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The Styled Side: style and legal hurdles at the Olympics




Michael Phelps of the United States carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium on August 5, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Michael Phelps of the United States carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium on August 5, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

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The Olympics are not without controversy, but one is brewing off the tracks and out of the pools: it's about what people are wearing.

"Ralph Lauren designed this year's Olympic gear for Team USA," says Michelle Dalton Tyree from Fashion Trends Daily, "and he's received some low scores in the social media universe."

Some have complained that Lauren's form of Americana, with its preppy, regatta style, is too WASP-y to represent the melting pot that is America.

The large Polo logo on the clothes did not win many fans, either.

"There have been calls to have a new American designer at the helm for the next Olympics other than Ralph Lauren, which has 5 Olympics under its belt," says Tyree.

There's another a controversy over sponsorship.

"Athletes can often have a variety of sponsors who are not official Olympic sponsors," says Tyree, "and this has been a big problem for those athletes who relay on those sponsorships, but couldn't tout them at the games."

When they compete, athletes have to block out the names and logos of their own personal sponsors.

The International Olympic Committee, however, started to allow nonofficial sponsors to create advertising campaigns tailored to athletes...provided those campaigns don't use key language tied to the Olympics.

Words like, "Rio," "gold" and even "summer" in some cases could run afoul of the Games.

Staci Riordan, an attorney in LA specializing in fashion law, tells her clients not only to steer clear of those red-flag terms and Olympic logos, but to capture the emotions of the Olympics instead.

"I tell them to pull on their customers' strings and evoke the feeling of the Olympics because emotions are not protectable under copyright infringement," says Riordan, "at least for now."

Riordan expects the IOC will start sending out legally threatening letters at the end of the month after the Olympics wrap, and no brand big or small is potentially exempt.