Who are You Wearing at the Games?
August 10, 2012 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious about the process of uniform design and selection for the Olympics, specifically the U.S. team (not opening ceremony uniforms), but tidbits from other countries are welcome as well.

While watching the Olympics I've noticed that all of the U.S. Olympic athletes have very different uniforms. Naturally, different sports require different cuts and materials but I would think that all uniforms for a country would have common elements, colors or "look" to them.

The bicycling uniforms are the closest I've noticed to being similar across genders and events, and indoor volleyball mens and womens are similar apart from the shorts. I understand the purpose for a light and dark jersey option for team sports to differentiate from opponents.

Then when looking at beach volleyball the mens and womens are drastically different. I'm not referring to the size/amount of material, but the design elements like the plainness of the women's and the clownish mens uniforms. I'm curious why those diamonds were not used across all beach volleyball player uniforms, and even across all U.S. athlete uniforms (or the plainness, or stripes... or some common element). The BMX bikers have a giant eagle on their uniforms, an element I haven't seen on any others. Some swimmers and gymnasts wore pink uniforms at different points.

Are there multiple designs the athletes can request or choose between? Does the same group design all of a country's uniforms or does each sport have a committee to decide? How much of a choice does the athlete have? Does a company like Nike design the look of the uniforms for some sports? Is there no common design process across Team USA?

Searching turns up a lot of comments on the opening ceremony uniforms Chinese production, and I found this article commenting on foreign manufacture of the diving uniforms but I'm more curious about the design process and visual aspects of Team USA's uniforms than the overseas production issues.
posted by Bunglegirl to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One thing to keep in mind is that not all -- or even most -- sports/countries/athletes have competition gear that is designed *for* the Olympics. Some of them certainly do, but many of the athletes are wearing the same gear they've been wearing while competing for the national team for the last four years. So you're not seeing common design elements across all the sports for a single nation, because those outfits have been designed at various times for various purposes and not for the Olympics themselves.

Some of that gear, even if it looks flimsy, and like just a bit of spandex, is actually pretty highly engineered and very expensive, so replacing it all for the Olympics would be a considerable cost to the national Olympic committees and the budgets of each team.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:30 AM on August 10, 2012

Another issue could be sponsorship. Apparently the Team USA-wide stuff is made by Nike (e.g., the gray 'podium jackets' every athlete is supposed to wear on the podium), but other companies may sponsor the national team in specific sports, and thus those athletes may wear that company's stuff when competing.

For instance, the men's beach volleyball shorts are made by Loudmouth while Mizuno is USA Volleyball's official apparel sponsor. Individual athletes could have sponsorship obligations as well, and I'm sure there are lawyers at every level of this working out exactly what logos the athletes will be wearing at the Olympics.
posted by MadamM at 12:31 PM on August 10, 2012

I know that Michael Jordon, an obvious Nike sponsored athlete, draped the American flag over the logo of a competitor during the medal ceremony so as not to be photographed with that other logo.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:34 PM on August 10, 2012

You might also be interested to read about the fact that Stella McCartney designed the Team Great Britain competition gear for these games. All of it for all the sports, which is why GBR is presenting a fairly unified look this year. But that has never happened before.

I wouldn't be surprised if, now that it has happened once, it becomes de rigueur for major teams at future games, but it was a first.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:49 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

The gray podium jackets I thought were standard but the US Women's Soccer team wore black Nike gear of a different design. I thought that was perplexing.
posted by mmascolino at 2:59 PM on August 10, 2012

As I understand it, the sport's federation makes a contract with an apparel brand. It is very competitive. There are strict rules about colors and print through the IOC.

(This I gleamed after working at an outdoor apparel company.)
posted by k8t at 6:11 PM on August 10, 2012

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