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A Brief Look at the USA Summer Olympic Opening Ceremonies Outfits Over the Years

Good morning Uni Watchers. I hope everyone had a good Tuesday. Happy Juneteenth!

And on a much sadder note, RIP Willie Mays.

The Summer Olympics will be taking place in Paris in just over a month, and yesterday we got a look at what Team USA will be sporting at both the opening and closing ceremonies. Reactions to the opening ceremony outfits are often mixed, with some loving the look (USA! USA! USA!) while others are not so fond of the uniforms. No matter what your opinions of the current outfits, over the years Team USA OC gear has been both good and bad, popular and well…not so much. Let’s take a brief look at some of the outfits worn over the past century. It’s not an all-encompassing list, but we will look at most of the outfits for the past sixty or so years.


At the 1908 Olympics in London, the (relatively) small US contingent wore suits, and from that photo, it appears they were not specifically designed for the Olympics, but were rather likely each participant’s “Sunday Best” attire.


London would play host to the first post-WWII Olympiad, and by this point, opening ceremony outfits were being designed specifically for the games. Men and women both wore fedoras and blue blazers, with the men in white pants and shoes, and the ladies in white skirts and high heels.


The 1960 Olympics took place in Rome, and in the photo above we can see the USA men sporting straw hats with red and white stripes and blue blazers. I’m somewhat struck by the number of what look like Wayfarers on what appeared to be a very sunny day.


The 1968 Mexico City Olympics were known for controversy, and the USA OC outfits were certainly designed in the fashion of the times. Female athletes wore white dresses with short hemlines, low blue heels, and carried white handbags, while the male athletes were in red blazers and white pants.


While 1968 was known for controversy, the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany is remembered for tragedy. The ladies paraded in wearing red blazers and white skirts, while the men basically flipped the script from 1968, wearing white jackets and red pants.


The 1976 Olympics were held in Montreal, Canada, and saw the ladies attired in white jackets and blue pants (and red bags), while the men wore blue suits with white shirts and red ties.


By the time the USA hosted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the OC outfits went for a much more casual look. Both the Men and Women marched in wearing red, white and blue tracksuits with red visors.


A bit more formality returned for the 1988 Olympics, held in Seoul, Korea. This time, the ladies’ outfits stole the show, with powder blue sweaters and long white skirts, while the men were a bit more traditional, with blue blazers, white slacks and red ties.


With professionals playing in 1992, the Barcelona Olympics are probably best remembered for the “Dream Team.” But for the OC, the men marched in wearing blue blazers and khaki-colored slacks, while the women wore red blazers and skirts. Both would have white, wide brimmed hats.


The Olympics returned to the USA in 1996, and the host nation had men decked out in navy blazers and khaki pants with red neckties, while the women sported longline red blazers with floor-length navy skirts and navy neck scarves.


The 2000 Summer Olympics were held Down Under, in Sydney, Australia. The USA wore a mixture of red and navy blazers with white fedoras, with the men in blue and the ladies in red.


Athens, Greece was the site for the 2004 Olympics, and this time, the US again went casual with their OC uniforms. Both sexes wore shortsleeved varsity jackets and red shirts. The ladies had blue skirts, while the men wore blue sweatpants. Both squads wore sneakers and flat “golf” caps.


For the 2008 Olympics, held in Beijing, China, both the men and women wore white golf caps, blue blazers, and off-white pants. The ladies wore open collar shirts with scarves, while the men wore ties.


The Olympics returned to London for the 2012 games, and Team USA went with blue blazers for all, with the men in white pants and the ladies in white skirts. For reasons that completely escape me, both the ladies and the men were outfitted in blue berets.


The 2016 Olympics returned to the southern hemisphere, taking place in Rio. Mercifully the USA finally ditched the headwear, and again went with blue blazers and white pants. Eschewing the more formal look for their shirts, both the men and women wore red, white and blue striped t-shirts, and matching boat shoes.


The 2020 Olympics actually didn’t take place in 2020 — they were delayed due to the COVID pandemic and hosted by Japan in Tokyo. Mostly empty stadiums cast a pall over the games, but at least the games were held. Both the men and women wore navy blazers over blue and white striped shirts, with a red, white and blue belt. Both sexes wore blue pants and sneakers.

