The words “dress code” evoke loaded memories in all of us. I’m personally sent into a PTSD-like trauma of struggling to pull on a starched white shirt during my high school years; the collar and cuffs stiff to the point they effectively doubled up as improvised weapons. For many athletes, their relationship with uniform isn’t any less awkward, the one difference being that they have to wear it in front of millions around the world.
When it comes to outfit protocols, most sports associations rule with a kind of draconic fervor that would make your average Berlin doorman seem like an agreeable fellow. The Olympics might have made some small strides on this front in recent years (the Soul Cap and Norwegian women’s beach handball team debacles would suggest there’s still a long way to go), but even without restrictive guidelines in place, making memorable performance wear that is also technically sound is no easy feat. As we discussed before, the best looks boil down to the individual and their ability to bring their own secret sauce to the meal — perhaps manifesting in the form of crazy nails or Oakley sunglasses. Dress codes, after all, are there to be messed with.
Before Tokyo 2020, there was a lot of fuss made about how cool brands had found their way into what is, let’s be honest, a typically stuffy tournament. Yet while it was neat seeing various Highsnob favorites on the podium, it was the number of individual style flashpoints that really captured the imagination. Some were borne out of necessity, others just straight-up flexing on the big stage.
Now that the games are done and dusted, we take a look back at some of the best style moments.
Nowhere was the renegade mindset more evident than American shot putter Raven Saunders, who in trials, caused something of a stir when she opted for an intimidating Hulk facemask. "Early on, similar to the Hulk, I had a tough time differentiating between the two; I had a tough time controlling when the Hulk came out or when the Hulk didn’t come out," said Saunders, who has been open about her struggles with depression as a Black queer woman. "Through my journey, especially dealing with mental health and things like that, I learned how to compartmentalize, the same way that Bruce Banner learned to control the Hulk, learned how to let the Hulk come out during the right moments and that way it also gave him a sign of mental peace."
In German, the word "Maskenfreiheit" refers to the freedom that one attains from wearing a mask: Perhaps the reason as to why Saunders opted to wear a Joker version despite them not being mandatory. Throw in technicolor shades, a purple and green hairdo, and of course, a silver medal, and a national icon was born overnight.
The tournament marked a debut appearance and court return from Naomi Osaka, who lit the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony. The four-time grand slam winner might have bowed out with an early defeat — an understandable result given her lack of court time in recent weeks — but not before gracing us with one of her best ever on-court looks. Riffing off the Japanese flag, Osaka rocked fiery red and white box braids, expertly complemented with a white TAG Heuer Aquaracer and a similar colored racket. Details!
When Andy Murray won the Olympics in 2012 — his first major honor in tennis — he spoke of how being part of a team alleviated the pressure on his shoulders and allowed him to play with more freedom. Osaka's case is different in that she was already a champion, and faced an entirely different level of scrutiny to the Brit. “I definitely feel like there was a lot of pressure for this,” she said, alluding to her status as the official poster girl. “I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in the Olympics before and for the first year (it) was a bit much.” Regardless of performance, her patriotism was there for all to see, both during the cauldron moment and with that unique outfit.
Alexis Sablone, Margielyn Didal, and Kokona Hiraki
At 34, 22, and 12, respectively, Alexis Sablone, Margielyn Didal, and Kokona Hiraki stand around decades apart. Yet each brought their own unique vibe to the Olympics' inaugural women's skateboarding event, proving that age is no barrier to getting fits off.
There was Sablone, with her trademark loose pants and signature Jack Purcell Converse mids; Didal, who rocked a gold chain and rings with a New Balance tee that paid tribute to the Philippines; and Hiraki, the silver medal winner-slash-potential-Slipknot-member-in-waiting thanks to her Vans boiler suit and orange socks.
Fashion has always been an integral part of skating, and even if you had no idea what was going on in terms of scoring at the actual competition, seeing each competitor project part of their personality through clothing was a welcome change of pace to the usual identikit getups.
Although the outfits in this year's skateboarding were undeniably dope, it goes without saying that there's a lot more leeway when it comes to apparel that can be worn in the bowl park. In athletics, the game is spandex, spandex, spandex; the streamlined fit helping with aerodynamics.
A similar train of thought applies to the watch department, where competitors often opt for featherlite, six-figure models by the likes of Richard Mille. Track and field star Cravon Gillespie, on the other hand, prefers a Casio calculator that can be bought off Amazon for around $20. Gillespie's jewelry-heavy look was arguably the highlight in what proved to be another dismal tournament for the US men's 4x100 relay team, but we suspect it isn't the last we'll see of him, at least where fashion is concerned.