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In praise of this year’s Olympic fashion 

In praise of this year’s Olympic fashion 

There is no doubt that the Tokyo Olympics 2020 games, broadcast on our television screens in 2021, have been cheering in a year full of disappointment and heartbreak. Watching our favourite athletes triumph, and seeing them work together and support each other, has been a beautiful thing. 

These Olympic Games will also stand out for their candour, as athletes opened up about their emotions and mental health, prioritising their personal needs – for once – ahead of glory for their home countries. 

Olympic fashion was also quite the conversation-starter this summer: fashion as a feminist statement, fashion’s gender-neutral future and fashion as it relates to race were all huge topics at the centre of these games, with a lasting impact on the future of sport. Here are some takeaways from the Olympics of fashion this summer…

Credit: Jason Nocito

Policing the female form – and rebelling against convention 

Gymnastics is a huge crowd pleaser at every summer Olympics games: both men and women in the sport are paragons of strength, flexibility, perseverance and discipline. Female athletes in particular have a lot to contend with, having to wear full faces of makeup and tiny leotards to present a certain sanitised version of femininity all while performing a Yurchenko double pike. 

The German team shook things up, choosing to wear unitards that covered their legs as a statement against “sexualisation in gymnastics”, according to the German Gymnastics Federation. And of course they wanted to feel comfortable, too. Brava.

Gymnasts’ outfits were not the only female athletes’ looks that caused a commotion this summer: the Norwegian beach handball team were fined 1,500 euros because their shorts were “too long” at the European Beach Handball Championships (musician Pink has said she will cover the fine in full). In England, Paralympic athlete Olivia Breen was told by an official that her shorts were “inappropriate” – in this case, too short – as she competed in long jump at the English Championships. 

Sexism in sport is not something women are staying silent about. Uniforms will continue to change, to accommodate the athletes rather than the officials or the spectators. Watch this space. 

Gender fluid uniforms: Liberia’s Olympics outfits are the future 

Liberian Olympians had some of the coolest uniforms on display. No wonder, considering they were crafted by US fashion brand Telfar, helmed by Liberian-American Telfar Clemens and Babak Radboy. Telfar’s “Bushwick Birkin” handbag has given the brand global icon status this pandemic year, and these Olympic uniforms further cement how cutting-edge the genderless label is. For the Opening Ceremony, athletes wore oversized basketball tunics, while you may have seen those in athletics competitions soaring past in stylish asymmetrical running tops, with shoulders and arms exposed (yes, men too). Variations of these athletic pieces will be launching online for Telfar customers to snap up: we can imagine the brand’s acquired an even bigger fan base all around the globe this past summer.

Credit: Jason Nocito

Discrimination and the Olympics

As this year’s games further opened up the discourse around sexism when it came to female uniforms, it also exposed how these competitions can still fail black athletes. Olympic swimmer Alice Dearing was told she couldn’t wear a swim cap from Soul Cap, an inclusive cap designed for natural black hair. The swim cap was rejected by swimming’s governing body at this year’s games, because it doesn’t fit “the natural form of the head”. FINA, the governing body, will be reviewing their decision.

Skateboarding’s boiler suits and fabulous fashions

It goes without saying that new sports welcomed into the Olympics this year, including surfing, sport climbing and skateboarding, have been some of the fan favourites. Skateboarding in particular gets a special mention thanks to the many amazing teens competing and excelling in this sport, including Team GB’s own Sky Brown, who at the age of 13 took home a bronze medal. Skateboarding’s uniforms at the Olympics were another standout, from Nike’s collaboration with former skater Piet Parra to create abstract printed designs (made from recycled polyester) for teams like USA, France and Brazil to the crisp all-white looks sported by France’s Vincent Milou and Japan’s Aori Nishimura.