When they’re not competing for gold at the biggest sporting event on the planet, the world’s top athletes will contend for the style stakes as they represent their respective countries at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
With top global labels, including Ralph Lauren, Ben Sherman and Les Benjamins designing outfits, Olympic uniforms have become an essential element of the games as sporting heroes represent the best of what their country has to offer.
Here are some of the uniforms teams will be wearing at the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as while competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Ralph Lauren, the brand that made American fashion cool, has been designing Olympic uniforms since 2008. Team USA's new looks were unveiled in April, and its 600 members will don outfits that are as chic as they are environmentally friendly.
Predominantly white, the uniforms consist of jeans, a polo shirt – with a collar tipped in red and navy – as well as a white and navy windbreaker. A red, white and blue ribbon belt completes the look.
The uniforms are made of ethically sourced materials. A leather alternative using plant-based materials and agriculture byproducts free of synthetic plastics was used for a patch on the jeans, which were made of US-grown cotton. The drawstring jacket, as well as the American flag-themed belt, were partially derived from recycled plastic bottles.
"We want our athletes to really be ambassadors for American style, culture and sportsmanship," David Lauren, Ralph Lauren's chief branding and innovation officer, said. "We also understood that the message for the Olympics was about sustainability, that this would be the most sustainable Olympics in history and a chance for the team to showcase ingenuity around new ways of thinking about our environment."
Team USA's preppy American cool stands in stark contrast to Canada's graffiti-laced streetwear-inspired looks. Designed by Hudson's Bay Company, which has been the official outfitter since 2011, the uniforms have had the internet divided since they were first revealed in 2020.
While some called them ugly, others praised the looks for having more character than those to be worn by their neighbour's team.
"Tokyo is also known for its street art and fashion," Hudson's Bay said. "We paid tribute to this in the must-have piece of the collection – the forever cool jean jacket. The graffiti graphic and unexpected patch placements capture a youthful and celebratory feel.
"The trucker jacket’s design celebrates inclusivity and gender neutrality while capturing the youthful and celebratory feel of closing ceremonies. It also reads almost like a timeline with its graffiti."
British clothing brand Ben Sherman's offering for athletes from the UK and Northern Ireland, which was unveiled during London Fashion Week earlier in June, pays homage to the Olympic Games in 1964, which were also held in Tokyo.
"We wanted to encapsulate the Ivy League style of what was worn in and around the Olympic Village by athletes. Chinos and Harrington jackets with button-down Oxford shirts were all hero pieces, which was a perfect fit for Ben Sherman, bringing us back to our brand DNA," creative director Mark Williams told GQ magazine.
The Harrington jackets come in navy with red and white union stripes on the sleeves, to be paired with a white oxford button-down shirt and light-coloured chinos.
Another set, for the closing ceremony, features navy chino shorts teamed with a classic white polo shirt featuring a printed Team GB’s lion’s head detail on the left sleeve and the official Tokyo 2020 badge and Olympic rings on the chest.
Sustainability was also an important element, as the entire collection is made from organic cotton and eco-friendly bamboo fibre.
This is the second time Ben Sherman has been chosen as the official outfitter, after the brand designed a collection for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Turkish designer Bunyamin Aydin, in collaboration with Nike, has designed logo patterns and a special monogram for the official sportswear for his country’s athletes. Working through his streetwear label Les Benjamins, Aydin's predominantly red collection, with a smattering of white and navy blue, was revealed by Turkey’s Ministry for Youth and Sports this week.
The designer said he dug into his heritage for the collection.
“The journey started off going back to my heritage. With my own brand Les Benjamins, I was always inspired by carpets and rugs and the heritage of them – not just in Turkey but all around the world," he said in a video presentation.
"But, designing for Turkey, I had to focus on Anatolian rugs, which are from this country. I went to the city where they create Anatolian rugs, and I was with the villagers there and they told me how they do the craftsmanship behind creating their rugs. It helped me design and get more inspired."
When Australian athletes walk into Tokyo's Japan National Stadium at the opening ceremony, they will also carry with them a tribute to all the others who have gone before them. Their bespoke blazers, created by clothing brand Sportscraft, are lined with the names of 320 previous Australian gold medal winners.
The collection's design was "inspired by the electric lights and vibrant colours synonymous with Tokyo", and was made from natural fibres to keep with the sustainability theme.
"In order to ensure the uniforms represented the Australian culture, Sportscraft opted for a minimalist and timeless design, whilst creating impact by showcasing Australia’s iconic green and gold colours," the brand has said. "The angles used in the designs were inspired by Japan’s famous Shibuya Crossing intersection, along with elements of the Southern Cross."
Sportscraft, which has been the official uniform supplier for the Australian Olympic Team since 1996, says it has, to date, produced a total of 5,250 uniform pieces to fit 955 athletes and officials.
American designer Telfar Clemens, whose parents are from Liberia, is the famous name behind the West African country's Olympics team outfits.
Known for his vegan tote bag via his genderless fashion label Telfar, Clemens has created 70 pieces for the five-member team, including sweats, unitards, duffel bags and track spikes, according to Teen Vogue.
The collection proudly features the Liberian flag throughout, along with Telfar’s recognisable logo.
Team Czech Republic
For her country's team in Tokyo, Czech designer Zuzana Osako created her designs using a print dyed technique called blueprint.
"According to several sources, blueprint came to the Czech Republic from Japan and is still a popular dyeing technique there," she told Prague Morning. "With this collection, I wanted to reflect on the beauty of the silhouette of our costumes, the significant difference between the figure of a woman and a man."
The collection features blue jumpsuits and white strapless dresses for women, while the men will wear a blue vest, white shirt and trousers.