Olympic Couture

Sameer Reddy, Newsweek, August 20, 2008

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The biggest sports-related news stateside has been the redesign of the U.S. uniforms by Ralph Lauren, who took the reins from Canadian company Roots. Lauren has built an empire by becoming the unofficial outfitter of the American Dream, marketing an idealized image of America’s former ruling class to the nation at large. However, the WASP aesthetic he sells—think of characters from “The Great Gatsby,” clothed in tennis whites and delicate tea dresses—has come to represent a classist and racist set of ideals, hardly representative of the current multicultural social fabric of the United States. A strange choice then, to redefine the U.S. team’s visual identity in this way, even as it marches further away from the 20th century, when WASP power reached its peak. But if one stops to consider America’s shaky status as the world’s preeminent superpower, Lauren’s nostalgic, retro creations begin to make more sense.

His designs for the Olympic team’s appearance at the opening ceremony consisted of navy blue blazers (emblazoned with a gargantuan Polo logo) paired with white button-downs and matching trousers, accessorized with a jaunty white newsboy cap and red, white and blue silk tie or scarf. His ensembles for the closing ceremony are more casual, with white sleeveless knit-sweaters and crisp cotton-shorts. Social conservatives would probably fail to read anything insidious into these outfits—after all, at least the U.S. team looked pulled-together and semi-formal—but the clothes, in and of themselves, are not the problem. The issue is that the Polo brand is built upon an aesthetic intended to communicate to the world, the wearer’s successful assimilation into the traditional institutions of upwardly-mobile American culture—the elitist world of typically WASP-only country clubs, prep schools and cotillions. {snip}

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