During the Olympic Games, the world sets aside politics in favor of sportsmanship. Fans gather and cheer while countries compete, reminding everyone of the universality of athleticism and patriotism. Billions watch around the world, presenting a unique opportunity to spread cultural awareness.
The uniforms worn by Olympic athletes represent each country’s style and persona on a global stage. Everything from the designer chosen to the color palette reflect an image to the world. The clothing serves as a symbol of national pride and a form of allegiance.
Fashion icons are often selected to create a uniform representative of their nation. Each of these uniforms went down in history for both its aesthetic and what it represented.
Year: 2018 | Designer: Anastasia Zadorina
The Russian Olympic team is known for dazzling sportswear. This year, Moscow-based designer Anastasia Zadorina replaced Bosco, a sports brand that has served as Russia’s lead designer for previous Olympic games. Zadorina will dress the team for the next eight years. The high-end designer launched her sportswear line ZA Sport in 2012 and has already managed to land a few major contracts with athletic teams in Russia.
Though the Russian team faced a doping scandal in Rio, clean athletes will be allowed to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics, provided they comply with uniform restrictions created and enforced by the International Olympic Committee.
Year: 2016 | Designer: H&M
Swedish fashion brand H&M was chosen to design the country’s uniforms for both the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The collaboration between the apparel company and the Olympic athletes made for sleek, simple, and well-designed uniforms, which contrasted heavily with the outfits worn for the opening ceremony.
The uniforms were fitted navy creations with yellow and royal blue accents and were well-received by critics. The opening ceremony outfits consisted of bright yellow track shorts, knee socks, and a navy biodegradable dress that was intended more as a social statement than a fashion moment.
Year: 2016 | Designer: Christian Louboutin
After diplomatic relations opened between Cuba and the United States, the island nation experienced an explosion of high fashion. Inspiring designers, setting the backdrop for glamorous photoshoots, and hosting Chanel fashion shows, Cuba also caught the eye of famous French shoe designer Christian Louboutin. Louboutin, who had not previously designed apparel, outfitted the Cuban Olympic team in collaboration with Henri Tai.
The designers worked with the athletes to ensure the designs met their needs and accurately represented Cuba. The ultimate look showcases modern Cuban culture rather than the iconic, pre-revolutionary Cuba commonly shown in popular culture. The team wore tailored jackets emblazoned with the Cuban flag and black trousers. The men wore calf leather high-top trainers and the women donned kitten-heel sandals.
Year: 2012 | Designer: Cedella Marley
Cedella Marley, daughter of music legend Bob Marley, designed the Jamaican uniforms for the 2012 Summer Olympics in collaboration with Puma. The collection was a reflection of the country’s vibrant, upbeat culture and was unmistakable on track and field star Usain Bolt as he sprinted to gold.
Featuring bright, patterned skirts with accompanying fitted navy jackets for the ladies and yellow track pants and green short-sleeved button down shirts for the men, the look was both contemporary and patriotic. Jamaicans were proud to don gear created by Marley and inspired by her father.
Year: 2012 | Designer: Armani
In 2012, Italian designer Armani unveiled a 50-piece Olympic collection to mixed reactions. Some preferred the minimalist, muted palette and design; others questioned why the vibrant green and red of the Italian flag were left out.
The collection included a plain navy polo shirt, all-white and all-navy sport jackets and navy tracksuit bottoms. Viewers have to look very close to see Armani’s most patriotic touch — the first sentences of Italy’s national anthem were embroidered in gold on the inside lining of the jackets and on the back of polo shirt collars. The shoes were also plain. They came in white or navy with just a hint of gold in homage to the medal the athletes were to bring home.
Year: 2012 | Designer: Stella McCartney
Like Armani, British designer Stella McCartney was also criticized for 2012 Summer Olympic designs. Some believed McCartney had taken too many liberties with her adaption of the Union Jack in blue tones, which she justified as an attempt to make the uniforms feel contemporary.
The red in the Union flag represents the cross of St. George, for England, and the cross of St. Patrick, for Ireland. In the United Kingdom, red also represents bravery and strength, so its absence drew criticism.
Year: 2008 | Designer: Ralph Lauren
The 2008 Olympics marked the first United States uniform designed by American fashion icon Ralph Lauren. The partnership between the designer and the Olympic team will last until 2020.
Lauren’s designs undoubtedly include a preppy, American flair. This look, consisting of a fitted navy blazer adorned with the Olympic rings and the polo logo, started a firestorm of criticism. Many thought the brand logo upstaged the Olympic rings and questioned the designer’s intentions.
Olympic Uniforms Around the World
After learning more about Olympic uniforms from around the world, it is easy to see the importance of creating an aesthetic that appropriately represents your country. These uniforms live on as memorabilia that stands as a testament to each country’s accomplishments during that year’s games.