With the 2016 Summer Olympic Games opening this week, we’re taking a look back at the history of olympic uniforms and how olympic fashion has changed through the decades.
Though the inception of the Olympics games didn’t include matching team uniforms, once uniform coordination was embraced in the games, there was a certain style that has remained front and forward. When fashion introduced the pairing of trousers and blazers, aka the suit, it became an Olympic games fashion staple across all countries, the United States in particular.
Year after year teams are outfitted in uniforms that are on the conservative side-some might say even “stuffy” side. Although at the time this fashion statement occurred it was a novel and trendy look. Fast forward over a hundred years later to 2016, it’s left feeling outdated. American fashion designer Ralph Lauren has become synonymous with Team USA at the Olympics. Lauren established his fashion brand as a preppy and Americana line, with clean cut details and classic silhouettes. However, in 2016 that seems a bit obsolete when the world of fashion is anything but cookie-cutter. Instead, it’s full of the fusions of different styles. Today’s fashion scene blurs the line between street wear and athletic wear with athleisure. The trend is so popular that Merriam-Webster made “athleisure” an official part of the dictionary.
Why does fashion matter so much to the Olympic games? For many years, the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies uniforms have become the world’s most watched runway. This has pushed countries to enlist high-profile talents such as Giorgio Armani, Lacoste’s artistic director Felipe Oliveira Baptista and Stella McCartney to design team looks.
Why is it then that most countries are still outfitting athletes in semi-formal attire that are more suitable for sipping cocktails than embracing athleticism? Can 2016 be the year these designers step up their game and break boundaries?
Let’s take a look back at Team USA’s Olympic uniform history.
1896. Upper-class women were allowed to join in on the Olympic games’ sporting activities such as tennis, golf, target sports and croquet. However, these women were not to be overly exerted or break a sweat; that would be “unfeminine”. Wearing long-sleeve and floor length dresses that served as their uniform, breaking a sweat was hard to avoid.
1912. Women’s swimming and diving events officially become part of the Olympic games for the first time. This was the year women became part of the demonstration of female gymnastics, wearing uniforms that were short knee-length skirts.
1906. The USA team players still did not have matching shoes incorporated into their uniform. However, 1906 was the year of collectively wearing more official looking uniforms.
1906. This same year, the USA track and field athletes completely mix-matched their attire. From their shoes to clothing.
1960. The tradition of uniform coordination was heavily embraced this year. Team USA was outfitted in matching suits, ties and hats.
1964. White cowboy hats were the statement piece in this year’s uniform paired with warm jackets and dark-washed pants.
1984. This year’s uniforms were casual and sleek in red white and blue athletic jumpsuits.
1976. Team USA’s men wore blue suits and the women wore flag printed neck scarves with white button up shirts.
1996. Team USA’s women wore Red jackets, starry scarves with blue trousers.
2008. Team USA wore blue blazers, newsboy caps and white trousers designed by Ralph Lauren.
2016. Ralph Lauren does it again with for Team USA with red, white and blue polos with striped belts.
Which team’s designs this Olympic Games has been taken to the next level? Let’s take a look at other countries from around the world who’s 2016 uniforms are innovative, functional and stylish.
The Swedish fashion retailer H&M designed a variety of uniforms for their home country’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes that include outfits for the opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies and the athletic competitions.
“We are truly honored to also do the competition outfits for some selected sports. These uniforms are a technical, high-fashion Olympic collection with a lot of the garments made in sustainable materials such as recycled polyester,” says Pernilla Wohlfahrt, the design and creative director at H&M.
This Summer H&M unveils a new collection inspired by games and have former-Olympian Caitlyn Jenner acting as the line image. H&M also designed Sweden’s uniforms for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
Team South Korea.
South Korea’s Olympic committee unveils uniforms infused with mosquito repellent that officials say will help protect athletes from the Zika virus. The outfits all feature long pants, long-sleeved shirts and jackets. These formal uniforms will only be worn during ceremonies and at the athletes’ village. The repellent on the uniforms will prohibit the team from wearing them during the actual games.
Designed by Dan and Dean Caten, the Canadian duo behind Dsquared2. The 2016 uniforms feature stylish and athletic shapes that are crafted around Canada’s most distinct motif, the maple leaf. Recalling the simplicity of early Canadian Olympic uniforms, the outfit’s star piece is a tailored blazer. The uniforms feature a “sartorial finish with flap pockets, gum covered snap buttons, ribbed cuffs and a bonded zip pocket on the chest.”
The kit features crisp white shorts and skirts, with nautical vibes. The uniforms are topped off with green cotton seersucker blazers lined with the name of every Australian gold medallist. The blazers also feature the country’s arms in gold and have Australian Olympic coat of arms buttons. The uniforms took two years to create from inception to the launch.
Team Great Britain.
Stella McCartney and Adidas come together for a second time to create graphic-heavy uniforms for Great Britain featuring a new coat of arms. Although there have been mixed reviews, McCartney’s designs are bold, distinctive and thoughtful. The crest offers a sense of symbolism with an image that combines the symbols of the United Kingdom’s four home nations.
“The idea was to do something chic that is representative of the Lacoste spirit, founded by [tennis legend] René Lacoste — so very clean cut and very precise,” says Lacoste’s artistic director Felipe Oliveira Baptista.
The 2016 kit is a minimalist trench in marine blue paired with cropped white pants with elastic waistbands. Additionally they include technical fabric, hooded cotton jackets and thermo-bonded zip-up sweaters. The uniform kit also features the brand’s signature piqué polo T-shirts as well as ponchos to protect athletes from tropical rains.
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