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ESPN Anchor Sage Steele's Style Playbook: 'It Should Be Illegal to Wear Flat Shoes With Skirts'

Being a well-dressed woman in the male-dominated world of sports isn't easy; the ESPN "NBA Countdown" host revealed the fashion lessons she has learned through trial and error over her career.
Courtesy of ESPN

Statuesque Sage Steele is a striking presence on any television show set, especially one that is dominated by men and former athletes.

The ESPN anchor and NBA Countdown host opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about how she has mastered the art of dressing appropriately -- and with effortless style -- from ditching all her pants to being determined to always wear heels.

"I have learned so much. It really started for me when I began hosting Sportscenter five years ago, and they had us stand up more on the set," Steele tells THR

Previously hidden behind a desk, "you could get away with wearing your jeans and flip flops. As long as you had a nice top on, you were fine," she says, but then she suddenly had to start thinking about her entire outfit. 

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"There are so many times when we think we know what looks best on us, then you see yourself on camera and you realize, 'Nooo, that doesn't work. I'll never wear it again!' I really had to adjust and be honest with myself about what looks good and what doesn't.

"I am 5'11" and pretty thin, but I've had three kids and my hips are wide -- I have a little waist and bigger hips, so I am kind of all over the place. I've found now that I am almost always wearing skirts and dresses; pants are too difficult," she explains. "I have length problems, with the right cut in particular, when you are standing and the camera likes to add 10 pounds -- it is just not worth it. I am getting ready to move houses, and I am throwing all my pants away. I am finally giving up and just saying goodbye.

"There is such a fine line between what women wear and what they should wear. I think it is only recently that women have been comfortable showing their arms off on TV," explains Steele, 41, who began her on-air career as a local sportscaster in South Bend, Indiana. "I will wear a lot of sleeveless but I am extra careful about the length of the dress or skirt, which is where I think at times you can put out the wrong impression -- sometimes an inch can make a big difference, especially if you're tall, so you have to be really careful. My 8-year-old will tell me, 'Mom, that is not appropriate to go on TV!' "

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Working in a male-dominated world her entire career has made Steele extra concerned of what her wardrobe choices say about her, she reveals. "I am more aware because I work with all men. It is still a predominantly male industry, and obviously you are going to stand out -- but I don't want to stand out too much.

"I always felt extra pressure to know more than the guys that I worked with. I think it has kind of trickled down into fashion as well. Yes, I want to look stylish, but my first priority is to look professional. Maybe I am a little too conservative, but I would much rather err on the side of caution because I know that you can look attractive and still look professional. It makes me crazy when I see young women in really low-cut tops on TV. It's just not necessary. You've made it -- you don't need to do that! You can't be upset when people question your motives when you dress that way," she exclaims.

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Another challenge for any woman who spends hours on her feet, whether it's on the red carpet, in a TV studio or in a store, is comfortable footwear that doesn't kill your feet. "I have bought so many of those gel inserts, I should buy stock in the company!" says Sage. "I have finally realized that there are very few comfortable shoes that look good too. For a long time I thought, 'I am 5'11" and I don't need to wear high heels,' but again for certain dresses -- yes, you do. 

"If you spend the money on those great dresses and shoes, then you wear flat shoes for comfort … you think you can get away with it, but you can't -- not in this industry," she advises. 

"I am taller than all my friends, even men, and it took me so long to be comfortable with my height. I spent my whole life being told to stand up tall and they were right, and now I am not going back. If someone is shorter next to me, then I'm sorry, just deal with it!" she says with a laugh. "I wear regular heels but with a little platform at the front. At the Super Bowl, they saved me. I don't think you can afford long-term to squeeze your feet into tight shows. You can't scrimp on certain things. I think it should be illegal to wear flat shoes with skirts." 

With the NBA playoffs beginning on April 19, Steele will be traveling to multiple cities all across the country as a host for ESPN and ABC's NBA Countdown show and will have to perfect the intricate art of packing for long trips. "I have finally been talking with a stylist for the first time," she revealed. "Sometimes you just need a little help from a professional!"

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