I can’t claim to be thoroughly versed in the Olympics, but having weighed in on what I think is the most compelling uniform development of the games, I may as well say this. From what I’ve seen, the absolute worst and dumbest uniform, hands down, is this:
This is what members of the U.S. snowboarding team — men and women — are wearing. Back in December ESPN dubbed this lame grunge getup an “(anti) uniform.” Riiiiight. Super-”anti.” It’s as transgressive, subversive, threatening, and spectacular as, um, stuff half the kids at the mall have been wearing for ten years, and that nobody really notices anymore.
The mission statement for this supposedly radical outfit comes from the “vice president of creative” at snowboarding megabrand Burton:
The inspiration behind the U.S. Snowboarding Team outerwear for the 2010 Olympics is classic Americana, Although we are creating a uniform, our first objective is to express the individuality of snowboarding. As such, we are taking vintage American looks and interpreting them in a very unique and unexpected fashion. Finally, we will ensure that all of the highest technical attributes are maintained in the pieces, so that performance and function are not jeopardized. The result will be a progressive and fresh look that challenges the former conservatism of the Olympics.
Oh really? A challenge to conservatism? Via”classic Americana”? Yes, nothing challenges conservatism like classic-ness. I look forward to the overthrow of reactionary footwear by way of penny loafers. Burton penny loafers.
Anyway, I could go on about this at some length, but I’ll restrict myself to a couple of points. First, note that the hood is completely superfluous, and in fact probably counterfunctional. Far from bucking the dictates of socially derived aesthetics, it imposes a completely unneeded design element for the sole purpose of signaling. It about as “progressive” as having speed skaters wear bow ties. If there’s a more pure example of conformity trumping practicality, I can’t think of it.
Oh, wait, sure I can: Phony-holed jeans. For years the hollow claims of every marketing guru who insists that consumers “demand authenticity” has been neatly debunked by the success of the high-end “distressed” denim phenomenon. Buying jeans whose wear-and-tear is implemented by far-flung factory workers and machinery, according to specific standards devised and overseen by layers of corporate design-management — and in fact paying extra for such jeans, and pretending that this somehow signals rebel style — is a capitulation to simulacra-culture so Xtreme it would make Debord giggle and Baudrillard weep. Or vice versa. Whatevs.
The point is that characterizing these monotonous garments as “a uniform” is an essentially redundant act. Nothing here “expresses the individuality” of the wearer. That rather simple assignment could be fulfilled by simply letting the individuals wear whatever they wanted to! Instead, what is being “expressed” is the market research and trend forecasting of a large retail brand.
All of which just makes me appreciate those Norwegian curlers even more. They didn’t commission some company to cook their look. They just found some insane pants on an online golfer store, and assembled their own Olympic uniforms with a few clicks. No “vice president of creative” required.