The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be unlike any others in the history of the sporting competition. Delayed by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, they’re happening under a cloud of uncertainty. Coronavirus cases show no signs of abating in Tokyo and surrounding areas. Japan has also been lagging in its vaccination efforts.
While most of the athletic competitions are going on as planned, the event is expected to be a low-key affair. US first lady Jill Biden will attend the opening ceremony, but she is one of only a handful of global leaders and celebrities who will show up.
Spectators won’t be allowed inside sporting venues, which means that the spotlight will be trained even more on the athletes – and the clothes they wear.
Olympic uniforms and the more formal outfits worn at the opening ceremony are a way for countries taking part to show off their prowess not only on the field but also in the realm of design.
A successful uniform has to be a perfect marriage of form and function: practical and functional to perform in and also polished enough to make the athletes look their best – not an easy feat to achieve.
We take a look at the best and worst gear that will be worn at the games, from the formal attire at the opening ceremony to the performance wear meant for the field.
Team Great Britain
Team Great Britain’s choice of outfitter is a bit unusual: Ben Sherman is not a household name outside the country, which boasts global brands like Burberry and Paul Smith , not to mention younger talents like Jonathan Anderson and Craig Green.
As expected, the design team of Ben Sherman didn’t rock the boat and stayed true to its preppy aesthetic – think Union Jack accents, white polo shirts and navy chinos, safe choices that lack the wow factor.
Speaking of preppy, Ralph Lauren, known for its chic casual separates, has become the go-to brand for sporting competitions such as Wimbledon and the Olympics.
The designer rarely veers from his tried-and-tested formula of Ivy League-approved outfits such as navy blazers and striped polo shirts, which unsurprisingly make an appearance in the range he designed for Team USA.
There’s a catch, though: the clothes are equipped with cooling technology that regulates body temperature, allowing athletes to cope with the heat of Tokyo while looking spiffy.
France enlisted not just one but two of its best known sports brands to design the uniforms of athletes competing in the games.
Lacoste, the brand of the stitched crocodile founded by tennis player René Lacoste in 1933, teamed up with Le Coq Sportif, a less famous sportswear label known for its rooster logo, for a collection of athletic wear in the red, white and blue of the French flag.
While the range looks functional and fun, we would have hoped for something a bit more chic from the country that is perhaps more than any other in the world associated with fashion.
Giorgio Armani is the official outfitter of the Italian team, whose members will wear tracksuits and accessories from the designer’s EA7 Emporio Armani line, which specialises in performance wear.
The jersey jackets and trousers come in navy blue and feature the Italian flag transformed into a circle shape.
Armani, a designer who has revolutionised tailoring for men and women, could have injected more of that element into the clothes, which deliver when it comes to function but could have done with a bit more flair.
While Aussie fashion is normally associated with resort wear and casual pieces that take you from beach to brunch, the country has delivered one of the best kits for the Tokyo Olympics .
Designed by Sportscraft, which has been the official supplier of the formal uniform for the Australian Olympic Team since 1996, the clothes include khaki tailored jackets and dark green slacks and skirts.
They’re all accessorised with beautiful patterned scarves inspired by the electric lights and vibrant colours of the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo.
Animal patterns are not what comes to mind when you think of Olympic uniforms, but the tiger stripes of Team Malaysia’s kit, made by Japanese manufacturer Yonex, look just right.
This is not the first time that Malaysian athletes have sported tiger stripes in their gear – the tiger is the country’s national animal – but what could have easily turned into a tacky rendition of the pattern looks instead very subtle while also injecting a dose of fun into the orange, yellow and black tops and jackets.
Host country Japan has a lot riding on these Olympics. The Japanese have been ambivalent about the safety of hosting the games during the pandemic but the local government has been adamant that the show must go on.
It’s a bit disappointing then that Japan, the home of avant-garde brands such as Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto and Sacai , played it safe.
Provided by clothing retailer Aoki, the clothes consist of an off-white blazer paired with red skirts or pants. They’re a bit old-fashioned and recall flight attendants’ uniforms from the 80s.
Team South Korea
Outerwear maker The North Face, which recently had a blockbuster collaboration with luxury house Gucci, is behind the uniforms of the South Korean team at the Tokyo Olympics .
The navy and white range is nothing to rave about but complements nicely with the formal opening-ceremony outfits designed by Kolon, which feature tailored suits in celadon green and white, two of the main colours used in Korean traditional porcelain.
Team Chinese Taipei
Blue, white and red seem to be the default hues for Olympic uniforms, even for Asian entrants such as Taiwan. Its Olympic team’s formal uniforms were designed by Taiwanese designer Justin Chou Yu-ying, from fashion brand Just in XX.
The tailored navy suits paired with white shirts are likely to get lost among the sea of blue and white at the opening ceremony, which is a bit of a shame because Taiwan could have gone for something more vibrant and fun.
The Chinese Olympic canoe-and-kayak team made headlines with their eggplant-hued uniforms that unforgiving internet users have mocked as “ugly” and “circus-like”, but Team China has so far made no official announcement about its gear for the opening ceremony and the various competitions.
However, in pictures recently released on social media platform Weibo, the team is clad in red and white tracksuits embellished with the Chinese flag and the logo of home-grown sportswear giant Anta, the maker of the outfits.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.