Now that the Sochi Olympics have concluded, I still have a few more things to share about the competitors’ outfits and uniforms.
Last week, I wrote about the Americans’ Ralph Lauren sweaters, the Russians’ long, fur-lined coats, Under Armour’s ill-fated speed skating suits and Norway’s wildly-colored and patterned curling pants. All of this begs the question, “Just how does an Olympic team choose its uniforms?”
Snowboard maker Burton created outfits for the U.S. riders –jackets and pants I thought looked faded and worn. I discovered this was actually on purpose as the design was based on a vintage quilt designers found at an antique fair. The pants were constructed of specially-treated corduroy but I just didn’t think the whole ensemble “popped” against the white snow.
In the Dec. 4, 2013, Snowboarder online magazine, Greg Dacyshyn, Chief Creative Officer at Burton, extolled the virtues of the uniform.
“The vintage quilt and flag print of the jacket combined with the corduroy pants give the uniform a ‘heirloom hippy’ vibe that lines up with snowboarding’s laid-back culture while paying respect to America’s longstanding creative heritage. It will stand out in Sochi for sure.”
For sure, man.
Last month, Glamour magazine’s senior online fashion editor, Sophia Chabbott, interviewed Debra Criss, lead outerwear designer at Columbia Sportswear and the person responsible for outfitting the U.S. ski team.
Criss noted the company’s first step is to confer with the athletes. Because of that input, one of the more interesting details integrated into the skiers’ uniforms was what Criss calls a “Snow Camo pattern.”
“Moguls skiers face the unenviable task of having to appear completely calm and smooth as they’re pummeled by the mountain’s most challenging terrain,” Criss explains. “To help mask body movement, we developed a custom snow camouflage that actually mimics the look of moguls, using gray tones to break up white space.”
In addition, aerials competitors have tight stretchable uniforms with bold lines to emphasize how straight and long their bodies are in the air. Columbia also developed extra-long suspenders for snowboarders to keep their pants in place as viewers found out with Swedish slopestyle skier Henrik Harlaut who nearly lost his pants numerous times.
A special material helps regulate body temperature with little silver dots that reflect and retain body heat. Finally, to customize an athlete’s uniform, the company created interchangeable patches with country-specific graphics “that range from playful to traditional.”
Speaking of customized uniforms, the most elaborate outfits (dare I say “costumes”) came gliding onto the Olympic ice to the strains of classics like Ravel’s “Bolero.” Figure skaters corner the market on glitz and glamour – so much so that one writer suggested costumery may actually affect judging.
The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote, “Olympic figure skating could expand its audience and foster greater respect for the athletic achievements of its competitors with one simple rule change: No more costumes. Everyone puts on a uniform.”
Skaters choose clothing to augment their music and choreography, but Farhi believes those choices affect judging.
“The sport not only encourages costuming but rewards it in rather subjective ways,” he said. “Along with the music, the gliding, and jumping, the costumes add a theatrical element that seems to lift figure skating beyond ordinary sport and into a realm of dreamy fantasy.”
For folks like Farhi, the judges can’t help but be moved by the “entertainment spectacle” and the audience reaction to it.
“The process can be more rigorous, and one place to start in skating would be in the most subjective area of all: assessing the overall artistic and aesthetic impact of a performance,” Farhi explains. “And here is where costumes have a pernicious effect. Why should an utterly variable, extracurricular element – an athlete’s choice of his or her getup – make any difference whatsoever in the results?”
Farhi notes that gymnasts also have music, athletic feats and spectacular tumbles and moves, but they all wear uniforms.
“The absence of fashion statements underscores the athleticism and intensity of the competition in a way that ice skating’s sequins and tulle merely camouflage,” Farhi says.
Ice skating’s non-fans have another reason to dislike figure skating: the judging. Many feel that a real sport separates its winners and losers with hard objective criteria – who scored the most points, had the fastest time, jumped higher, and completed the longest distances. Can human judgment really be a standard to determine who medals or who doesn’t?
That, dear reader, is another conversation altogether.