The challenges of outfitting Team USA

The fashion gods rarely look upon the Olympics with kindness. Creating a stylish look for athletes whose bodily proportions range from short and compact to long and lean is a test for any designer. Ralph Lauren knows the game, having been “official outfitter” of the US team since 2008. His latest contribution will be on parade Friday at Fisht Olympic Stadium when the Sochi Games open in Russia.

As the American athletes take to their competitions, we decided to create one of our own. Taking the long view in judging the American uniform, we recall some winning and losing Olympic styles.


Sochi 2014

  • The look: Ugly holiday sweater winner

  • Designer: Ralph Lauren

  • “Made In” label: The USA. Unlike previous American-uniforms-made-in-China gaffes, Lauren enlisted some 40 US companies to provide materials and manufacturing including an Oregon sheep farm, a North Carolina dyeing facility, and a Southern California assembly plant.

  • Notable design detail: This brash piece of knitwear has patriotic colors and symbols covering every last inch of it and came with a sale price of $595. No wonder it’s already sold out, right? For all the attention the sweater has gotten, the athletes parading through Fisht Friday will likely be wearing Lauren’s navy peacoat, with red contrast stripe and oversize polo player logo, natch.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

London 2012

  • The look: Cruise ship purser

  • Designer: Ralph Lauren

  • “Made In” label: The 2012 Team USA uniforms sparked a controversy because they were made in China. Said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the eve of the London Games: “I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again.” Yikes.

  • Notable design detail: Paging Julie McCoy. The blazer and white pants looked like something better suited to a cruise ship staff. But there was a touch of patriotism, which came through in the red, white, and blue scarves for all.

Doug Mills/Associated Press

Salt Lake City 2002

  • The look: Hip, hip beret

  • Designer: Roots

  • “Made In” label: Burma (Myanmar). The outcry surrounding the outsourcing was modest, especially given Mitt Romney’s helming of that year’s Winter Games. Torchbearer (and whistleblower) Susan Bonfield later told the Guardian UK: “When I looked at the label for the uniform, I went nuts. When you are sending work representing the US to a military dictatorship, I have an issue with that.”

  • Notable design detail: Quel surprise! Americans went crazy for the navy beret. What the Roots red-trimmed hat lacked in glamour, it made up for in popularity. Hundreds lined up for the $20 beret, and the Roots boutique set up in Park City, Utah, sold 1 million of them.

Associated Press

Nagano 1998

  • The look: Old West meets Far East

  • Designer: Canadian-based apparel company Roots

  • “Made In” label: Canada. American style as envisioned by our northern neighbor.

  • Notable design detail: As mashups go, the cowboy/park ranger hybrid — complete with wide-brimmed hat — was a doozy. Reimagining the cowboy duster coat in bright blue nylon was a curious fashion move that calls to mind a bundled-up Randy from “A Christmas Story.” But perhaps Roots was just prescient about the avalanche of Snuggies, Toasty Wraps, and Slankets that would later become a pop-culture phenomenon.

Eric Draper/Associated PRess

Atlanta 1996

  • The look: Seeing spots

  • Designer: Champion

  • Label detail: Everyone’s a winner! Steven Sicular, vice president of design for Champion, told the St. Louis Dispatch each parade jacket label was embroidered with gold thread. “The intention was to make them a trophy,” he said.

  • Notable design detail: Did the sportswear giant take its fashion cues from Talbots? Champion’s bold attempt to outfit some 900 athletes in the sweltering Southern heat was met with mixed results. The guys got off easy with waffle-weave blue blazers and cream-colored pants, but the ladies wore red with polka-dotted bottoms. Geez.

Associated PRess

Lake Placid 1980

  • The look: Cowboy up

  • Designer: Levi Strauss

  • “Made In” label: USA, of course. Levi’s are as American as apple pie.

  • Notable design detail: Along with the denim, athletes strutted around Lake Placid in shearling jackets layered over turtlenecks, plaid collared shirts, and striped sweaters. Accessories were manly shearling mittens and white cowboy hats. An homage to “Urban Cowboy” no doubt.

Jill Radsken can be reached at
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