Figure skating fashion: The worst and best

Perfect moves must be paired with something important to wow figure skating judges: glitzy costumes.

The top contenders for figure skating medals in Sochi have whole teams of stylists behind them, ensuring the look matches the music and the technical skill. But every so often, things go horribly wrong.

Whether they’re sublime or merely silly, skating costumes can make or break the athlete.

The best

Michelle Kwan’s understated skating dresses were created by bridal designer Vera Wang, giving the nine-time U.S. and five-time world champion a mature and elegant look on the ice. In Nagano in 1998, she won the silver in a minimalist sky-blue dress. She won bronze four years later in Salt Lake City, sporting a dazzling red costume with gold accents.

Nancy Kerrigan’s refined look helped her stand out at the 1992 Games in Albertville and the 1994 Games in Lillehammer. In an era when flashy sparkles, puffed sleeves and tutu skirts were the norm, Kerrigan’s signature style veered toward neutral or monochromatic dresses with sheer panels and sleeves. She looked positively plain next to Oksana Baiul’s pink princess outfit in ’94.

Johnny Weir may be an acquired taste, but you can’t fault the three-time U.S. champ for bringing some pizzazz into the sport. His swanlike costume at the 2006 Games in Torino, with its black-and-white feather pattern and one red glove, was both graceful and campy. How many other competitors have a red glove named Camille?

Of the top contenders in Sochi, the U.S. ice dancing team Meryl Davis and Charlie White are virtually guaranteed a gold medal on the ice and in their choice of costume. The 2010 Olympic silver medalists are betting on music from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” and a purple ensemble that echoes the Art Nouveau style of the Ballets-Russes.

The worst

Pity the Russian skaters. The U.S.S.R. frowned on Western-style decadence, and the post-Soviet style misses more than it hits. Who can forget Ilya Kulik’s eye-searing yellow giraffe-print blouse from the ’98 Games? At least he took the gold. And ice dancers Oksana Domnina’s and Maxim Shabalin’s long-program outfits -- allegedly based on Aboriginal designs they found on the Internet -- deservedly caused an uproar at the 2010 Games. (They still won bronze.)

In fact, the dance competition has blessed figure skating with some of the most outlandish ensembles on Olympic ice. Witness the technical and sartorial battle between French champs Maria Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, and Italian stars Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio at the 2002 Games. The teams one-upped each other for the wackiest ensemble, but Fusar-Poli’s and Margaglio’s hideous pink-and-black flamenco costumes took the cake.

Many skaters in the mid-1990s reserved a special place in their wardrobes for bright blue spandex. Olympians Todd Eldredge and Tonya Harding rocked the shimmery, stretchy stuff over multiple seasons. Tara Lipinski won gold at 1998 Games in Nagano sporting a blue leotard with silver trim. More recently, 2010 gold medalist Yu-Na Kim put a bit of class back into the maligned material.  

Finally, while male skaters have it rougher than the ladies when it comes to costume, there was no excuse for Canadian legend Kurt Browning’s inexplicable outfit at the ’92 Games in Albertville. The top resembled a gladiator’s mantle. The bottom, ombre-dyed harem pants. He ultimately placed sixth, but the ensemble lives in infamy.

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