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Uniforms Tread Line Between Eye-Catching And 'Can't Look Away'


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

How many American grandmothers does it take to knit a Team USA opening ceremony uniform? That snarky question raised on Twitter after the unveiling of the uniforms for the U.S. Olympic teams heading to Sochi. Opinion is, we can politely say, divided. Paul Lukas is keeping tabs on this for espn.com and on his blog, uni-watch.com. Paul, thanks for being with us to talk about this.

PAUL LUKAS: Happy to be here, Melissa.

BLOCK: I'm going to try to describe this sweater that the U.S. team will be wearing in the opening ceremony parade. It's from Ralph Lauren, and he's basically thrown everything he's got at it. It's got stars. It's got stripes. It's got flags, the Olympic rings, 2014 Sochi and, of course, Polo right on the shawl collar. What do you think is going on here and does it work?

LUKAS: You know, designers often like to say less is more. Ralph Lauren clearly decided that more is more in the case of this sweater. I've heard a lot of people say it reminds them of the old "Cosby Show." It's like a Cliff Huxtable sweater, and it really does have the kitchen sink in there. And, of course, after the controversy at the last Olympics, where Ralph Lauren used foreign-made components for the attire, this time, they've gone to great lengths to assure us that it's all American-sourced - the wool, every thread, every button, all of it. It's almost like they've bent over too far backwards this time with some of the details of letting us know where every single component of this clothing came from.

BLOCK: What do you think, Paul, if you're designing a uniform for the opening ceremony, what are you trying to do?

LUKAS: You know, that's a good question. It's the kind of thing that doesn't really reward close attention in a still photograph but you have to think about the context in which it's going to be seen, not just with all the other countries but just all the other American athletes. It's not going to be just one person standing there. So they have an idea of how it's going to look. I'm not sure personally that I'm going to like it any better in the parade than I like it in a still photograph. But there's got to be some sort of method to the madness.


BLOCK: Well, are there other countries, you think, that manage to do all that - look great at a distance and still, you know, stay classy?

LUKAS: One of the most interesting ones is the Netherlands. They're wearing what I would sort of describe as a combination of cocktail party attire and outerwear. It's sort of hard to describe on radio. But it was done by the Dutch company Suit Supply, and it does look sort of odd but sophisticated, if you want to put it that way. So it sort of looks like a men's suit jacket with sort of like a parka-looking garment under it.

BLOCK: I can't let you go without asking you about the Norway curling team.


BLOCK: And they've always made a splash with their uniforms. And this year, it's a red, white and blue zigzag kind of test pattern all over.

LUKAS: Yeah. You know, four years ago, at the last Winter Olympics, the Norwegian curling team wore these crazy, loud pants made by Loudmouth Golf and they did cause a big splash. And it's easy to overlook that the Norwegians were actually very successful in those pants. They won the silver medal. So it's not like they were just trying to look outrageous. And they have become a phenomenon.

Now, they're even crazier this time around. As you said, they have this zigzag pattern that is based on the Norwegian flag. It's certainly bringing more attention to a sport that otherwise doesn't usually get any. And curlers, you know, I think are probably happy to get any attention that they can get because it's a sport that usually gets pretty much overlooked.

BLOCK: They are rocking those pants.


LUKAS: They are.

BLOCK: Paul Lukas writes about uniforms for espn.com and on his blog uni-watch.com. Paul, thanks so much.

LUKAS: Thanks so much for having me, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.