Winners in the style stakes?

Olympians may be gods among men, but that doesn't automatically equate to sartorial success. Lee Holmes hands out the medals

Olympic athletes are acknowledged the world over for their sporting prowess; less so for their sartorial flair. We may be happy to watch the fruits of a life dedicated to mastering their chosen sport, but that doesn't mean we have to be enthusiastic about the clothes they wear.

Even at this year's Parade of Nations, with a captive global audience of billions, the athlete's flag waving kit was an uninspiring state of affairs. The USA squad were kitted out by that quintessentially American label, Ralph Lauren, but they still managed to look like cabin crew. Meanwhile, Spain, perhaps conscious of how little money there is left in the national coffers, fielded cheap-looking red jackets with garish printed ties that wouldn't have looked out of place behind the counter in Burger King. No wonder Rafael Nadal pulled out of the games.

Even Team GB, whose outfits came courtesy of high street giant Next, looked faintly ridiculous. White jackets with golden collars and lower halves embellished with the same metallic trim was leisurewear that even Ali G would blanch at wearing. Considering that Britain has an enviable history of faultless tailoring, we fell spectacularly flat at the first, ahem, hurdle.

It's even more frustrating given that one of the fashionable dictats of the season is to dress in the colours of our national flag. In fact, now is one of the few times that wearing red, white and blue isn't a sartorial slip-up. Belgian designer Dries Van Noten gave a masterclass in how to do this in his current collection; even Vivienne Westwood gave us T-shirts with golden medals in a trompe l'oeil effect.

Admittedly, planning colour co-ordinated outfits does require a lightness of touch. Your look should revolve around classic tailored separates. Fail-safe pieces such as white cotton shirts, plain chino trousers and cricketing sweaters reflect a bygone era of Jessie Owens' gentlemanly competitiveness. Varsity jackets and tailored blazers – single or double breasted – are also an informed choice. Teamed with a pale blue shirt, your point of reference becomes old school preppy glamour – club ties are optional. But taking inspiration from clothing worn by sportsmen of yesteryear isn't always as easy as it looks.

Take, for example, the Lycra clad 1980s. Once you've tip-toed your way around the minefield that is the all in one stretchy unitard, what you're left with is that sportswear behemoth of the decade, the shell suit, an item of clothing that should always be studiously ignored.

Forget towelling headbands and cropped T-shirts too, unless you plan upon reconstructing the video to Olivia Newton-John's pop classic "Let's Get Physical". Instead look to pleated shorts, classic polo shirts and cashmere sweaters for garments that won't date.

Accessorising like an Olympian is an easier game to play. Ignore fancy souped-up footwear and opt for an old school leather plimsoll in white. And a canvas watch strap is a subtle and tasteful way of harnessing the patriotic mood. Colour co-ordinating your bag to the Olympic flag is another option. Want Les Essentials de la Vie have a bag for each colour of the Olympic rings. Or for an added virile flourish, grow a moustache in honour of veteran American swimmer Mark Spitz.

When it comes to finding an actual modern day athlete with fashion savvy, well, your choices are still very limited. Our American cousins have poster boy Ryan Lochte, who – as well as selling a range of stars and stripes coloured sunglasses on his own website – has done a spot of modelling for Ralph Lauren. And in a modern twist that only an American could pull off, he's swapped the Spitz 'tache for a diamond studded retainer, which allows him to flash the ultimate winning smile. Alas, if you're not blessed with Lochte's frat-boy good looks, then a mouthful of bling may well only emphasise your resemblance to that infamous Bond villain Jaws.

Rather predictably, David Beckham is the sportsman we should look to for fashion pointers. Although not competing in the games as such, he manages to successfully morph between style icon and snappily dressed Olympian representative. And during the Opening Ceremony he was even given the ultimate accessory – a speedboat. How could he fail to impress?