The season has just begun, which means we are seeing our friends and competitors for the first time in a long while and that some of them are looking different than when we saw them last. So we need to talk about something. We need to talk about spandex.
It is an undeniably comfortable and stretchy part of the Nordic Skier lifestyle. But not all spandex suits were created equal, some suits are ugly and that is also part of the lifestyle. We all know that we’ve worn both ugly suits and good looking ones, which begs the question, which suit was the ugliest? This is an important question that needs to be answered, and so we need to determine which suits are in the Ugly Suit Hall of Fame.
However, before we get to the Ugly Suit rankings, we first need to answer a few questions:
Does a suit being ugly make it uncool?
No, definitely not. In fact, lots of suits are only made cooler by the fact that they are objectively hideous. Something ugly can still be cool, and this ranking is a measurement of the overall impact an ugly suit has, which is a combination of both its hideousness and the space it occupied in the culture.
Isn’t fashion subjective? How do you know if a suit is ugly?
There’s something ostensible about an ugly suit, that is to say it can’t really be articulated. To paraphrase former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, you know it when you see it.
You weren’t alive for most of these suits. How can you determine their impact? Isn’t this whole thing completely subjective? What about the suit I saw once that was uglier than anything you posted here? Who do I complain to about this?
Yes, you’re totally right and I understand your concerns and you can take it up with the International Spandex Governing Body.
So, if we are to scientifically determine the ugliest suit we must apply some specific criteria to each suit in order to determine it’s Ugly Suit Score (USS).
Category 1: How much does the suit clash? (Scored from 0-20 points)
Clashing is a key part of an ugly suit. There will be big points awarded for multiple patterns, mixes of round and angular lines and for colors that God did not intend to be put together.
Category 2: How did the suit compare to others in its era? (Scored from 0-10 points)
What this is really asking is, was the suit uglier than other suits from its time? It’s a well known fact that fashion often ages very poorly so lots of things that were cool a long time ago now look silly, but if a suit was cool in its time then it loses a lot of its impact on ugly suit history. If a suit was relatively cool in its time it will not score highly in this category.
Category 3: How well did racers perform in the suit? (Scored from 0-20 points)
This is really important. History is full of instances when successful people took uncool things and made them cool. Think of mullets, mustaches, or even shaved heads all of which are objectively funny looking and all of which all became cooler for having been sported by successful athletes. If a suit was worn by Olympic or World Champions its legend as an Ugly suit only grows.
So, let’s get started.
1. USA 2006 Olympics
This suit is unique. What made it ugly was not it’s colors or patterns (which are benign) but a special feature, its hood. The hood was added for aerodynamic purposes, which still seems like a good idea in principle. In practice it was hot, claustrophobic, and didn’t significantly reduce drag which was literally the only reason for its existence. As unique as the hood was, it did not feature excessive clashing, and will score low in Category 1. Other than the hood it was pretty inoffensive, and the US had some excellent races at these Olympics so it will score low in Category 2 and highly in 3.
Category 1: (10/20)
Category 2: (4/10)
Category 3: (11/20)
Total USS: (25/50)
2. Japan 2006 Olympics
This suit is really something. It looks like the screensaver on an old Macintosh, or perhaps a marble countertop. It scores highly in the Category 1. Unfortunately 2006 was not a standout year for ugly suits, and a big reason for that is that it was an Olympic year. To avoid issues with sponsor logos most countries design completely new suits for the Olympics, which seems to me like an incredibly high risk-high reward thing to do before the most visible event in Cross Country Skiing. It does not score especially highly in Category 2. No one from Japan won a medal in this suit which isn’t a big deal since medals are so rare, but no one in this suit came close to the best-ever Japanese finish at an Olympics either so it doesn’t score especially highly in Category 3.
Category 1: (16/20)
Category 2: (3/10)
Category 3: (8/20)
Total USS: (27/50)
3. USA 1992 Olympics
We as a country have a great many things to be proud of, that we wore this suit is not one of them. I wasn’t alive at this point in time, but I have to assume someone called Richard Simmons and said “Hey Richard, What do you think Uncle Sam would do Pilates in?” and he sent them a sketch of this suit. The stripes and scribbles clash beautifully, so it scores highly in Category 1. But again with 1992 being an Olympic year (the miscalculated Olympic suit is a running thread throughout this list) it did not seem as outlandish compared to its fellow 1992 suits as it does to our 21st century eyeballs. While there were some quality races at these Olympics, they did not feature the highest US finishes in recent memory and will score lower in Category 3.
Category 1: (18/20)
Category 2: (5/10)
Category 3: (10/20)
Total USS: (33/50)
5. Germany 2016/17
What makes this suit disappointing is that Germany has a long history of suits that were fantastic. They generally do a great job of recognizing national colors and framing the body-lines with consistent patterns. However this suit, does not do those things. It takes the black, red, and yellow of Germany’s flag too far into the neon zone which is regrettable, but is also understandable given the current fashion trends. The main problem here is the yellow polka dot matrix across the lower body, which creates odd shading around the inseam and more problematically looks like someone threw up all over their legs. It wasn’t the only suit to use this template last year, and dot patterns have been used a lot lately so it doesn’t score highly in Category 2. HOWEVER, people have kicked ass in this suit, and it’s hard to deny that it should score highly in Category 3.
Category 1: (16/20)
Category 2: (3/10)
Category 3: (15/20)
Total USS: (34/50)
5. Sweden 1988 Olympics
This suit is wonderful. It has an large amount of white space, which is a dangerous gamble with spandex, but its arms and legs are also covered with a blue/yellow checkered pattern that poses quite a few questions. Is this supposed to represent the Swedish flag? Is it some type of secret Scandinavian code? Did the athletes use it to play checkers when they weren’t wearing it? Some of these questions can never be answered, but regardless, its pattern scores highly in Category 1. At the 1988 Olympics many suits used color blocking (i.e. all red legs, all white chest, all blue arms) so this suit was unique among its contemporaries and scores highly in Category 2. As for Category 3, Gunde Svan wore this suit, enough said.
Category 1: (14/20)
Category 2: (7/10)
Category 3: (18/20)
Total USS: (39/50)
6. Norway 1994/95
This suit is the pinnacle of ugly suits. The Nordic Runes seem to have no rhyme or reason, but not in a Jackson Pollock sort of way, more in a Pre-K Art sort of way. The color blocking of the suit also gives the whole thing a medieval jester’s vibe. It scores VERY highly in Category 1. Now as you can see from the second skier in this picture, 1995 was a time of ugly suits. We can’t score it especially highly in Category 2. This suit however was worn by the second greatest Nordic Skier of all time. It won a LOT of races, and as such scores very highly in Category 3.
Category 1: (19/20)
Category 2: (6/10)
Category 3: (20/20)
Total Score: (45/50)
So that’s it, the Ugly Suit Hall of Fame as determined by science.
Please send all future/angry/reactionary nominations to @smst2team on Instagram.