Chino shorts and boxy blazers: Australia’s uniform for Paris Olympics opening ceremony evokes private-school attire

<span>Sprinter Torrie Lewis (left) and Matildas striker Michelle Heyman (right) in Australia’s official uniforms for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games opening ceremony.</span><span>Photograph: Matt King/Getty Images</span>
Sprinter Torrie Lewis (left) and Matildas striker Michelle Heyman (right) in Australia’s official uniforms for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games opening ceremony.Photograph: Matt King/Getty Images

On Wednesday morning in front of Clovelly Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney’s east, Australia’s 2024 Olympic opening ceremony uniforms were revealed. With a squint and a little imagination, the concrete-paved beachfront could be the banks of the River Seine in Paris, where Australia’s Olympic athletes will sport the uniform in just 100 days. So long as you ignored the swimmers taking their morning laps, that is. (Reports suggest the Seine may be too contaminated to host swimming events.)

For the 10th time, the opening ceremony uniform has been designed by Sportscraft in collaboration with the Australian Olympic Committee, plus custom shoes by Volley (its fourth Olympic partnership). On this occasion, the uniform was “inspired by Parisian fashion”, says Elisha Hopkinson, the CEO of APG & Co, the parent company of Sportscraft. “Our designs blend style with functionality, ensuring our athletes feel confident as they take on the world stage.”

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Taking inspiration from the fashion capital of the world for a global event in France was always going to be fraught. A faux pas akin to comparing a cheesymite scroll to a croissant, or neglecting to tell an ally about a new submarine deal.

It’s hard not to overstate this: the French team’s uniforms – a chic navy-blue suit and white shirt – were designed by the former Vogue France editor Carine Roitfeld in collaboration with the biggest luxury conglomerate in the world, LVMH. They will be custom-made in Italy by Berluti – a famous tailoring house. By contrast, the Australian blazers, skirts and shorts contain “stretch fabrics” and are made in China.

At the uniform unveiling, nine athletes who are hoping to represent Australia in Paris modelled the uniforms, including sprinter Torrie Lewis (the newly crowned fastest woman in the country), Matildas striker Michelle Heyman, men’s rugby sevens captain Nick Malouf and Australia’s first Olympian in breaking (AKA breakdancing), Jeff Dunne.

The men will wear a single-breasted blazer over a cotton T-shirt, which features gold and green ribbing, with beige chino, knee-length shorts. The women can pair a double-breasted version of the blazer with the shorts, or a just-above-the-knee pleated skirt that features a gradient of green, gold and white.

The print was, according to Sylvia Jeffreys, the host of Wednesday’s event, “inspired by a warm summer Parisian sunset featuring an ombre green and gold print”. As someone who lived in Paris for four years, I can attest to the sunsets being a spectacular array of colours, but I never once saw the sky turn green.

For the first time the Australian Olympians’ oath is embroidered on the inside pocket of each blazer. Indigenous artwork by Olympic boxer Paul Fleming titled Walking Together and by Torres Strait Island artist David Bosun called Ngalmun Danalaig is showcased in the scarf and pocket square respectively. These accessories are the best part of the uniform as they allow athletes a little self-expression: Heyman deftly tied the scarf as a neckerchief, and beach volleyball player Mariafe Artacho del Solar wore one in her hair.

In her address Hopkinson described sport as “a unifying force that brings together people from all walks of life”. So it’s worth asking why these Olympic uniforms, worn by our brightest champions, reflect such a narrow demographic of Australia. The pleated skirt, chino shorts and boxy blazer are basically a private-school uniform.

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Since we have so many talented fashion designers that capture Australia’s relaxed lifestyle, the uniform feels like a lost opportunity. Alix Higgins, PE Nation, Lucy Folk, Song for the Mute, Nagnata and Beare Park (who last year designed an off-pitch formal wear suit for the Matildas) are all adept at capturing our country’s collective energy. We’re also home to the biggest surf brands in the world, including Rip Curl and Billabong – a legacy we have successfully leant into before. Athletes wore Mambo to the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics (and they looked really good).

Plus, at the end of July when the Games kick off, Paris will be very warm. Standing in his linen blazer, an odd choice for the height of summer, Malouf expressed some restrained concern. “It’s going to be hot over there,” he said. “The fact that these are pretty breathable and we’re not going to be absolutely cooking is a really nice touch.”