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Why are the Australian Commonwealth Games uniforms so bad?

Australian athletes wear the Australian Commonwealth Games Athletes’ uniform for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games during a launch event in Melbourne on Wednesday this week. AAP/ David Crosling

It’s unanimous: we think that the uniforms designed for the Australian Commonwealth Games team are ugly. More than 15,000 people polled by the Daily Telegraph said so, The Australian likened the official knitwear to “nanna jumpers”, and Elle Australia’s deputy editor Damien Woolnough remarked that the uniforms serve as an example of “why Olympians used to perform naked”.

Well … they’re not great. As I often write on my students’ work, I can see what the designers, Australian Defence Apparel, were trying to do, but the work didn’t quite get there.

To start with, they had to use the national colours of Australia, green and gold, which are not exactly the most complementary of hues. To make it worse, somehow the colour that designers of such uniforms often reach for to balance this vibrant clash is grey. Think back to the Australian team’s Commonwealth Games uniforms from 2010, in which jade green and butter-yellow gold were matched back with shiny pewter suits. Wrongtown.

This year, the pale ghost-gum shade of the pants works well with the dark green of the uniform, but is a horror next to the lemon. And I can’t help but think that an athlete wearing both top and pants in that grey would look like an escaped extra from the set of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Athlete Jeff Riseley wears the Australian Commonwealth Games Athletes’ uniform for the Glasgow Commonwealth. AAP/ David Crosling

In an effort to make the uniforms contemporary and fashionable, the designers incorporated a homespun, grassroots feel by way of making Australian stalwart Dunlop Volleys the official shoes, and producing chunky knitted jumpers and scarves topped off with over-sized patches emblazoned with the coat of arms.

What works against this is the unfortunate quasi-business aesthetic that persists in the design of official sports uniforms. It’s as if someone decided years ago that off-duty athletes should be dressed like businesspeople who are trying to jazz up their work wardrobes. So we see the business-wear basics – blazer, trousers, overcoat – tricked out with unnecessary details that take away from the sleek competence such items are supposed to convey. Think of this year’s lemon-yellow piping on the outerwear jackets, and those enormous lapels, or the over-sized pockets of the 2010 uniforms. They would be quite useful if you wanted to carry a discus on each hip but otherwise …

What is so bizarre about all of this is that it should have been so easy. Activewear, a catch-all term for sports and leisurewear designed for athletic activity, is enjoying an unprecedented popularity in fashion. Website Business of Fashion has likened its influence and development as a prestige market to the surge in designer denim in the 2000s.

Trainers were shown by Chanel and Dior at the recent Haute Couture shows in Paris, and items such as bodysuits, yoga pants and leggings have long since crossed over from the terrain of morning workout to everyday wardrobe.

It would have been much more exciting to see the designers of these uniforms apply the principles of sleek functionality, as well as high-performance fabrics, to their work, developing well-cut, handsome clothes that mirror the lifestyle and occupation of the athletes who will wear them.

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