Team GB's Olympics opening ceremony outfits could have gone so wrong - but they were surprisingly smart and patriotic

·4-min read
Team GB - Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Team GB - Paul Grover for the Telegraph

Apologies to die-hard fans of the brand, but Ben Sherman hasn’t been on the fashion editor radar for quite some time. For many, the mere mention of the label takes them back to a time that, sartorially speaking, they’d rather forget.

So it may have been a heart-sinking moment for some fans of both sport and style when it was announced that Ben Sherman would be designing Team GB’s outfits for the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, which took place on Friday with just a handful of VIPs in the audience including US First Lady Jill Biden.

Team USA, incidentally, got to wear Ralph Lauren. Italy joined the Parade of Nations in Armani, Liberia wore Telfar (the It brand behind the so-called ‘Brooklyn Birkin’ bag) and Équipe France wore Lacoste. Team GB in Ben Sherman doesn’t exactly fill one with excitement in the same way.

Hannah Mills and Mohamed Sbihi of Team GB - Clive Rose/Getty Images
Hannah Mills and Mohamed Sbihi of Team GB - Clive Rose/Getty Images

The brand hasn’t always been viewed this way. In the 1960s its shirting was synonymous with Mod culture, and in the 1980s part of the original skinhead uniform, along with Dr Martens boots and MA-1 bomber jackets, as depicted in Shane Meadows’ This Is England.

As it turns out, Ben Sherman hasn’t done a bad job with the opening ceremony outfits. Team GB may not have stood out all that much from a distance in their navy jackets and off-white trousers, but does that even matter when there are no spectators? They looked smart and patriotic, with just a nod to prevailing fashion trends.

The standout piece is the jacket, a bomber style, but with narrow vertical stripes running down the sleeves, looked a little like a 1950s American baseball jacket. The trousers were slim-fitting and rolled-up at the ankle by most of the athletes, giving it a less staid, contemporary feel.

The overall look was preppy, which is no bad thing - not just because it’s on trend right now, but it also looks smart, sporty and lends itself well to the red, white and blue palette.

Sure, Ben Sherman’s designers played it safe - stripes are so classic, it’s hard to go wrong, and world-class athletes are going to look good in anything - but it was a respectable effort that held its own on a world stage.

And the other teams wore…

The best of the rest

Liberia in Telfar Clemens

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Telfar Clemens is unquestionably the coolest name among the opening ceremony outfit creators. The New York-based designer, who was named the CFDA’s Accessories Designer of the Year in 2020, is based in New York, but both his parents hail from Liberia, making him an ideal candidate to design for the African nation’s three competing athletes. The resulting tunic-based formalwear features both Telfar’s logo and the Liberian flag throughout in a sophisticated take on a patriotic palette.

Bermuda in Bermuda shorts

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The Bermuda team stepped out in Tokyo wearing light pink Bermuda shorts, what else? They were by a local fashion brand, TABS Bermuda (the acronym stands for The Authentic Bermuda Shorts). Just in case you were in any doubt that Bermuda shorts could pass as formalwear, they were teamed with suit jackets, shirts and ties, as well as knee-high socks and black leather lace-up shoes.

Team USA in Ralph Lauren

Team USA - Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Team USA - Patrick Smith/Getty Images

‘Stars in stripes’ must have been the brief for the team at Ralph Lauren, which has been designing Team USA’s official uniforms since 2008. The navy-and-white Breton-style tees made the athletes look more French than American (save for the stars and stripes ascot scarf) but with navy blazers and trousers it was a sharp look nonetheless.

Italy in Emporio Armani

Italian Olympic team - Stanislav Krasilnikov\\TASS via Getty Images
Italian Olympic team - Stanislav Krasilnikov\\TASS via Getty Images

Italy, with its wealth of designer fashion houses, always has a big name to create its team uniforms, and Armani has had the honour since 2012. The design team for Emporio Armani’s EA7 line created a graphic that blended the Italian tricolore flag with Japan’s rising sun. It has received a mixed response though, with critics likening the motif to Pac-Man.

Japan in Aoki

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Aoki is one of Japan’s largest clothing retailers and its formalwear design for the national Olympic team pays homage to the uniforms worn for the last Tokyo Games in 1964. The outfits celebrate the red and white of the Japanese flag, with one major difference: the colours have been flipped. Instead of the red tops and white bottoms in ‘64, athletes wore white tops and red bottoms. It was a strong look with added significance for the host nation.

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