And there you have it — a look back at many of the outfits worn over the years by Team USA for the opening ceremonies. When you look back at some of those outfits, the 2024 OC getups don’t look so bad after all.

Readers? What do you think of some of the past OC uniforms? Which were the best? Which were the worst? And where would you rank the 2024 outfits in comparison?



Guess the Game from the Uniform

Based on the suggestion of long-time reader/contributor Jimmy Corcoran, we’ve introduced a new “game” on Uni Watch, which is similar to the popular “Guess the Game from the Scoreboard” (GTGFTS), only this one asked readers to identify the game based on the uniforms worn by teams.

Like GTGFTS, readers will be asked to guess the date, location and final score of the game from the clues provided in the photo. Sometimes the game should be somewhat easy to ascertain, while in other instances, it might be quite difficult. There will usually be a visual clue (something odd or unique to one or both of the uniforms) that will make a positive identification of one and only one game possible. Other times, there may be something significant about the game in question, like the last time a particular uniform was ever worn (one of Jimmy’s original suggestions). It’s up to YOU to figure out the game and date.

Today’s GTGFTU comes from Steve Williams.

Good luck and please post your guess/answer in the comments below.



Uni Tweet of the Day

RIP Willie. The first baseball game I ever saw was in 1972, and Mays was the Mets starting CF. I don’t remember the date or even the opponent, but I knew who he was. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Mays was the only Negro League player I ever saw. Farewell, Say Hey Kid.


And finally...

…that’s it for the early article. I’ll have at least two more articles today, plus we’ll have Anthony’s Ticker. And of course if any uni-news breaks, I’ll have that as soon as possible. So make sure to check back in!

Everyone have a good day, and I’ll catch you back here on the morrow.



Comments (26)

    I really dislike having men wear one color and women wear another so the last few olympics have looked best, but damn those ’48 outfits were classy

    Willie Mays icon, superstar, gentleman, and Greatest of All Time. Thank you for your time here on Earth.

    The 1984 outfits are the only ones I don’t hate. It’s never made sense to me that the U.S. goes to the Olympics dressed for a yacht-club party or debutante ball. Since when is Southern gentry chic our national costume? Really lends itself to the “temporarily embarrassed rich people” narrative.

    I think we play up the “American abroad” trope. It was probably cute in the 20s, when we really were a nation that didn’t have a ton of international experience, travel was far more difficult and sort of formalized, etc. But now it’s just embarrassing.

    It’s not southern, most of these are inspired by North East Prep style, which is fitting in that Polo made a lot of them. When Levi made them it was all denim and cowboy hats lol.

    The 1984 tracksuits were made by Levi’s. They won a fan vote over two other options. IIRC, one was a cowboy hat, blue denim jacket and white slacks; the other was a red blazer, plaid dress shirt, and either white or khaki slacks.

    I definitely prefer the tracksuit style look over the dress-casual garden party approach. It is an athletic event, since it isn’t necessarily appropriate for them to be wearing their performance uniforms, a tracksuit or similar warmup style gear makes the most sense to me.
    I suppose if you consider the opening ceremony a formal-ish affair you could justify the blazers, etc, but even if it at one point it was formal or semi-formal, that is no longer the case.
    Given how the team is outfitted by a specific brand, the cynic in me just looks at this as way for said brand to get advertising and promote Team USA garden party attire for upper middle class folks to wear to a cocktail reception at the country club.

    There are some elements of the Opening Ceremony that are formal, such as the opening by the host nation’s head of state, the specific protocol of anthems, etc. It’s much less formal than before. Look at old film or video of the Parade of Athletes, where they march in even lines, often to military marches. Today, the athletes walk in much less formally, to high-tempo pop music. DJ Tiesto performed a live set in Athens; Underworld composed a British pop-heavy soundtrack for London; video game themes were used in Tokyo. And it’s high-tempo to get the nearly 200 teams in the stadium quickly.

    Right. I think the formal attire made sense at one point, but no longer seems applicable. All just feels very commercial to me, an ad for the designer.

    Man, those 1948 outfits are sharp. Wish I could see them in color.

