Commentary

Ralph, Can You Give It A Rest? From Brideshead To Brat Pack In A Single Uniform

 

As we suffer through climate change and an attendant intense heatwave in the U.S., my thoughts turn to Paris, a city that is so stifling in July and August that for centuries, most Parisians who could afford to, fled the city for extended vacations in cooler climes.

This year, as you probably know, the Summer Olympics will start on July 26 and end on Aug. 11 -- in the City of Light, if not air conditioning.

And for the ninth time, Ralph Lauren will dress U.S. athletes for the opening and closing ceremonies.

 “Ralph Lauren has once again created designs that not only capture the essence of American style but also embody the spirit and pride of Team USA,” said Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, in a release. “This iconic apparel serves as a symbol of unity and inspiration for both our team and the millions of fans who will be cheering them on.”

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I understand that Ralph does timeless, WASPY classics that bear the earmarks of prep school and the English aristocracy. 

It’s remarkable that the kid from Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx was so savvy and impeccable in his appropriation of upper-class style that he’s become an $11 billion global brand, with even the English Royals wearing him.

This year’s opening ceremony-wear for athletes of both genders includes a striped oxford shirt (heavier than regular cotton), a navy WOOL blazer with red and white stripes, light-wash faded denim jeans and white bucks. 

It’s Dead Poet’s Society up top meets 1980s Brat Pack below, interrupted by Brideshead Revisited around the feet.

Then again, there’s a touch of the boardwalk barker/showman’s outfit that the guy running the July 4 Coney Island hot dog eating contest wears. By comparison, these intensely disciplined, hardworking, star athletes are just missing the boater.

I know Lauren clings to prep protocol, but being forced to wear an oxford shirt and wool blazer in weather that might top out in the high 90s seems downright tone-deaf and temp-deaf.  Hail those sweaty Americans!

And oh, captain, my captain, where is the innovation -- from the use of breathable, performance fabrics, to embracing the contemporary America of diversity and inclusion?

Are the acid-washed jeans the shocking nod to modernity in this combo? If so, Jordache has a factory to sell you.

Altogether, the ensemble seems as stifling as the weather. Ralph designs essentially the same profile for every Olympics he’s done since 2008.  Sure, the uniforms include lots of stars and stripes and flags, but even that is no longer the prevailing symbol for patriotism. His clothing is less about promoting the American team and more about advertising signature Ralph.

This isn’t the first time the issue has come up. Four years ago in Tokyo, his traditional stylings received lots of criticism, with some commenters who even compared the athlete’s uniforms to “Karens.”

But Karens don’t wear bucks. That was left for studio heads in Hollywood in the 1920s and Pat Boone in the 1950s, inspiring middle-class moms to buy them for their little boys for dress-up. These shoes are essentially about blinding whiteness, plus the leisure to wear them where they won’t get scuffed.

Am I being too tough? For an expert opinion, I reached out to Lisa Birnbach, the celebrated author of the “The Official Preppy Handbook," a 1980 satirical take on the phenomenon, which has since become its own classic, with subsequent generations of readers even missing the sarcasm to worship it as a fashion and behavioral Bible. 

Birnbach agreed that there was a sameness to the look. “Is it any different from the last Olympics? And if so, would anyone notice if Katie Ledecky wore a 2020 Polo Team USA shirt and jacket?" she asked. Good question. As for the details, she said, “It doesn't look too preppy to me, as the branding is huge. The piping on the blazer is reminiscent of English rowing blazers, and Ralph Lauren loves the British influence.”

She added, “I don't find it interesting or modern, but in theory, it's souvenir wear -- expensive souvenir wear.”

That’s on the mark. You can pick up the wool blazer for $998 at Bloomingdale's, and the striped oxford shirt for $349.

Whereas, if you can wait a summer, the same merch, hugely marked down, will probably show up in designer discount malls everywhere.

I look forward to the duds designed by some young female outsider who will make 2028 look like 2028.

1 comment about "Ralph, Can You Give It A Rest? From Brideshead To Brat Pack In A Single Uniform".
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  1. Ben B from Retired, June 25, 2024 at 7:50 p.m.

    I got a Ralph Lauren USA half-zip got it for a great price as it was only $40 dollars it was on clearance in the fall of 2021 and was like $138 dollars in the spring at Macy's was on sale for like $85 dollars was tempted to get it waited to see if it would go lower and it did. It's a cool half-zip that has Japanese spelling on the sleeve and the USA Olympic team logo on the sleeve as well and a bit on the big size now as I have lost some weight. I wouldn't buy the outfit as it cost too much being high-end fashion there is a market for it otherwise they wouldn't be selling it.  

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