GOING FOR THE GOLD

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CARLY BRECHNER

09.04.21

COVER ART: KENDALL SINGER

The Olympics are an opportunity for over 200 countries to display their national identity on the global stage, and there is no better way to do that than visually, through fashion. For the past 12 years at the opening and closing ceremonies of the games, over 1,000 athletes from the United States have sported patriotic outfits designed by Ralph Lauren. This year, specifically, they wore navy blazers, a blue and white striped short sleeve shirt, and a Polo Ralph Lauren branded face mask. Not only are the Olympics an opportunity for the United States athletes to compete for their country, but also for patriotic American designers like Ralph Lauren to share their designs with the world.

Ralph Lauren started his work with the United States Olympic team during the 2008 winter games in Beijing. Prior to Ralph Lauren’s partnership, the Canadian brand Roots designed the ceremony uniforms for the US Team. The United States Olympic Committee separated from Roots before the 2008 games after deeming their designs too casual. The committee was looking for a more formal and prestigious look for the games to contrast China’s position as the host and a rising global superpower. Given the fact that Ralph Lauren’s brand is distinctly ‘American’ and he was experienced in sportswear through his Polo Ralph Lauren line, he was a perfect outfitter.

The Olympics were also a massive opportunity for Lauren to showcase his multinational brand and increase revenue while creating a direct connection between fans and their favorite players through fashion. Ralph Lauren sold Olympic branded products at Polo Ralph Lauren stores and online, allowing consumers to buy the blazer and pants that the athletes wore to the opening ceremonies for $695 and $195, respectively. Outfitting the games, though, is a large financial commitment and can only be accomplished by such big-name brands. Neither Ralph Lauren nor the U.S Olympic Committee would disclose the terms of the original contract, but it is known that Lauren was allowed to sell Olympic apparel to the public on the terms that 10% of sales went to the U.S Olympic Committee in royalties.

 

Given that the Olympics allow countries to project their national identity onto the world, choosing a designer to create the team’s uniforms is an important part of their statement. It is easy to associate Ralph Lauren with a wealthy and preppy aesthetic given the old-school Ivy League looks and designs. The brand’s classic logo of a polo player appears on each uniform piece and is emblematic of a predominantly white, old-money sport. These ideas caused controversy during the 2021 summer games when a variety of people took to social media to call for a new, more diverse designer to replace Lauren. Individuals claimed that it is outdated for a white, male designer whose clothing invokes elitist ideas to embody America. Polo Ralph Lauren, however, has had a long history of making incredible strides to highlight America’s diversity through mandating that at least 20% of their global leadership team be composed of individuals of color and hiring models representative of Americans and the US Olympic team.

The concept of what it means to be American changes with each Olympic Games. Whether it is Ralph Lauren or someone else who outfits the athletes, there will always be critiques of the uniforms due to personal associations with nationalism. Dressing the Olympians is no easy task: it is not just about appearance but also about ideology and national identity. Fashion will always hold one of the greatest responsibilities to make a statement on the global stage, and Ralph Lauren has worked incredibly hard to go for the gold.