The Winter Olympics Uniforms: For God, Country, Fashion, and Sport

Olympics Uniforms

The excitement is rising. The games will soon be here. I can't wait. As someone raised in the ice and snow of Minnesota, the Winter Olympics are my favorite spectator event. They are a spectacle that is part world sporting competition, part cultural festival, part global media extravaganza. There are so many fascinating angles to these games.

As a designer, after the competition and the opening/closing ceremonies, what captures my attention is the way the countries present themselves in uniform and the role the uniform takes in projecting national imagery, sporting culture and fashion. First, of course, is team USA. The 2010 Winter Olympic ceremonial team uniforms are designed by Ralph Lauren, classically American styled with a sense of casual athletic ruggedness.

Olympics Uniforms

I think team USA and also the Canadian's team attire (above, by Hudson's Bay Company) do a good job of combining today's fashion, with a competitive athletic feel and a nostalgic look of both countries winter sports cultures.

Olympics Uniforms

The freestyle ski and bobsled uniforms, both designed by Under Armour®, are said to be inspired by stuntman's Evel Knievel's aesthetic and feature compression and sew-free sonic welding technology materials. I'm thinking something beyond red, white and blue with stars and stripes is in order here.

Olympics Uniforms

It seems the individual sports team uniforms either go too far—grey and fuchsia plaid graphics plus Spiderman for downhill skiing—or not far enough, like these two examples.

Olympics Uniforms

Nike's hockey sweater designs have a simple, almost retro look, which some say harkens to team USA's golden hockey moments.

Olympics Uniforms

The blue sweater incorporates a 'we the people' graphic pattern into the arms and back of the garment, featuring elements such as the Statue of Liberty's torch, and the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence as well as symbols of Celtic, African, Native American, and Hispanic cultures. The third jersey offers a lace up alternative.

Olympics Uniforms

The Nike design team is also behind the jackets that will be worn for medal ceremonies.

Olympics Uniforms

And then there are the Burton designed uniforms for the snowboarding team. While they've been creating controversy with the casual, distressed denim pants, they undoubtedly reflect the fashion sensibilities of the boarding community and culture. They're my favorite for those individual sport characteristics combined with USA iconography like the colors and crest.

As I consider these uniforms and the many others for each of the sporting teams representing team USA, I feel there's a missed opportunity to find a design expression that can represent the team in a more unified way without compromising the individual needs of each sport. What a great challenge it would be to find a design language that is broad enough to reflect the various sporting cultures, yet represent a common team character combined with an eclectic representation of our country's culture.

Olympics Uniforms

Once the games are underway it will be interesting to see how the other countries have approached their visual representation. Seems as though a follow-up blog is in order. I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm pretty confident about how a diverse design language could be established for almost every sport...but I'm kind of scared to go anywhere near figure skating.

Update: This post was updated to reflect the correct designers of the Canadian uniforms, it is Hudson's Bay Company, not Roots.

[Images via T Magazine]

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Principal and chairman of Duffy & Partners, Joe Duffy is one of the most respected and sought after creative directors and thought leaders on branding and design in the world. Joe's work includes brand and corporate identity development for some of the world's most admired brands, from Aveda to Coca-Cola to Sony to Jack in the Box to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. His work is regularly featured in leading marketing and design publications and exhibited around the world. In 2004 he founded Duffy & Partners as a new kind of branding and creativity company, partnering with clients and other firms in all communication disciplines. Also in 2004, he received the Medal from the AIGA for a lifetime of achievement in the field of visual communications. His first book—Brand Apart—was released in July 2005 and in 2006, he was recognized as one of the "Fast 50" most influential people in the future of business by Fast Company.

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5 Comments

  • Mel Blitzer

    The irony is not lost. The Hudson's Bay Company, centuries old, is now owned by an American while Roots founded by Americans is now thoroughly Canadian.

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    Mel Blitzer

  • crash boombam

    What is up with the snowboarding uniforms? While other sports such as jumping or flying or downhill skiing have a functionality aspect to the uniforms they wear snowboarding looks to be totally dependent on style. If speed or fewer seconds are factors in winning a metal when snowboarding, then why not wear something that is aerodynamic? Maybe you get more points for how much ass crack you show on the way down the course! I don't know just an observance.

  • Thomas Kyle

    and the fact that they were not designed by roots is (in my opinion) a huge mistake....

  • Trevor Carr

    The CDN uniforms were not designed by ROOTS - they were designed by the Hudsons Bay Company.