A history of Canada

Photo of Kurt Browning at 1994 Olympics by Ron Poling via The Canadian Press
Photo of Kurt Browning at 1994 Olympics by Ron Poling via The Canadian Press

As told through Olympic fashion

By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor


I’ll be honest, I haven’t really cared about sports since I stopped playing them in high school. However, even basement dwellers like myself get into the spirit whenever the Olympics roll around, especially the Winter Olympics. Though some may claim that the Olympics are overrated, I have always enjoyed the sense of community inspired by these types of international events—whether you’re cheering for your own team or for another country. Speaking specifically in terms of the Olympics and Canada, though, we have always had an interesting relationship with that quintessential moment when Canada is reintroduced to the world after a two-year hiatus.

I’m speaking, of course, about the opening ceremony outfits (this is the Life & Style section, you knew I wasn’t going to be talking about sports).

Canadian Olympic fashion usually tends to be practical above all else. There have been some outliers in this—the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary come to mind—but in general, with winter-wear designers like Roots and Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), Canada isn’t necessarily known as being predominantly fashion forward. Keep in mind we’re talking Winter Olympics here. The Team Canada collection for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio designed by DSquared2 still makes my little runway-loving heart sing. However, when it comes to winter, Canada is all business! Well, besides that one time in Lillehammer in 1994 when it looked like every Canadian athlete wanted to be a super hero, complete with cape (this is a real thing, they showed up in capes, just look it up).

Normally I appreciate the formulaic approach that designers take when tasked with creating a look for Team Canada. As much as I enjoy experimental fashion, I prefer seeing something wearable on athletes as opposed to something that would make post-game interviews awkward for all involved.

Roots was responsible for the Winter Olympic uniform for the 1998 games in Nagano, and the 2002 games in Salt Lake City—which, from a fashion standpoint, I would consider the two best Team Canada Winter collections. There was visible effort put into what Canada looked like, as well as careful attention paid to the fact that the collections had to be practical and comfortable. That is not to say that HBC has been doing a bad job since they took over the task in 2006, but if you look at the evolution of Canada’s uniforms, they haven’t changed much since the 2010 games in Vancouver: An army of terminally-polite humans in oversized red coats. After three series in a row of the same thing, it might be time to shake it up a little.

It is also possible that I am completely crazy. Perhaps Canada has found a look that works for us, and by golly we seem to want to stick to it. Maybe it’s all a ruse to make us appear as boring as possible so that no one suspects how aggressively competitive we are. I’m not sure, but I’ll still probably buy the Team Canada mittens, as I do every four years.