When Ralph was American

Back in 2012, a not insubstantial brouhaha erupted, all because a certain collection of clothing was not made in the USA. Ralph Lauren was awarded the contract to design and produce outfits for U.S. athletes for the London Olympics opening ceremony.

Turns out, that everything the athletes wore was manufactured in China. As fashion designer Nanette Lepore astutely observed, “Why shouldn’t we have pride not only in the American athletes but in the American manufacturers and laborers who are the backbone of our country?”

Two years later, stung by criticism from both sides of the political divide, Ralph didn’t make the same mistake. The company’s outfits for the 2014 Winter Olympics all were made in the USA.

Still, the controversy symbolized just how far Ralph Lauren has fallen. Three decades ago, it would have been inconceivable that the company, rooted in an American look, would turn its back so completely on American manufacturing.

Ralph Lauren is as egregious an outsourcer as you’ll find. Their factories–located in countries rife with human rights abuses–routinely pay wages below the subsistence level.

Ralph Lauren is hardly alone in this. But they traffic in a definably American aesthetic, so their abdication of responsibility to American manufacturing is particularly galling. It’s hardly unreasonable to expect that definably American goods be produced here. The issue is one of cultural authenticity.

The company’s web site has this to say from the man himself: “I have always been inspired by the dream of America.” Better it would be if he took inspiration from the reality of his native land.

I have a couple of Ralph Lauren items made in the USA, and they stand as symbols of a legacy betrayed: a tie I purchased from a thrift store in Salida, Colorado and a pair of suspenders I found in a discount store a few years ago.

RL Tie
Vintage Ralph Lauren tie, made in the USA


Susp Detail

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