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U.S. Olympic Outfits Worthy of Stares, if Not Medals

The most passive-aggressive reviews of the United States Olympic teams new gear from Ralph Lauren were probably those directed at Zach Parise by his Minnesota Wild teammates.

They stashed dozens of 8-by-10-inch photos of Parise wearing the Olympic teams garish new sweater around the Wilds locker room before he arrived for work Thursday. I got a lot of requests, Parise said with a smile from guys who want to get that sweater. The best part of his public at least on Twitter humiliation? He may never get another chance to wear the outfit.

The United States hockey team will arrive at the Sochi Olympics after the opening ceremony, at which the sweater will make its runway debut, and will depart before the Games end. But since Parises teammates are only amateur critics, The New York Times asked some professionals to weigh in.

Cathy Horyn, the fashion critic for the Times: The peacoat is terrific; the cardigan invites comparisons to hideous Christmas sweaters

Launch media viewer
Skier Hannah Kearney in a U.S. Olympic uniform. Ralph Lauren, via Associated Press

That was my initial reaction to Ralph Laurens uniforms for the United States Olympic team, and it is likely to be the general reaction. The peacoat, with its distinctive red blanket stripe, is a spruced-up classic that is easy to like, even covet. And it looks sharp with the uniforms white pants and red-laced black ski boots.

But the sweater oddly combines several tastes hipster styling (that grandfatherly shawl collar), excessive sports graphics and homey patchwork, like what you might see in a traditional crazy quilt. In the bold arrangement of the patriotic symbols, there is also something of a digital feel. And when the sweaters appear in a group, as they will for the opening ceremony in Sochi, the symbols could almost be read as an abstraction of the American flag.

So, at first glance, the loud-and-proud sweater and matching knit cap seem a tad earnest, a quality that Lauren unabashedly projects in some of his fashion. But a more considered view actually finds a layering of the traditional and contemporary, with less sentimentality than might appear on the surface.

JOHN DOYLE, a television columnist at The Globe and Mail in Toronto: If there was ever doubt that the United States is a complicated mess while Canada is simply cool (Rob Ford shenanigans aside), the issue is settled with the matter of the official athlete uniforms for the Sochi Olympics. Oh, America. What a jumble; what an eyesore. Those knit patchwork cardigans, apparently the work of Ralph Lauren, are eye-poppingly awful. It appears the patches were attached to oversize cardigans by people unlucky to be both colorblind and uncoordinated.

Besides, who on earth wears a cardigan in midwinter? Canadas athletes go to Sochi in simple, sensible, cold-weather outfits.  Their duffle coats, pants, tuques, scarves and trapper hats, the creation of the Hudsons Bay Company, are vaguely vintage in their clean lines and slim design.

The red, white and black outfits also feature three iconic Canadian animals the beaver, the polar bear and the loon. They are, in a word, chic. The United States outfits are, in a word, loony. We always believe we are better at winter sports, and we are about to prove it again in Sochi, possibly because we know how to dress for them.

JOE ZEE, Elle magazines creative director: I love this look for many reasons aside from the warmth factor from a cozy sweater only Ralph could do but it offers a certain level of visibility even from the bleachers, or the four corners of the earth. And that visibility for me screams confidence.

The confidence to be bold, the confidence to own who we are, the confidence to take center stage and maybe even take a gold or two. But the best part just might be what no one can actually see: the country-of-origin label sewn inside that will very confidently say Made in America. That for me is the real gold.