The real problem with the U.S. Olympic uniforms

After noting that failing to have the U.S. Olympic team’s uniforms made in this country was a serious missed opportunity, Peggy Noonan raises the other problem, which has occurred to me whenever I’ve seen photos of these ridiculous togs:

But that isn’t the biggest problem. That would be the uniforms themselves. They don’t really look all that American. Have you seen them? Do they say “America” to you? Berets with little stripes? Double breasted tuxedo-like jackets with white pants? Funny rounded collars on the shirts? Huge Polo logos? They look like some European bureaucrat’s idea of a secret militia, like Brussels’s idea of a chic new army. They’re like the international community Steven Spielberg lined up to put on the spaceship at the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Americans wear baseball caps, trucker hats, cowboy hats, watch caps, Stetsons, golf caps, even Panama hats and fedoras. They wear jeans and suits and khakis and shorts and workout clothes. The Americans in the now-famous uniform picture look like something out of a Vogue spread where the models arrayed on the yacht look like perfect representatives of the new global elite.

Our athletes aren’t supposed to look like people who’d march under a flag with statues and harps and musical notes. Also, the women’s uniforms make them look like stewardesses from the 777 fleet on Singapore Airlines.

The failure of the uniforms is that they don’t communicate: “Here comes America.”

They communicate: “Chic global Martians coming your way.”

Amen to that, Peggy.

I saw a photo in the WSJ the other day showing the uniforms, and at first I thought sure they were on male fashion models — you know, the kind who are distinguishable from the female models only by slightly larger jaws, with neither gender looking entirely like normal, healthy humans? The effect was heightened by the fact that they were wearing clothing no normal person would wear.

I was shocked to learn they were actual American athletes. I’m still not sure the cutline was right. So maybe it was entirely the uniforms that made them look so unreal.

27 thoughts on “The real problem with the U.S. Olympic uniforms

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    The hats are what really stands out, then the collars. I guess the rest is sort of Ralph Lauren-ish, which does read American….she’s right that as shown, they look off, like a non-native’s notion from books….

  2. Silence

    Models and many Olympic athletes have about the same body fat % so it’s not suprising that you can’t tell them apart. The uniforms are ridiculous by the way. They look perfect for a week in the Hamptons, or yachting as you say. I’d point out that these Olympians ARE members of the global elite.
    It’s funny that Ralph Lipschitz, who couldn’t have even belonged to a country club – due to being Jewish – now designs the ultimate in WASPy clothing.

    Just put them in sweats, but no hoodies.

  3. Silence

    edit – couldn’t have belonged to a country club when he was growing up. Nowadays with his bankroll he could just buy the club, a’la Al Czervik.

  4. Steven Davis II

    Why do they have to have the big Polo trademark emblem on them?

    Jeans, t-shirt, baseball cap (worn backwards) and you’d have something more American than this gay looking costume.

  5. Juan Caruso

    SD II,

    Ralph Lauren has for some time received rights from Brooks Brothers to use the Polo trademark on his lines (e.g. fashion ties).

    Combining visible commercial labelling with an official U.S. uniform strikes me as tawdry, but perhaps it was geared to incite public controversy (fodder or distraction) which did ensue briefly.

    Lauren has donated to Dems over Reps about 16:1, which is significantly more bipartisan than Mr. Soros (134:1), although on a much smaller scale.

  6. Mark Stewart

    Don’t worry; people have already lost their jobs over this. Actually, Silence, this pretty much represents the end of Ralph’s reign at his now public company. In his long prime his outsiders incisive viewpoint on aspiration connected with millions of people. These uniforms will connect with no one.

    BTW – Brad, the rounded collars were very Edwardian English. Or a parody of the 1980 American version. Sadly, the uniforms look as though someone wanted to be invited to participate in the Boat Race.

    More important, this is yet another example of the importance of the client properly exercising it’s responsibility and approval.

  7. Kathy

    Peggy Noonan’s critique is right on the money. And that skirt is horrible. It looks like something a 1950s housewife would wear with a blouse. Considering all the different types of skirts there are, I can’t imagine why anyone would pick that style for an Olympics uniform for any country.

    Do the women have a choice of pants or do they have to wear a skirt? Why do the uniforms advertise Polo? Just love that the uniforms were made in China. Nice that Ralph used the correct colors.

  8. Kathy

    I just looked at another photo of the uniforms, and the poor woman is wearing white socks with her skirt! Socks. With a blazer and skirt. Yuck. I think it might be time for Ralph to retire.

  9. Kathy

    Australia has the American-looking uniforms—in Australian colors. Canada’s uniforms look nice but casual. If you want to see the other 1950s housewives, google New Zealand’s uniforms. And what on earth are the New Zealand men wearing? Suddenly, the American uniforms are looking better!

  10. Silence

    You know who did really good uniforms, the Germans, back in the 1930’s. Of course, that’s all they did that was good or admirable.

  11. Karen McLeod

    What is that around the woman’s neck in place of a tie. It looks like wide grosgrain ribbon. Many other countries have uniforms that look both good and comfortable. These look neither.

  12. Bart

    “Except for the beret, this is sort of thing the Romneys wear whilst yachting.”….Burl

    Photo proof please?

  13. Kathryn Fenner

    It looks like a football a/k/a soccer scarf. There are gold, red, and black ones like that all over Germany

  14. Kathleen

    The uniforms are definitely a big miss. Mark is definitely on target; R-L may well have jumped the shark. That seems to be the sad fate of many fashion related businesses go public.

    My criticism of the manufacturing site is a bit more muted. 15 years ago, when outsourcing was already a fact of life, I probably would have called for Ralph Lipschitz’s head on a pike and made some caustic remarks about ignoring the infrastructure that contributed to his success etc. Today the American garment industry is practically dead. The Olympic Committee authority approving the uniforms deserves criticism for being unprepared for negative response.
    If anyone is interested in the modern “rag” business check out Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed. It is a quick primer and shouldn’t be a surprise to folks living in what used to be a textile state.

  15. Lynn

    Next time why not let LLBean or Lands End outfit the team from their website or catalog. Heck give them a clothing allowance and drop the team off at Good Will Thrift Store.

  16. Burl Burlingame

    BTW, Silence, all those Nazi-era uniforms were designed and produced by Hugo Boss, a company that’s still with us today.

  17. Kathryn Fenner

    There are plenty of clothing manufacturing ops in the USA. From Nanette Lepore to American Apparel….

  18. Steven Davis II

    “Except for the beret, this is sort of thing the Romneys wear whilst yachting.”
    I’m thinking more like John Kerry when he was in the Navy.

  19. Rose

    I don’t buy American Apparel because of their soft porn catalogs. If I want to buy a t-shirt I don’t need to see it on a braless, scrawny teenage-looking girl wearing nothing else but panties.

  20. Brad

    Yeah, Victoria’s Secret is one thing. But those American Apparel ads are disturbing; they seem to lean toward Jerry Sandusky territory. They’re twisted.

  21. Steven Davis II

    @Silence – Maybe during the next Olympics we can have the uniforms designed by FUBU. Everything will be oversized by at least four sizes and everybody can have that wannabe gangsta look.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *