Much of what the U.S. gymnasts will wear during the Rio Olympics will come as a surprise to us all. By design, of course.
“Gymnastics is based on opinion,” says Adam Clement, Under Armour senior creative director for team sports and USA Gymnastics uniform lead designer. “It is judges sitting down and rating what they saw, and the outfit becomes a huge component of it. This whole idea of this needing to be a surprise so judges have an initial surprise does impact how they rate the event.”
Under Armour, outfitting USA Gymnastics for the first time, has designed seven different leotards for the women and six for the men. But right now, it’s releasing only one design from each squad to ensure the surprise factor during the competition—similar to the surprise of revealing a prom dress.
The women’s leotard that has been revealed includes a “big, bold red” long-sleeve V-neck collar with white trimmed in blue, and of course covered with sparkle and stars. What we do know about the rest of the uniforms is that Under Armour has kept all seven uniforms strictly to USA colors.
“They have to be different and want to feel different each day,” Clement says. “They want to feel country pride, but also they want it to feel like a prom dress, so we have diamonds for sparkle. In Olympics past they have worn trend colors, but we are keeping everything contained in red, white and blue.”
When designing the leotards, Under Armour used four-way stretch compression fabric, as freedom of movement was the number-one performance priority. From there, though, there wasn’t much need for moisture-wicking, meshes and other high-tech embellishments because the athletes are wearing the leotards for only a short period of time. Instead, they want an emphasis on aesthetics.
The men’s uniform revealed shows us a blue-based look inspired by stars and stripes. A repeated star pattern in positive and negative is a pattern we’ll see throughout all Under Armour gear, including warm-ups and village wear (different countries outfitted by Under Armour have different patterns, such as a maple leaf for Canada, Brazil’s diamond from their flag and an Aztec bird head for Mexico). Clement says the pattern comes directly from Rio’s famed Copacabana beach and the tile work design from the promenade.
“There is no art for art sake,” he says. “Everything we design has a purpose. The patterns are based on Copacabana and tell the story of Rio.”
While the designs will remain contained in a red, white and blue motif, every uniform has a fresh look, some new and different and others with a tie to the past, such as a women’s uniform inspired by the one worn by Mary Lou Retton in 1984. The teams, which have final say on the designs, then choose which ones to wear on any given night, with plans already to save specific colors for the biggest events.
But which colors and which designs for which night will remain a surprise. Just like a prom-dress reveal.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.