The costume disciplinarian speaks: Is it better to look good than to ski fast?

Mike BaldufJuly 13, 200914

Oh, sure, every World Cup Nordic ski team needs a good waxing crew, but they need something more — a top-notch costume disciplinarian.

I’m not talking about some Scandinavian blonde with a whip (though there were those rumors about the Austrian team).  I mean a no-nonsense fashionista who will insure that the team not only skis fast, but looks good — with consistent logos, flags, advertising, and color schemes.  Someone who is not afraid to say, “Sorry, Klaus, you can’t wear the green pants with the purple top for the team sprints.  Take it back to the changing hut.”

For now, I’m happy to assume the mantle of costume disciplinarian, and I’m ready to take a fearless look back at the 2008-2009 World Cup season.

I’ve awarded each team up to five points based on style and costume discipline.  You can vote for your top uniform at the end of this article.

USA — 3 points

Those new red suits with white piping look sharp, but will winning results  follow?  At least Team USA has forsaken the wear-what-you-brung look that made ‘em hard to spot in televised World Cup races.  Now, though, they might be mistaken for Norwegians…but is that a bad thing?

Kris Freeman (Photo: Win Goodbody)
Kris Freeman sporting US red (Photo: Win Goodbody)

Italy — 4 points

Che bello uniforme!  Cutting-edge fashion from Fila — with that nice metallic blue-and-white grid pattern.  Is it the total package?  No.  The effect was spoiled — in a bow to individual expression — by those funky, one-off hats with their bunny-tail top-knots.

Russia  — 2 points

Russian skiers came in a plain blue wrapper with a plethora of  oil company logos.  There is no truth to the rumor that the Russians are waxing with 10W-40.  At times, though, I expected the Russian team to stop and do some exploratory drilling at trackside.  It’s almost enough, comrades, to make you long for the advertising-free Soviet era of sport.

Matveeva (left) in the sprint quarterfinals in Whistler.  Kikkan Randall is in red on the right.  She was edged by the Swede and did not advance.  In sprinting, catching a doper after the fact does not simply fix the problem, as an eliminated skier would have had the opportunity to advance further.  Matveeva has not been found guilty yet.  Her B-sample results have not been released.
Russian Natalia Matveeva (left) in the sprint quarterfinals in Whistler.

Germany — 2 points

The German team soldiers on with the black-and-yellow bumble-bee look  that hasn’t changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dull and  traditional…but a nice paycheck from Adidas, thank you.

Norway — 2.5 points

I prefer the old-school uniforms of years past that featured a Norwegian flag motif on a field of red.  Early in 2008-2009 season, the Norwegians raced in a plain red suit, then added a subtle flash of flag on the left leg.  They have been very good at hat discipline — you never see a skier without a Norwegian flag correctly placed on his or her hat.

In truth, the Norwegians could wear red wool union suits, Bozo noses and  reindeer-fur earmuffs, and they would still be fast.

Andy Newell hot on the heels of Ola Vigen Hattestad (Photo: Phil Bowen)
Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) leading Andy Newell (USA) (Photo: Phil Bowen)

Poland — 1 point

Here’s proof that clothes don’t make the skier.  The Poles wore last year’s off-the-rack Swix racing suits.  Not very inspiring, but when you’re as good as Justyna Kowalczyk, who cares?

Sweden — 1.5 points

A brave, but failed, foray into Scandinavian design.  Those white suits with blue and yellow leggings might have looked good on paper, but the television camera is unforgiving.  They reminded me, at times, of my Uncle Olaf’s BVD long johns.

Don’t tell Charlotte Kalla, but the Swedish suits make you look 20 pounds heavier on TV — and not in the most flattering places.

Joensson edges Hattestad
Emil Joensson (SWE) takes the victory despite his suit. Germany is far left, Russia in blue and Norway in red.

Worst fashion flop of the 2008-2009 ski season

It was that odd, snaky design that adorned some skiers’ posteriors.  It reminded me of my old granddad when he forgot to  hitch up his suspenders…or recently sat on a python.  Who would OK this droopy-drawers design?  I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to root for a skier who violates such a basic tenet of costume discipline.

Next, the ugliest world cup uniform…

Canada  — .5 points

The previous year’s Captain Atomic suit — complete with electrifying red thunderbolts — made the Canucks look like winners.  Unfortunately, it was replaced by a design that plunged them into the fashion wilderness — somewhere north of Saskatoon.  On TV, the new suits were rendered a washed-out pink, with what appeared to be a wolverine paw print on each leg.  Unfortunately, none of these suits was filled with the form of the injured Chandra Crawford.

Sartorially, northern friends, there is still time to recover before the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Devon Kershaw (CAN) qualifying 16th
Devon Kershaw (CAN) sports the Canadian uni.

