The Flag Trade: Team GB wins gold in the fashion stakes

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As our national heroes make their bids for glory, how has Team GB fared in the fashion stakes over the years? Harriet Walker ranks their kit

1936 Berlin: Preppy prescience

There were, of course, rather more political issues at the heart of these Games than what the athletes were wearing – but note the preppy prescience of the British team's apparel as they gather around diver Katinka Larsen for this group shot.

They could easily all have been wardrobed by Gap. Side-partings were an optional extra, but oh for the days when a swimming costume like this was chic rather than prudish.

1952 Helsinki: Posh and pressed

The men's gymnastics team are spruce in freshly laundered and smartly pressed whites emblazoned with a rippling Union Jack. While this outfit may not boast the aerodynamic razzmatazz of modern sportswear, it's redolent of the days when sport was for gentlemen. And if the gentlemen in question should all look like an American Apparel advert, so much the better.

1956 Melbourne: Eighties inspiration

Isn't it funny when you realise that everyone in the Eighties just nicked trends from the Fifties? These 100m relay silver medallists might be straight out of a Greater Manchester working men's club circa 1985, thanks to their banded singlets and high-waisted gym-knickers.

1980 Moscow: The shorts straw

Sebastian Coe, who won gold in 1500m at the Moscow Games, is the only famous person to have gone to my school. He has also been fairly prescriptive about what sort of clothes visitors to the 2012 event will be able to wear. As you can see here, the British kit that he sped to victory in hasn't changed much since its 1950s incarnation, except for the blanket rule introduced by the Russians that all male runners had to wear large nappies to compete in.

1992 Barcelona: It's all a blur

When Linford Christie won gold in the 100m, my nana got out of her armchair and did an air-punch. No doubt his success was in part thanks to the tightness of his shorts restraining his irrepressible "lunchbox" and the go-faster, optical blur of the Union Jack pattern that adorned the panels of his vest. This kit went on to become iconic in the Olympic annals and paved the way for more design-focused sportswear. And what could be more Nineties than taking inspiration from the Magic Eye books?

1996 Atlanta: Beast of burden

Is it just me or do these British king-of-beasts motif tracksuits look a bit like the sub-par animation in the video to Bob Marley's smash hit "Iron Lion Zion"? Either way, this podium suit is widely regarded as one of the worst forays into Olympic fashion in the history of the Games. Pity the poor Olympians whose moment of glory was marred by having their picture taken in that fanned mane and pointy tongue. Could it be the reason we did so badly in the medals table that year?

2000 Sydney: Block party

Back in the days when Paula Radcliffe was more famous for running in her shorts rather than doing something else in them, the Team GB kit was all block colours and clean lines. The Australians upped the glamour stakes when they wheeled out Kylie, but British athletes were rather more functional this year, with fewer prints and absolutely no lions. See how Ms. Radcliffe had pulled up her socks like an LA poolboy while everyone else had lets theirs flop around their ankles. That's the Great British can-do spirit, right there.

2004 Athens: Top of the crops

It was during the Athens Games that the crop top really became a sports staple, as designers realised that a hot tummy does not a medal-winner make. Red has never played a large role in our national Olympics kit and the year that Dame Kelly Holmes won her gold for the 1500m, the colour was barely visible but for some ergonomic piping detail. In fact, blue has been the preferred palette for most of the modern Games, often leading to criticism that our athletes have looked too similar to those of France. But no French woman would ever grin like that, would she?

2012 London: Stella design credentials

The first kit to have been created by a fashion designer, this year's look is sleek, futuristic and undeniably tasteful. Whether it looks like sportswear is another matter. Stella McCartney deconstructs the flag and features it in fragments as geometric detailing with scarlet trim. So, regardless of how the events play out, Team GB wins gold in the fashion stakes.

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