Embracing Fashion, Saggers to Sequins, at the Winter Games

Joseph Luke Cecchini of Italy customized his helmet with an airbrushed image of a flaming skull.

Viewing the Olympics through the prism of style can be a screwball proposition, since the pinnacle of sport is also pretty reliably the height of sartorial kitsch.

There is, for a start, the exuberant and sometimes wacko patriotism on display at the opening ceremony, where athletes often don national costumes hardly anyone wears anymore (though it could be that Pita Taufatofua, the hunky Tongan flag bearer who has now gone bare-chested at both the Summer Games and the Winter Games, oils up his abs and does errands in a skirted grass ta’ovala). There are dowdy newscasters risking frostbite to gin up color pieces on deathless topics like the contents of the athletes’ goody bags. There is the inevitable sequined disaster at the skating center. There are the face-painted spectators. There is Johnny Weir.

Yet, as surprising as the downhill upsets and ice-rink flameouts that have marked the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang have been, there are certain elements few would have predicted. If not perhaps the most tasteful Winter Olympics in memory, these have been the first that this avid sports fan recalls that engaged in active dialogue with real-world fashion, an Olympics replete with ideas heavily influenced by street wear and the catwalks — and one that also offered designers aplenty to ponder.

It is not just that the meticulously detailed Ralph Lauren United States team uniforms, with their heated parkas, snowflake-pattern sweaters and mittens doubled down on the vintage Americana Mr. Lauren has all but copyrighted. (By midpoint in the Games, many of the team sweatshirts, sweatpants, T-shirts and hoodies offered on the Ralph Lauren website had already sold out.)

It is not that all the funneled, quilted-down outerwear worn by teams like the unified Koreans conjured up designers ranging from Charles James to Norma Kamali, Balenciaga to Marques’Almeida. It is not that Vera Wang, herself a former competitive skater, proved with her refined monochrome designs for the 18-year-old superstar Nathan Chen that elegance on the ice is compatible with cleanly executed quads.

Rather it is that the athletes themselves embraced the inherent cool of sports gear. And from the look of things, they got wholeheartedly into the spirit of sexy self-presentation and image manipulation central to the culture of Instagram — a fact as apparently true of those competing in obscure disciplines as the stars of marquee sports.

Sure, Lindsey Vonn was early to the demands of a social media era, appearing on the slopes at both the World Cup tour and the Winter Olympics in a full face of fashionable and camera-ready makeup. And Ms. Vonn’s marketing savvy has long proved effective, to judge by her endorsements with Red Bull, Rolex, GoPro, Bounty Paper Towels and others, along with her huge Instagram following.

Yet, while commercial jackpots may not be in store for someone like the Norwegian ski jumper Robert Johansson (IG: @rbrt_johansson), a 27-year-old ginger with a slicked back-and-undercut Billyburg haircut and curling porn-star mustache, he was a stellar example of an athlete embracing style on a global platform just for fun.

The same is true, of course, of Mr. Johansson’s countryman Thomas Ulsrud and fellow members of the curling team, whose buff bodies have been turned into a hottie calendar, while the Loudmouth brand trousers they debuted at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 — plaid, polka-dot, floral and checked patterns reminiscent of Crazy Uncle Mort — have since evolved into one of the wittier continuing fashion statements in sports.

Yet they are uniforms, and what has been fascinating at these Winter Games is watching athletes work small personal changes on garments designed according to stringent rules and team parameters. Take the slopestyle snowboarder Kyle Mack, a United States team member who, though he failed to land certain tricks in early qualifying runs, competed in bum-baring saggers, giving a nod to the hip-hop styling that underpins a once renegade sport.

Or consider the competitors in skeleton, the terrifying event where athletes shoot headfirst down a sinuous ice track on a sled without brakes at speeds exceeding 80 miles an hour. In their skintight superhero bodysuits and face-obscuring helmets, skeleton athletes are difficult to distinguish from one another. So competitors like Joseph Luke Cecchini of Italy customized the helmet, in his case with an airbrushed image of a flaming skull. Katie Uhlaender of the United States chose a bald eagle for her headgear, and Barrett Martineau of Canada a fanged and snarling bear.

Uniquely among those competing at the games, ice skaters have latitude to forgo uniforms for costumes and, as anyone who has seen “I, Tonya” knows, the results can range from laughable to deeply sad. At these Winter Games, however, few ice skating costumes have looked like outtakes from a streetwalker’s trousseau.

Yes, there has been abundant glitter, plenty of sparkle, volumes of beading, enough chiffon and “nude”-colored illusion effects to tent a parking lot. Yet there have also been examples, like the beaded ombré lilac costumes worn by the German gold medalists Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, that demonstrated how closely athletes have been monitoring the latest runway looks.

This has been a year of sparkle on the catwalks, light glinting and fragmenting off sequined and beaded jackets and dresses at houses including Versace and Gucci and off belts and bags and shoes and boots, like the crystal-encrusted Saint Laurent model that sells for $10,000 (if you can get them). No Kirakira+ has been needed at the 2018 Winter Games, where it sometimes seems as if a filter for glinting cartoon starlight has already been applied. That, too, has been part of the fun of this Olympics, the giddy embrace of the theatricality and flamboyance that were formerly disdained or ridiculed.

Whether channeling the “Hunger Games” or Violet Chachki, a winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Johnny Weir, a two-time Olympian who has transformed himself into a knowledgeable, articulate sports commentator, has served throughout these games as stealth ambassador for fashion as an emblem of aspiration and also of his individual brand of gender blur. Much has been of Mr. Weir’s Kewpie doll maquillage, his Birkin bags, his jeweled brooches, his furs, his 13 travel trunks, his Louboutin shoes and elaborate bouffant hairdo. And yet there he sits in his bejeweled designer finery alongside the network cardigans looking right at home.

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