fashion

Team GB unveils 2021 Olympic uniform, inspired by the 1960s

Updated 14th June 2021
Credit: Rankin
Team GB unveils 2021 Olympic uniform, inspired by the 1960s
Written by Leah Dolan, CNN
Team GB will channel the 1960s at this year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo, wearing mod-style navy Harrington Jackets with red and white union stripes over a white oxford button-down shirt and light chinos.
The freshly unveiled opening and closing ceremony uniforms are by British brand Ben Sherman, currently led by creative director Mark Williams, which has taken the reins as official outfitter after Stella McCartney held the title for both London's 2012 Olympics and Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Sherman (who died in 1987) launched his clothing line in 1963 and quickly became known for his version of the 1937 G9 Harrington Jacket -- a garment that has since become synonymous with 1960s British fashion, having been worn by the likes of actors Paul Newman and Ryan O'Neal. Oxford shirts, another mod essential, remains the "heartbeat" of the Ben Sherman brand and will be a focal point in the new kit.
British boxer Galal Yafai wearing Sherman's Team GB navy Harrington Jacket.
British boxer Galal Yafai wearing Sherman's Team GB navy Harrington Jacket. Credit: Courtesy Rankin
The new Olympic uniform, which will be worn by athletes representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is given a patriotic twist, with pinstripe detailing in national colors and a jacket lining emblazoned with a roaring Lion -- Britain's national emblem that dates back to the 11th century. The words that inspired the collection, "Strength Through Unity," are printed inside the animal's mane in a retro "Summer of Love" font.
For the closing ceremony, they'll wear the lion again on the sleeve of a white polo shirt that features the Olympic rings on the chest.

Toying with tradition

The designs conjure the heyday of British youth culture, so it was only fitting the photographer Rankin, co-founder of influential UK fashion magazine Dazed and Confused, captured the ceremony outfits on camera, creating portraits and a short film of Team GB athletes including track and field contender Morgan Lake, diver Jack Laughner and taekwondo athlete Lutalo Muhammad.
British track and field athelete Morgan Lake sporting Sherman's heritage-inspired designs.
British track and field athelete Morgan Lake sporting Sherman's heritage-inspired designs. Credit: Courtesy Rankin
Team GB's new uniforms are heritage-inspired, as Ben Sherman celebrates signature styles and cuts from modern British history. In past years, pivoting from traditional design has brought criticism. In 2012 Stella McCartney collaborated with Adidas, designing a collection that attempted to modernize the Union Jack flag. The ensign was deconstructed and reimagined in hushed blue tones rather than the flag's typical combination of red, white and blue.
"Something that was very important to me was to try and use that very iconic image but to dismantle it and try to soften it, break it down and make it more fashionable in a sense," she told the BBC at the time.
Some found the contemporary interpretation confusing. Olympic cyclist Bradley Wiggins tweeted that McCartney "was a bit Lucy in the Sky when she knocked this one up," referencing a Beatles tune that has long been linked to psychedelic use. One sports psychologist even argued in The Guardian that the lack of red in McCartney's uniforms disadvantaged the team.

The Olympic stage

More than just a practicality, Olympic uniforms are totems of nationhood and a country's values in themselves. Countries often champion home-grown, world-class designers like all-American fashion icon Ralph Lauren, who has created Team USA's 2021 kit.
Olympic silver medalist and rugby sevens player Philip Burgess dons the new Team GB polo shirt complete with lion emblem and Olympic rings.
Olympic silver medalist and rugby sevens player Philip Burgess dons the new Team GB polo shirt complete with lion emblem and Olympic rings. Credit: Courtesy Rankin
In 2019, Japan established environmental concerns as a top priority when they collected 30,000 donated items of athletic wear to create a new, sustainably sourced Olympic ensemble for the Games.
Team GB's look will be debuted alongside all the other teams at the long-awaited Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony on July 23 which is still set to go ahead despite controversy surrounding the event. The event was postponed in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
Top image: (left to right) Team GB Olympic athletes Morgan Lake, Asha Philip, Galal Yafai, Lois Toulson and Jack Laugher, shot by Rankin.