Every four years the olympics comes around and every four years it’s not just sport on everyones lips, it’s the outfits each team has chosen. With clothes designed over the years by everyone Christian Loboutin to Levi Strauss the modern games are an opportunity to represent your country in both sport and fashion.
The Modern Olympics, as we know them, were first competed in 1896. They were organised as a revival of the original olympic games played in Ancient Greece up until around the 4th century. It’s unlikely that fashion was very important to the competitors of the time: the Ancient Olympians competed completely naked (apparently after one of the runners tripped over his loincloth). Also it was only men who were allowed to compete, textiles had a way to go, as did variety of clothing so all in all it would’ve made for a very boring (but violent) catwalk.
Even the early Modern Olympics had little in way of individual fashion: single button blazers, trousers, petticoats for women (when they were finally allowed to participate). Fairly standard Victorian clobber. But, thankfully, as time has come on and formalities of the past are forgotten, each olympics games shows us teams, and individuals, with a striking array of fashions made expertly for purpose and for style.
By the 1960s Adidas and Puma were growing as companies and started competing to get athletes to wear their clothes. Adidas went so far as to set up a stall giving free clothes to athletes - some early olympic advertising. This was long before companies could pay athletes to wear their gear, which seems so alien now as every athlete has their own sponsorship deal. It wouldn’t be until 1985 that sponsors would be introduced opening the doors for big fashion at the Olympics.
Lets look at some of the uniforms and individual choices that have got us talking every four years (twice a year, the winter olympics has some beauties too). The majority are from the opening ceremony which never fails to impress.
Stella McCartney X Adidas: Team GB, 2016
2016 was the second time Stella McCartney had designed the Team GB uniform. Her first in 2012 was criticised for not featuring the Union Jack red so she enlisted Adidas and together they created this new take on the colours of the flag. Simple but striking, Adidas helped to create something which looked good away from the track (or diving board, or wherever) and would help team GB to their most successful games in recent history.
Levis: Team USA, 1980
Here’s one from the Winter Olympics. Designed for the 1980 winter games, Levis had to ensure that the athletes stayed warm and they did so by creating possibly the most American-looking outfit I’ve ever seen. Mittens, thick jackets, all topped with a white cowboy hat ensured everyone was aware that America had arrived (in America).
Russia celebrated their first foray into the Olympics since the fall of the Soviet Union in style. They attended the opening ceremony wearing boater-style hats in olympic colours and these white blazers emblazoned with the Olympic Rings. What a way to say hello and celebrate the historic event.
Canada have brought us some brilliant outfits over the years, an evolution that saw DSquared2 create their outfits for the 2016 Olympics, complete with red blazers and baseball hats bearing Canada lettering on the front. These outfits were slightly different: white hats and beanies, still with that Canadian red blazer though. It’s probably time to bring back that 70s shirt collar, it just might not go with the tracksuit tops they wore.
Ralph Lauren: Team USA, 2016
These opening ceremony outfits divided opinion at the time but it’s a classic American preppy look. Patriotic as ever, Team USA are red, white, and blue all over. White skinny jeans make the outfit slightly more casual, especially paired with those red, white, and blue boat shoes. It’s Ivy League on tour.
Oakley: Ato Boldon, 2000
I couldn’t get through the list without a quick mention of Auto Boldon’s signature Oakley glasses from 2000. The Trinidadian sent the world into a frenzy when he rocked these at the Olympic Games in Sydney. The futuristic glasses were created in an attempt to reduce bounce. You probably wouldn’t wear them to the beach but the effect they created was unforgettable.
Synchronised Swimming: Team Brazil, 2012
Synchronised swimming often has some of the best outfits and this one is up there. The back had a skeletal pattern on it whilst the front showed the nervous system and organs, Even the cap was made to look like a brain.
Nike: Skateboard Team Brazil, 2020
For skateboarding’s first appearance at the olympics, Nike made outfits for three countries: Brazil France, and, of course, the USA. This one for team Brazil stood out for incorporating the national colours of Brazil into something reminiscent of a football kit (Brazil’s important national sport). They’ve kept it casual and colourful - a nod to the street origins of the now Olympic sport.