I admit it: Spain’s burger bar outfit has grown on me

Walking along the South Bank I saw a surprising sight: a man and a woman daring to venture out in broad daylight clad head to toe in Spain’s garish Olympic kit, with not even a blush, writes Carola Long.

For anyone who missed the furore over Spain’s cut price garb here’s why one might have expected them to stuff their red and yellow tracksuits back in their lockers before leaving the Olympic village.

Bosco, the Russian sportswear brand, provided the kits, saving the Spanish government  €1.5m according to Alejandro Blanco, chairman of the Spanish Olympic Committee. Blanco claimed a fiscal victory — given Spain’s ailing economy — but the designs were widely deemed a style defeat.Red jackets with gold baroque swirls were reminiscent of WWF wrestling outfits or matador jackets, busy patterned polo shirts looked like something burger bar workers from the 1970s might wear (sharing a red and yellow colour scheme with McDonald’s didn’t help).

There were mutterings among the style conscious in Spain that perhaps getting a dedicated fashion designer might have averted imminent sartorial shame on the public stage, and several athletes tweeted photos of themselves in the kit with disparaging captions.

So far, so farcical, but since then it seems that perhaps, like so many pre-Olympics panics, it was a fuss about nothing, and Bosco’s image won’t be shattered after all.

Bosco’s kits for the Russian team (think jam swirled in a bowl of cold porridge and you’ve got the pattern) are apparently much in demand amongst London kids and items of the Spanish kit are selling out from the Westfield branch of Bosco (although a spokesperson for Bosco said official sales figures haven’t been released yet).

Some Spanish athletes have ever come round to their lurid leisurewear and attitudes amongst the fashion community (OK, me) have softened (slightly).

When I first saw the Spanish and Russian kits I thought I’d rather run a marathon in a bulky Olympic mascot costume than wear one, but in the stadium they suddenly make more sense.

When a Spanish pole vaulter tied a towel with the word Espana emblazoned around his waist at the stadium this week it stood out as kitsch and quite fun — like it had just been swept up from the sand on the Costa Brava. Refined? Not really, but unlike some of the plainer kits, it was distinctive.

While I watched the pole vault it took me a while to tell the difference between the French and British competitors, with their similar red white and blue outfits, which almost led to cheering on the French. However, it would be possible to identify the Spanish or Russian men from space, so mad and outlandish are the designs. 

Just as with high fashion there’s a difference between an ensemble working on the catwalk and in everyday life, so kits that look like Jimmy Saville’s tracksuit crossed with an 1980s ice skating coach on the hanger, can have a kitsch energy on the track.

Which might explain the confident attitude of those tracksuit wearing Spaniards on the Southbank when I stopped to grill them about their gear.  Turns out one of them was Domingo Plaza Chozas, team leader for the Spanish shooting team, and he had this to say:  “Sometimes at the beginning people said it wasn’t very nice, but now people are getting used to seeing it, the athletes are enjoying it; although maybe not the swirls. The media want to criticise because they thought designers should have done it, but it’s more important that we saved money, when you see it you know straight away it’s the Spanish team, it’s a way to recognise it.”

Perhaps Alejandro Blanco said it best when he tweeted, “I’d like to express my gratitude to Bosco for a kit which ensures Spain’s athletes will stand out.”

Indeed they do.

Carola Long is the FT’s deputy fashion editor