It’s not easy being green, mate

Australia –.5 points

Stop the presses…maybe I was premature in awarding Ugliest Ski Uniform to the Canadian team. The Aussies’ green Kermit suit — complete with amphibian scales on the arms and legs — makes the Costume Disciplinarian want to cringe and hide under his waxing stand. Those black and white streamers with white dots look festive but seem at odds with the rest of the design. And red boots with a green suit? Where I come from, that spells fashion faux pas. This uniform’s disparate parts make me suspect it was designed by a committee of blokes down at their local, supported by ample quantities of Foster’s. At least the bib matches the suit.

Australia is proud of the green suits, but the Costume Disciplinarian isn't impressed...
Australia is proud of the green suits, but the Costume Disciplinarian isn't impressed...

And the winner for best uniform is…

Finland — 5 points

Very smart, a winning uniform for a winning team.  I love the post-modern style with lime-green and bright-orange flashes accenting the blue-and-white color scheme.  Great attention to detail with the theme carried over to hats and head bands, plus a patriotic “Suomi” printed on the right leg.  The only thing lacking was a pocket for I-pod or MP3 player.

The Finns must have a superb costume disciplinarian.

I’d like to meet her…for some style pointers.

Saarinen leading the race early.  She attacked hard several times and opened sizable gaps each time, but was eventually tracked down.
Aino Kaisa Saarinen of Finland, wearing the top ranked suit.

[poll id=”26″]

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  • Tim Kelley

    July 13, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Seems like you have an inate talent for clothing design analysis. Perhaps you should change your name to – Bruno Sabot?! 😉

  • FasterSkier

    July 13, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    I wish I could take credit for this – the article is by Mike Balduf – when I posted it, I forgot to properly set the author name. My apologies to Mike – his name is now properly displayed.

  • Patrick Stinson

    July 14, 2009 at 4:12 am

    I have to say I like USA’s new suits better than all the rest. It’s really easy to take the whole thing in at once, the logo is right there on the leg and hat, and everybody wears them, finally! Plus, I always liked solid red.

    Norway’s swix suites from last year were pretty cool but now they’re confusing. Kjipt det.

  • Eric123

    July 14, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    While we’re on the topic and since the team is no more, I have to say the Subaru Factory (later the Saab Salomon Team) uniforms were the ugliest of any team I have ever seen. Every year they were terrible. The colors clashed, (yellow and red are not complimentary colors) way too many logos – each company had like 4 logos, the logos were in the wrong place- nothing worked right. The last year was the best but then they still put a logo across the crotch- is that really the best place? – looked ridiculous.


    July 14, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Finland the best?!? Against the snow it looks like parts of her legs are missing. Canada’s suits look pretty cool but the need to get the shade of red right.

  • UNHNordicSkier

    July 14, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    I personally like the Swedish uniforms. But I’m also fond of the old swix US suits with the red shins.

  • lsiebert

    July 14, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    I really liked the old US suits with the yellow shins and arms.

    I also really like the Finns and the last years norwegians suits. not sure what your beef with the Canadian suits was, I kind of liked them.

  • bkastning

    July 14, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    the extreme edge in ski suits goes to Jeff Banks in a spring race in VT a number of years ago. (Hint…it was warm spring conditons)….set a bunch of people into a tizzy!

  • triguy

    July 14, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Really strange idea of what makes a good suit. The Finland suits are the worst in the whole bunch in my mind. I think the USA suits are pretty boring right now, a little coloured stitching doesn’t count as a design (they look fine but nothing special)

    I’ll agree that the Subaru Factory suits would definitely take the worst suits.

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  • genegold

    July 15, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Always thought the blue-above-red U.S. suits didn’t work, sort of a throw back to a time that never was. Those spackled red and white suits of I’m not sure what country from a few years ago were among the weirdest I’ve seen. Then there was that style for a few years that focused attention on skiers’ rear ends, which almost invariably didn’t work for the women and left viewers focused on men’s cracks. Did someone really think those were sexy or flattering? Much the same but on a lesser scale could be said of the Norwegian red suits a couple of seasons back with three wide strips up front and back. One favorite of mine was the Swiss uniforms of a couple of seasons ago, with red pants and silver/red-striped tops. In general, I wish some designers would go a bit wild with the colors, but not in the garish direction of those Factory/Salomon uniforms (sorry, Andy).

  • prenex

    July 16, 2009 at 6:14 am

    Germany has the best suits. Three stripes. The most recognized sporting logo in the world.

  • sailguy

    July 16, 2009 at 11:05 am

    The Canadian suits look great on a WC podium.

  • Patrick Stinson

    July 16, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Actually I have to agree about the german suits too. I tend to like consistent suits, so I’ve got a thing for the norwegian red and swedish white.

    Bottom line though, there is nothing better than a suit that hasn’t changed in 10 years that also immediately reminds you of winning results.

    I say keep the current US suits until there is no question that they stand for domination. Then change them.

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