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Designers, Make It Weird: Fixing the Olympic National Team Uniforms

When you tune in to Friday night’s opening ceremony — an hour or more after the rest of the world, but who’s counting? — you will see fireworks. You will see the lighting of the Olympic torch. You will see national teams march into the Maracanã in uniforms designed and hyped for this exact purpose, a display of their country’s finest athletic fashion. And you will look at Team USA’s Ralph Lauren–designed prep school garb and think, “Huh.”

The American uniforms are fine. They’re OK. They’re red, white, and blue — patriotic, you see — and include loafers, which are very comfortable, presumably deployed here to keep the precious, soft pinky toes of our greatest athletes safe from blisters. The outfits are essentially inoffensive, and I mean no offense to Mr. Lauren and his associates when I say: The uniforms are goddamn boring and an affront to American pride.

It’s not Team USA’s fault: Most of the national team opening ceremony outfits just aren’t very good. Canada’s gear looks like Justin Bieber tried to dress a Mountie; South Korea’s uniforms include fedoras, possibly purchased from the first vendor the athletes saw upon arriving in Ipanema; China is ready to give out free bags of mini pretzels; Georgia’s decision to march in traditional long dresses and high-collared wool coats inspired a petition against the clothes. It’s part of the culture of the whole thing: The athletes’ village is full of very big and small and strong and fast people having very large amounts of sex with each other, and the national uniforms they wear are snoozefests. To be fair, not every national uniform is bad. Sweden’s H&M gear is (fashion term incoming) dope and Cuba has cool sneakers. But for every halfway decent uniform, there are two more that are just plain boring (looking at you, France and Italy).

We can do better. We can do so much better. There are two options, the way I see it: Either get better national uniforms, or get weird.

If you’ve ever watched the annual Eurovision contest, you know just how exciting displays of national identity can be. Weird hats, face paint, paper tentacle lanterns (???), paper chains, onions, capes, false skirts, feathered sleeves, feathered headdresses, pre-Power Rangers Power Rangers. All of this done, ostensibly, in the glorious name of national pride.

But what, you might ask, about the honor of the games? These athletes are serious competitors, many of whom are about to take part in the most important contests of their lives. They’re not here to put on a show. Do we really want to distract them with cone hats?

Look, if the Canadian delegation can stomach gear bearing a 6-foot-wide maple leaf, surely they can manage some sequins. Friday night will be a sartorial bore, but the next Summer Olympics, in Tokyo, are right around the corner. Let’s get weird, world.