Let's talk figure skating outfits.

Scenes from the Olympics.
Feb. 17 2010 2:57 PM

The Overalls of Doom

Let's talk figure skating outfits.

Check out Slate's complete coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Also enjoy this Magnum Photos gallery on ice skating.

Italy's Samuel Contesti. Click image to expand.
Italy's Samuel Contesti

Tuesday night's segment on Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko was the most overwrought athlete profile NBC has aired this week—no mean distinction. The world has not seen such grand brooding since The Cure last played Wembley. Watching the profile, we often saw Plushenko in profile—for instance when he drove the dour streets of his native land as if en route not to the rink but to a contract killing. At one point, a reflection of a set of onion domes rippled in an ominous puddle.

"My enemies, they worry about me because I'm back," said Plushenko, eager to cultivate an aspect that would not be out of place in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. He would rather be feared than loved, a point hardly lost on analyst Dick Button: "He likes, I think, looking like an evil character." Evaluating the villain's work in the short program, Button further noted that Plushenko "Commands you to look at him." More precisely, his every sweep of the arm is an order to behold in awe what he has wrought. His Prince of Darkness get-up—an Elvis-ish outfit that made him look like a top boss in the Memphis Mafiya—completed the mood.

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Many of Plushenko's competitors likewise favored basic black. By local standards, they were downright understated. (As a general rule, no one dared to scale the heights of bad taste achieved by the Ukranian pairs team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov, who, in their lapis lazuli sci-fi jumpsuits, had clearly beamed down from an Ed Wood film.) Vera Wang—practiced, as our foremost designer of wedding gowns, in elaborating fairy tales—transformed Evan Lysacek into a princely black swan. The ill-considered Dem Bones get-up of Belgium's Kevin van der Perren at least had minimalism going for it. Even Johnny Weir showed relative restraint—and when I say restraint, I am not referring to the hot-pink laces on his Vivienne Westwood-does-Rocky Horror sort of corset.

No, most of the burden of ridiculousness was placed on the overall-strapped left shoulder of Samuel Contesti, who, as ESPN's Jim Caple unimprovably put it, was representing either Italy or the Clampett family. Dressed like a farm boy while somehow desecrating his harmonica-based musical accompaniment, Contesti was not just aesthetically but culturally offensive. His interpretation of America is grounded in a total ignorance of it, and it strongly implies that Robert Johnson, down at the crossroads, sold his soul not to the devil but to Hee Haw. I wanted to laugh at him when he fell down but could not, being already in stitches.

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Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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