, their well-publicized shopping sprees, personal spray-tan attendants and “long-champagne-soaked karaoke nights on the town” threatened to overshadow the action on the field, according to The Telegraph. “It was splashy and fabulous and controversial,” Lustig added.
At the time, future fashion designer Victoria Beckham stood at the epicenter of pop culture, idolized by legions of young female fans, Lustig reported. But die-hard sports fans, as well as soccer coaches, felt differently, alleging that her presence in her husband’s life “posed an existential threat to his career,” Lustig said. Beckham’s celebrity often was seen “as a distraction,” pulling her husband away from his duty to the sport.
The reporting on Beckham consequently revealed the dark side of the term and its connotations. In 2010, the British Equalities and Human Rights Commission labeled the term “offensive,” The Telegraph reported. A spokesperson for the commission said the term was typically used as “a “pejorative” phrase to demean a group of women, adding that the media rarely showed these significant others in a positive light.
Four years later, British journalist Felicity Morse called on the media to stop using “WAGs,” writing in The Independent that it contributes to coverage that frames these women “as anonymous peacocks, identifiable only by their more famous footballing mates.” While their star-athlete partners are ranked based on their playing skills, the term means that these women only garner success through “their glamour,” Morse argued.
“It’s 2014 and referring to any woman pejoratively as a ‘wife or girlfriend’ is not acceptable,” Morse wrote. “Neither of these roles are anything to be ashamed of, but plenty of these women have accomplishments which amount to more than looking pretty in the stands.”
That’s an argument that Kelly Stafford felt she still had to make this week, more than 10 years later. The wife of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford responded Thursday to criticism directed at Brittany Mahomes, which argued that she only landed her Sports Illustrated gig because she’s Patrick Mahomes’ wife, or the new BFF of Swift.
In an Instagram post, Stafford’s defended athletes’ wives who have “used the platforms” they were “handed.”
“These are just a few of the many women who I look up to… the ones that have used their position in this life to build businesses, give back and overall do good in this world,” Stafford captioned a carousel of images that began with Brittany Mahomes in one of Sports Illustrated shots. The caption referred to Sports Illustrated, praising Mahomes as a former pro athlete, the co-owner of a women’s professional soccer team and “the epitome of a modern-day powerhouse.”
Stafford’s carousel also flashed to images of Kristin Juszczyk and Ayesha Curry. The latter is no stranger to occasional flare-ups of social media antipathy, even as she probably pioneered the contemporary idea that the wife of a decorated athlete like Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry can also be a successful multi-hyphenate entrepreneur and media personality in her own right.
In arguing for the evolution of the WAG concept, Lustig offered examples of wives and girlfriends who could end up eclipsing their athlete partners in terms of fame or professional success. Indeed, it’s possible that fans of a Kristin Juszczyk fashion empire might one day ask, “Kyle who?”
Meanwhile, today’s most well-known WAG, Taylor Swift, has long been massively more famous that her NFL boyfriend for a long time. Before meeting Swift, Kelce enjoyed “relative fame in the sports world,” the New York Times said. But in terms of maximizing his celebrity, nothing compares to “Kelce’s brush with the aura of Taylor Swift.” The New York Times suggested that the two-time Super Bowl winner has probably gained a platform through Swift that could help him transition to a successful post-NFL career.
Going back to the original WAG, Lustig similarly suggested that Victoria Beckham was instrumental in helping David Beckhman to remain a household name to this day. Dating her marked the beginning of his even more lucrative career as a crossover star – “the job he’s arguably held for longer now. Lustig said that a talented and ambitious wife or girlfriend can help an athlete with something “priceless”: cultural elevancy. “After all, no one gets to play ball forever,” Lustig said.