The Olympics is a roller coaster of emotions. Every four years, we’re witness to a series of momentous sporting events, unforgettable moments both inspiring and ridiculous.
We’ve seen South Korean fencers weep in defeat, Australian cyclists done for doping and Michael Phelps take home a staggering 18 gold medals (and chow down on a whopping 12,000 calories a day). We’ve also seen dancing jellyfish, a weird dance segment about Brits using social media (yes, that really did happen), and a Chinese girl overdubbed because, despite being deemed adorable, she reportedly just didn’t have the pipes for the job. (Harsh, China, way harsh.)
Yet none of these moments can overshadow the glory of some of the Olympics’ opening ceremony outfits. Designed to showcase what a country is all about, we’ve seen countries flourish (and flounder) with their takes on national style.
So as Rio 2016 begins, we’re running down the finest and foulest ensembles over the years. Turns out the 1980s wasn’t the worst-dressed era after all.
Lithuania, Barcelona 1992
Newly-liberated Lithuania drafted Issey Miyake to design this pleated kit complete with metallic baseball caps and drawstring caped jackets.
Part-Lanvin menswear, part-Hood By Air, if independence means clothes that look this good – not to mention collaborating with one of the greatest designers of all time – then bring on the revolution.
Russia, Albertville 1992 Winter Olympics
Repping Balenciaga men’s silhouettes before they were a thing, the Russians killed it in 1992 with oversized mint green coats and military-inspired arm patches. (And there’s everyone thinking Demna and co. did it first.)
Italy, London 2012
Who needs glaring national stereotypes when you’re kitted out in Giorgio Armani?
The Italian team gave a masterclass in natty tailoring and nonchalance in 2012 – dressed for men’s fashion week, yet channelling top-level business execs about to close some serious deals (pre-meeting phone calls and all).
Tajikistan, Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics
Middle Eastern sheikhs or a Balmain after-party? We’re still not sure.
What we do know though, is how much we love Tajikistan’s two-fingers to traditional tailoring with these heavily embellished overcoats and turbans – a refreshing alternative to many other countries’ Eurocentric take on style.
Mexico, London 2012
Good on you, Mexico. Not only living proof that any age can wear colour, the team also took to the world stage to rightfully reclaim the sombrero as a symbol of national pride – and not fresher’s week fancy dress.
Canada, Rio 2016
Sorry, is this Rio or men’s fashion week? Tasked with kitting out the Canadian team, design duo DSquared2 has shot (put) the athleisure trend to new heights with a pop of colour and a clever application of the Canucks’ maple leaf.
Japan, Athens 2004
Although we’re not sure who was responsible for Japan’s 2004 effort, we can only assume Yoko Ono took the reins after a three-week acid-fuelled table tennis session. The bats, the hats, the boots – bizarre.
Great Britain, London 2012
This Stella McCartney-designed mockery nodded to all things toilet about British culture: bland food, bad weather and Steps. Makes us wish that 2012 Doomsday prophecy rang true.
Spain, Beijing 2008
Straight from Butlins to Beijing, Spain got the crowd going with an expertly choreographed routine to Black Lace’s Agadoo. What they wore to perform it in however, was Part-McDonalds uniform, part-redcoats regalia and fully shocking.
Germany, London 2012
Germany, discontent with its title as Europe’s worst-dressed nation, decided to take issue with the label on the global stage in 2012.
Their all-new look meant to make things right? Coordinated cagoules and Converse-style trainers. And white fedoras. Gut gemacht Deutschland, gut gemacht.
USA, Athens 2004
Make America great again. Please. Anyone.
Australia, Los Angeles 1984
As a nation blighted by a succession of hideous opening ceremony outfits, Australia outdid itself with this bogan fusion of Steve Irwin and Picnic at Hanging Rock.
What’s more, rumour has it that the male contingent refused to be photographed alongside the women in fear of leaving behind any damning photographic evidence. But let’s be honest, they all look fucking terrible.