Style Olympics: Aesthetes Vs. Athletes

The Beijing 2008 Olympics have finally arrived! While most of the world united in marvel over the magnitude and wondrous display of Beijing’s Opening Ceremony, fashion fiends appraised the event with their own tenuous set of priorities. Our focus was specific and superficial: the clothes, duh! Athleticism and fashion are decidedly unrelated; the two realms are mutually exclusive and, for harmony’s sake, one shouldn’t attempt to judge the other. Nonetheless, fashion skeptics eagerly flexed their own muscles in response to Friday evening’s sartorial spectacle. The critical consensus? Olympians’ athletic skills may stir admiration and foster national pride, but their wardrobes often leave plenty to be desired.

Team Greece ushered in the first of many dubious ensembles when they stepped out in stark, awkwardly tailored white & black suits. Susannah Frankel of The Independent quipped: “to say they looked wide would be an understatement”. Japan sported jaunty separates that mirrored school uniforms, a design motif which enticed some and repelled others (on a personal note, I thought they looked chic and appropriate). Meanwhile, China’s own athletes flashed patriotically coordinated outfits that naysayers claim resembled “tomato-and-scrambled-egg uniforms”; the look has proven to be unpopular with the host country’s public. The Ukraine’s eye-wateringly turquoise and yellow color story faced similar complaints.

A few countries managed to dress to impress. Tricolor nations inadvertently captured fashion’s zeitgeist and used colorblocking to decent effect. Team USA‘s Ralph Lauren-sponsored look sharply toed the line between trend-hawking and tradition, with quintessential navy and white contrast idealized as polo attire, flat caps included. Italy and the UK also successfully uniformed their athletes in reverent-yet-relevant dressy sportswear, while France‘s smart adaptation of red, white, and blue combined the predictable (berets) with the adventurous (obi belts?!).

But, by far, the best dressed team was the Netherlands, whose clothing rejected the obvious. They chose not to wear the colors of their own red, white, and blue flag, but to convey their national essence through the interplay of muted tones and “linear” ideals. Their wisely selected palette of slate grey, white, and marigold was strikingly modern and unexpected, and impeccable white piping and French cuffs perfected the most visually intriguing look of the evening.  See that? Proof positive that clever ceremonial clothing characterizes a national identity through creative representation. In this case, we can even say it satisfied the needs of both athletes and aesthetes.

If nothing else, the Dutch certainly adorned their team in a look far superior to any produced by Project Runway 5’s contestants (check back in a day or two for more of my thoughts on this!).

Are you watching the Olympics as vigilantly as we are? What are your favorite events?

1 Comment

  • Chen says:

    Oh gosh the Project Runway uniforms were completely off the mark. I think the fact that an outfit with wide leg white pants won shows clearly the lack of appropriate designs.

    I dunno about you but I don’t like any of this season’s contestants whereas I liked pretty much everyone from season four!

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