    And now I feel very old =P

    GTG has to be 5/14/72, Willie Mays hits a home run in his first game with the Mets

    The “Team USA Cricket Sweater Vest” that Ralph Lauren is selling this year looks heavily inspired by that 1948 sweater under blazer:

    Personally, my overall favorite thing here is I dig how the United States’ OC look has gone a more gender-neutral direction as time has gone on, and hope that this continues going forward.

    However, my favorite look here is EASILY the 1988 ladies. Those sweaters got me hittin’ the Vilk: I’d wear that.

    Favorite men’s look is from 1968. Double-breasted anything is PEAK (it would’ve been 1992, but the way that they’re buttoned in that pic looks TRAGIC to me).

    I’m late to yesterday’s post, but I actually like this year’s OC uniforms. The blazer’s trim is nice, I like the striped collared shirt, and the jeans are par for the course of business casual being the norm in a lot of work environments today, especially post-2020. Plus, it’s an aptly “sportier” look. The only two stinkers here are:

    1) No cool ascots for the women (like they had in 2008 for the Beijing games)
    2) The obvious PRL logo creep. If I wanted to see the overpriced horsey man, I will literally clock in to work, where we have a literal department for this brand.

    The Olympics aren’t “Gender Neutral”. There are events for Men and events for Women. So dress the Men in outfits for Men and Women in outfits for Women.

    I could be totally wrong on all this, but GTGFTU isn’t Willie Mays’ first game with the Mets in 1972 vs. his old team, the Giants. I am an old enough Mets fan to remember that was a rainy Sunday game at Shea Stadium, watching on TV. I looked nothing up & I don’t know what the exact game is, but I see George “The Stork” Theodore (#9, with glasses) in the dugout. I don’t know that he was on the big club in 1972 & strictly on memory, I believe he broke his hip or pelvis on a fly ball around July, 1973, Mays’ last season, so I believe that game was from that month or in May or June of ‘73.

    Which clothing company makes the US Olympic uniforms for opening and closing ceremonies?

    I quickly scimmed through today’s Olympics post in between clients at work to see the various outfits while wondering if Nike was in charge for these. Now that I’m home from work I looked it up and saw that my first guess was correct.

    Great research and summarization on the US opening ceremony outfits, Phil! I love your pieces like this.

    Will there be a post on the closing ceremony outfits? It certainly seems like they tend to be more casual/interesting, and less “garden party” as one of the other commenters had said.

    I don’t think so. I actually contemplated combining the two in this post, but 1) it would have been quite long, and 2) actually finding closing ceremony photos from 20+ years ago isn’t all that easy … most of the focus is on what teams wear in. Lots of athletes depart before closing ceremonies.

    The Berets worn in 2012 made the team look like refugees from a French Patisserie shop. Beret’s work well in 2 places.

    One on a Frenchman in Paris.
    Two, properly cut being worn by a member of the military.

    Great survey of one of the most iconic uniform types in sports Phil. It’s amazing how the opening ceremony uniforms have bounced back and forth between blazers and warmup-style outfits. My favorites are 2004 for ‘warmups’ and 2008 for blazers and slacks. Love the 2008 white caps. And those 2004 jackets should be the USA basketball warmups. They’re retro classics.

    I kind of like the fun shirts under a blazer they did the last couple of Olympics, or the patterned dresses they had in ’88 and ’68. Fun, starts and striped themed cocktail attire seems fine for the Olympic opening ceremony.

    Willie Mays, you were everything that embodies sportsmanship on the highest level. And that with the best smile in the world. The story I read about the time he played for the Giants in New York, lived in Harlem and played stickball with the local kids…I am a planet away from Harlem in the fifties but it brought tears to my eyes: down to earth, approachabe, genuine and warm human being who happens to be one of the greatest ever in baseball. There will never be another Willie Mays.
    As for the OC uniforms: 1948 looks very alluring (bowls and golf were the only Olympic sports, it seems) but to me the winner is 1992. Navy and khaki never go out of style, hats are optional. For the ladies the 1988 look was a winner. As i said earlier: blue jeans are the uniform of mediocrity. Avoid wearing it at all costs, athlete or non athlete.

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