The sporting look: fashion and the Olympics

Our managing editor and resident fashion guru looks at the evolution of athleticism and fashion throughout the Olympics.

Image: Olympic hopefuls Tim Burke, Emily Cook, Sho Kashima, Gretchen Bleiler, JR Celski during the 100 Days to Vancouver Celebration at Rockefeller Center (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for USOC)

There was a time when nothing but your birthday suit or a toga was necessary for participation in the Olympic games. However, with the advent of advertising and strategic product placement the Opening Ceremonies of the modern Olympiad have become the largest runway show in the world. It was reported that almost two billion people tuned in to watch the Beijing games in 2008.

For the past two years, American designer Ralph Lauren has been designing the uniforms for Team USA. Lauren founded his house over forty years ago with just a collection of ties but since, the Polo Ralph Lauren label has become the epitome of classic American style. In 2008, the US Olympic committee announced that Lauren would become the official outfitter of Team USA designing outfits for the opening and closing ceremonies in addition to an assortment of village pieces, to be worn by the athletes while not competing.

However, it is not unheard of for designers to display their brand at the games. In 2006, Italian Giorgio Armani created looks for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin even taking a turn as torchbearer. Figure skaters have always brought a stylistic flair to the games: French couturier Christian Lacroix and Vera Wang have dressed ice skaters for years, Lacroix designed costumes for medalist Surya Bonaly and Wang, a former skater herself, designed for Nancy Kerrigan.

The merging of athleticism and fashion was even featured earlier this month in The New York Times Magazine. The spread featured select Olympic athletes in custom-made knit outfits by Rodarte. Athletes participating in the shoot by Ryan McGinley was former figure skating world champion Johnny Weir, Evan Lysachek, and duo Keavna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker along with skier Anders Johnson.

This winter, Lauren designed elegant and contemporary style for both the US and Paralympics teams echoing the sensibility of the 1920s and 30s with heavily tailored silhouettes. “Lauren tends to dress the athletes like gentlemen, folks who’d actually wear cotton tennis sweaters during a match,” said Robin Givhan, Fashion Director of The Washington Post. Therefore, because the Ralph Lauren label is the quintessential American brand, Polo was the obvious choice for outfitting the American athletes.

Look for the distinctive Polo horse during the Closing ceremonies on February 28 or run our to your local Ralph Lauren to create your own Olympic sporting look. — JK

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