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Ralph Lauren Unveils Team USA’s Olympic Uniforms



Ralph Lauren Unveils Team USA’s Olympic Uniforms
Ralph Lauren Unveils Team USA’s Olympic Uniforms

What does it mean to dress to represent the United States?

As far as Ralph Lauren is concerned, it appears to mean a navy blazer — at least judging from the Summer Olympics opening ceremony outfit reveal.

Yes, Team USA will be wearing a navy blazer yet again as its members make their entrance in Paris next month. This is the fifth Summer Olympics for which Ralph Lauren has been the official outfitter of the American Olympic and Paralympic delegation, and the fifth time he has designed a navy blazer for the Summer Games. Plus ça change and all that.

In 2008, the blazer was single-breasted, with white buttons to match the white newsboy caps and white trousers (very “Brideshead Revisited” with an American twist). In 2012, the blazer was double- or single-breasted, worn with matching navy berets, white pants or skirts and, for women, a red, white and blue scarf that gave the look a sort of regimental air.

By 2016, the blazer was single-breasted again, with skinny white jeans and a red, white and blue striped T-shirt that inspired unfortunate comparisons to the Russian flag. And for the last Summer Games, the navy blazer was worn with sneakers, a nautical blue-and-white striped tee and dark blue denim pegged-leg jeans, some cuffed at the ankle.

This time around, the jacket will be single-breasted, with red-and-white grosgrain ribbon trim. The shirt is a blue-and-white striped oxford, the jeans are faded and relaxed, and the shoes are white bucks. (Men also have a navy tie.)

In the pantheon of navy blue blazers, it is less yacht club, more private-school boy with a naughty streak — but still suffused with somewhat outmoded prepster déjà vu.

Tradition and consistency have always been part of the Ralph Lauren sell, whether it is on the runway or in stores. So have the uniforms of WASP fantasy. But at this point, especially given the criticism the navy blazer attracted during the 2020 Games and the complicated associations with exclusion and privilege it can invoke — viewers compared the athletes to a team of “Karens” or people “on vacation in Newport” — you’d think the company would have tried a new approach. Instead, it doubled down on the old one. America is a bigger, more chaotic place than the country club. Why default to banality?

“The directive we get is to have the athletes look like ambassadors, to have a certain sense of formality and to feel comfortable,” said David Lauren, the chief branding and innovation officer of Ralph Lauren. To that end, he added, the U.S. Olympic Committee strongly encourages the idea of a jacket, which can be worn again and again. And creating a jacket that can be worn by 1,200 different body types, including basketball players and gymnasts, wrestlers and pole-vaulters, is not easy.

“We put tailors on the ground in Paris” for last-minute fittings, Mr. Lauren said.

Yet, given the attention paid to the style component of the Paris Games — given that they are taking place in the heart of the fashion world and the opening ceremony look is “our statement piece,” as Jamal Hill, a Paralympic swimmer who won a bronze medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the Tokyo Games and will be competing again in Paris, said — it seems like a missed opportunity to telegraph to the world a more creative, inclusive version of “American.”

Still, Mr. Hill said he liked the current look better than the one Mr. Lauren created for the last Games. “It’s like business up top, party down below,” he said of the 2024 outfit. “I like that it combines that professional look with a level of relaxedness. Like we don’t actually have anything to prove.”

Mr. Hill was particularly excited about some of the options created for Olympic Village wear, which included what he called the “billionaire astronaut” look: a periwinkle blue nylon bomber jacket with assorted vintage patches on top, including one featuring a stylized Olympic flame. He also favored the “Olympic safari” style, a white cotton jacket shown with navy chalk-striped pants (though more likely to be worn with sweats in actual practice).

But most of all he was a fan of the closing ceremony look, which features a white denim racecar driver’s jacket with big red-and-blue stripes through the center and multiple patches, paired with matching white denim driving pants with reinforced knees. It was, David Lauren said, inspired by the sort of outfit Ralph Lauren himself likes to wear when he is driving one of the many exceptional race cars he collects.

After all, even if auto racing is not an Olympic sport, Mr. Hill said, “F1 is hot now.”

“I could wear this to an all-white party,” he continued, gesturing at the closing ceremony duds and referring to the famous Hamptons shindig thrown every summer by Michael Rubin, the founder of the sports fan platform Fanatics. “I bet everyone would want my outfit,” Mr. Hill said.

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