The Olympic games are one of the few events which enlist the participation of 88 nations and garners global spectator-ship. The Olympics are just as much a cultural event as they are a sporting event. And while this is an event for the global community, the competitive nature of the games inspires a great deal of patriotism and nationalism. Each team has a responsibility to represent its country’s values and culture from the moment they touch down in Sochi to the moment they leave, whether medal-clad or not. Most people assume that by winning medals in their respective events that the athletes have proven the success of their country’s government, culture, and fundamental values and mores. But unless the athlete is someone like Michael Phelps who boasts 22 medals, the world is more likely to remember your presence and presentation than they are to remember your performance.
This is why the teams’ and individuals’ appearances are so important and this is where fashion comes into play (pun intended). The teams’ styles are debuted and broadcasted to a worldwide audience at the games’ Opening Ceremonies, where the athletes are formally welcomed and introduced. Next to each individual’s event this is the most important moment for the athletes and even more so for their respective countries. Each country’s culture is being assessed through how their is presented and a major component of this is how they look: their physical appearance and how they are dressed.
This year, as in 2010 and 2012, the United States’ Olympic team will be dressed head to toe in Ralph Lauren designs, but unlike previous years, these designs were produced and manufactured entirely in the United States. It seems like common sense that the America team wear designs that showcase the talent of American designers, and also the capacity of American clothing manufacturers, but this apparently wasn’t so apparent to the USOC and Ralph Lauren. It was not until political backlash over US team uniforms and attire being produced in China that the decision was made for this year’s drab to be entirely American from concept to production.
The Ralph Lauren ensembles this year are pretty similar to what we saw in 2010, with the exception of this year’s much talked about vibrantly patriotic cardigans. The cardigan is boldly American with displays of large stars, red and white stripes, two American flags, the letters USA printed once on the chest and again much larger on the back. There was some immediate concern over perceived “flamboyance” of the sweaters as the Russian government has made clear its anti-homosexual views through rhetoric and policy. There was speculation that the sweaters were designed to make a political statement that was less so “pro-gay” and more so “Anti-Russia.” Regardless I find it hard to believe that there was any intention on the part of Ralph Lauren’s design team to make any statement other than, “Go USA!” mainly because these designs were probably in concept before the issue of Russia’s views towards the gay community were broadcast to the Olympic community.
As for the rest of the ensemble, which includes white knit pants, navy and red all-weather boots, a think turtle neck, and a patterned knit hat, I was less than impressed in terms of the creativity of the designs as it is something that we have already seen and they are less than fashionable. To Ralph Lauren’s credit, these outfits have to both gender-neutral and also functional in the Russian climate.
All-in-all the outfit is extremely patriotic and I am so happy to know that everything was made here in the USA.