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The team outfits of the Rio 2016 opening ceremony: We take a look at what worked and what didn’t

12 August 2016

“Who on earth got them dressed…?” is not the ideal response to a team of Olympic athletes, but it’s a question many viewers asked themselves repeatedly during last weekend’s opening ceremony.

So who were the winners and losers? The general consensus of the media coverage – as well as the self-appointed fashion commentators of Twitter – was that the Swedish team (sporting a variety of curious upcycled shapes) were about the worst of the style offenders, and that the US team (in their natty Ralph Lauren separates) looked about the best. One just had to overlook that slightly unfortunate T-shirt glitch – because from under the US’s blue blazers those stripes took on a marked resemblance to the Russian flag. But these mistakes happen.

Britain looked serviceable, business-like and fittingly sporty in their Stella McCartney signature silhouettes – the men wearing navy, military-inspired peacoats, the women navy dresses with white belted jackets – all with just the right tone of patriotism in the large embroidered coats of arms on their backs. Britain certainly avoided some of the over-preppy mistakes of other teams.

What’s the purpose of an Olympic uniform, anyway? As with any uniform, team bonding is a primary function, giving the athletes a chance to experience their togetherness and cohesion as they head into the competitive experience of a lifetime. At its best, a uniform should make one feel simultaneously part of a body of people but also very much oneself. And comfort is paramount. So, for a group of sportspeople, the sports-casual look – as long as it doesn’t veer too far into preppy pseudo-school uniform – seems just about right.

The ceremony also raised the significant question: “Why bother with uniforms at all?” For Tonga’s flag-bearer, stripped from the waist with just a liberal application of baby oil to his burnished torso, the approach worked admirably well – even if it couldn’t be extended to the entire team.

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