As usual, everyone hates Canada’s Olympic uniforms.
Also as usual, everyone only realized how much after Americans began making fun of us.
The Canadian look for the Tokyo Games includes, but is not limited to, a graffiti-covered jean jacket. It’s less Iggy Pop, and more the sort of thing your grandmother would wear to the bingo if they served Jägerbombs there.
Would you wear it? Probably not. Are you able to swim the length of a 50-metre swimming pool underwater without taking a breath? Probably not.
So while you are looking down on the people wearing this outfit, they will be looking down on you, but for better reasons.
Supplier Hudson’s Bay unveiled the Canadian uniform last August. But it was pulled to the surface of the internet this week when the United States revealed its own Olympic look (cruiseship retiree meets Socialist Realism) and was ridiculed by comparison.
America thinks Canadians are dorks, prompting Canadians to get out in front of the pain by mocking themselves much harder. That chestnut just never gets old.
The preceding paragraphs are my excuse to tell this story:
A few years ago, Hudson’s Bay put out those ridiculous red Olympic mittens with ‘CANADA’ emblazoned across the knuckles, like we were all part of some Arctic prison gang. The athletes wore matching coats and tuques. People laughed at those, too.
On the ground at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Canadian gear was at the top of the barter pyramid. You couldn’t buy any of it in Russia, resulting in a voracious black market. People were constantly on the hunt for it, especially the tuques.
All accredited journalists got a gift bag from the Canadian Olympic Committee upon arrival. At most events, the bag itself is the primary gift – usually a high-quality branded backpack. This one had other bits and bobs inside, including ‘CANADA’ mittens. But no tuque. The tuques were impossible to get hold of at the Games.
The first thing you do when you get to any big international tournament is to find a bar to turn into your national clubhouse. We settled into a little dump in our media compound called Bar No. 4. There was no Bar No. 3 or Bar No. 5.
Bar No. 4 was staffed nearly 24 hours of the day by a garrulous fellow named Ruslan.
Ruslan was not too young, not too old, bullet-headed, spoke workable English and enough French to be understood. Whenever a conversation slowed down, he would clumsily shift it to politics. We were convinced that a bartender this worldly must be a secret policeman. But a sweet guy.
Ruslan was always on the hunt for a Canada tuque for his “girlfriend.” Very, very late one night, after too many pulls on Ruslan’s homemade vodka stash (“Not drink too much. Will make blind.”), I had a flash. I would give Ruslan my gift-bag mittens. It was the Canadian thing to do.
I staggered back to my room and got them, still wrapped in cellophane. I tried handing them over on the sly, but Ruslan made a whole deal of it. Many exclamations of “My friend! My friend!” and full chin-buried-in-the-shoulder hugs. The few Russians in the bar cheered. More drinks flowed. It was already stupidly late. None of us was going to bed that night.
A few minutes after this triumph, Ruslan sidled up behind me. I turned in my chair. Ruslan was holding the mittens out toward me.
“Is not tuque,” Ruslan said.
“Is not tuque.”
No, like I said, it’s mittens.
“Oh. Want tuque. I give back.”
The table of a dozen drunken Canadian hacks went horribly silent. Ruslan handed me the mittens and returned to his place behind the bar.
Steve Simmons from the Toronto Sun – the only sober guy there – shouted, “It’s like he slapped you in the face!”
In order to be just right, the story should end here. But once I left the bar an hour or so later, Ruslan came running out behind me.
“I change mind,” he said. “I take mittens.”
Which makes this story a little too on the nose. But that’s how it happened.
All this to say, people from other countries want to wear Canada gear, no matter how garish. I have never, ever, seen a non-American wearing American apparel at an Olympics. It is not done. Take that for whatever it’s worth.
And, anyway, what’s wrong with a jean jacket? It’s the closest thing we have to mutually agreed-upon national apparel. You own one. I know you do. Now, all of a sudden, you’re too good for a jean jacket?
As for the rightness or wrongness of the Hudson’s Bay design, I will say only this: Have you read to this point? Have you looked up a picture of the jacket on your phone or talked to someone else about it? Then it worked. That’s how fashion functions. The more something is noticed, the more it is succeeding.
(This is not to be confused with style. Style is meant to go unremarked, which is why the market has such a hard time turning it into a commodity.)
Is the Canadian Olympic jean jacket cool? No, it isn’t. Are Canadians cool? No, we aren’t. You know why? Because we are so bizarrely sensitive to the question of whether we are cool. Our national conversation is rooted in this metaphysical struggle. Drake made himself the biggest pop star on Earth by wrestling with it in public.
You know who doesn’t worry about whether they’re cool? The French. That’s why they’re cool. You know what their Olympic uniform looks like? Even they don’t know. They’re too cool to care.
Canada’s hideous Olympic jean jacket is perfect insofar as it captures a twisted corner of our national identity. I’m not speaking about its aesthetics. I’m talking about the fact that we didn’t realize the problem existed, never mind that we had to start worrying about it, until some random Americans on the internet told us to.