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Capitals couture: Braden Holtby trades a face mask and pads for high fashion

Braden Holtby poses while wearing pants by PAIGE, a shirt by Double RL (by Ralph Lauren) and watch by A. Lange & Sšhne. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Braden Holtby’s runway is the walk from Verizon Center parking garage to the Washington Capitals locker room before each game. His carefully assembled suit typically elicits compliments from arena staff, and the fashion choices that used to be the subject of light ribbing from his teammates now earn a nod of appreciation.

“The bar has been set,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “And the bar is, what is Holts wearing today?”

Holtby is the Capitals’ all-star goaltender, just the third in NHL history to post three straight 40-win seasons. He’s also the team’s best dresser with a style that ranges from 1960s and 70s rock-inspired looks to Navajo ensembles, depending on his mood.

“It’s a bit of everything, which I think reflects him,” said former teammate Joel Ward. “It’s like New York meets Montana meets California.”

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Holtby’s interest in fashion is unexpected considering he grew up on a farm in Canada, but daring to be different even at a young age fits the confidence he now displays. As he’s become more established in Washington’s locker room, Holtby’s felt at ease using his attire to express himself.

“I’ve just always viewed fashion as bringing out your personality,” Holtby said. “It took a while being on a hockey team. You don’t know what you can get away with or whatnot, guys bugging you or giving you a hard time about things. The older I’ve gotten, the more comfortable I am. I don’t really care about that anymore. I just do my own thing.”

‘He’s always liked to look nice’

Growing up in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Holtby was awarded a clothing allowance from his parents every summer for back-to-school shopping. He had peculiar taste even then.

“He wouldn’t go to Walmart and pick up 10 shirts,” said Greg Holtby, Braden’s father. “He would go somewhere and pick out two that he really wanted.”

The Holtbys have a cattle and grain farm that Braden would work on in the summers, helping with everything from fixing fences to hauling hay bales. Greg noted his son was a hard worker, but farm work wasn’t his specialty. “It’d be pretty tough to be out here feeding cows in that three-piece suit he wears all of the time,” Greg joked.

When Braden left Lloydminster and its population of less than 30,000 to play Canadian junior hockey in Saskatoon, the bigger city helped him appreciate fashion. Holtby was drawn, as he puts it, “to the beauty of it.” The summer he was drafted by the Capitals, rather than work on the family farm, Holtby got a job at the local menswear store, Cliff Rose for Clothes.

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“I’ve always had an appreciation for things that are well-made, be it art or houses or carpentry, woodworking, clothes, I find the details very impressive for people putting their work into their craft,” Holtby said. “They see visions and they see those things come out, and you can see when someone cares about what they’re making. I think fashion’s a bit along the lines of that.

“It goes with hockey.”

Holtby’s attention to detail manifests in his play as well. The saves that appear simple are the product of methodical and precise movements, repeated over days and months and years until the maneuvers become instinct. With a 2.04 goals against average and a .926 save percentage, he’s likely again to be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s best goaltender. He’s also expected to backstop the Capitals through what many believe could be a long postseason run.

At the NHL awards in Las Vegas last summer, Braden took his father to buy a suit from John Varvatos, one of his favorite designers. When they got there, the store had already pulled some options based on the sizes Braden had provided, and Greg was simultaneously impressed and amenable. He appreciated how his son was pickier, asking to see other items and crafting his own look.

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“Braden’s always been into that kind of thing,” Greg said. “He’s always liked to look nice, and he’s going to wear what kind of goes with whatever. I don’t have the ability to go in and say, ‘hey, I think I’m going to pick that shirt and it’s going to go really good with that blazer and those pants.’ I can’t do that, but he knows exactly what he wants in there.”

‘You just have to have confidence’

When the Capitals were in Nashville for a game on Feb. 25, Holtby wasn’t scheduled to start, so while his teammates took their routine naps, he decided to spend his afternoon shopping. He purchased some jewelry from a small local store and another hat from “two old hippies” for his collection.

Colorful headwear has become an expected accessory for Holtby because he doesn’t like styling his hair all of the time and hats are classier than baseball caps. But when he showed up at the rink in a wide-brimmed beige hat earlier this season, there were some “Smokey Bear” jokes from teammates.

“Yeah, I got a lot of flak for that one,” he said.

Drawing attention to yourself is often frowned upon in the NHL, but Holtby was encouraged by how accepting Washington’s locker room was of former Capitals defenseman Mike Green, now with the Detroit Red Wings. He respected how Green used his style and tattoos to express his personality, and it reassured Holtby that standing out wouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. He’s now influenced some of his teammates.

“I love it,” Schmidt said. “It inspired me. I went and bought a hat. It’s not very good though. He said I need to go back and try again.”

When the team is on the road, Schmidt has occasionally tagged along on Holtby’s spontaneous shopping trips to some of his favorite boutiques — John Varvatos, Ralph Lauren’s Double RL and Suitsupply. “I just kind of hang out and watch in awe, then flip over the price tag every once in a while,” Schmidt said. If Schmidt feels conflicted in what he should wear, he texts Holtby for guidance.

The advice Holtby would give him is what he’s followed since discovering this passion 10 years ago.

“You just have to have confidence if you’re going to wear something that you think is your personal style or personality,” Holtby said. “You can’t get flustered if people make fun of it. You’ve just got to go with it. That’s the secret.”