A few months ago, I asked my wife’s permission to buy some sweatpants — not for jogging, or really for sweating of any kind.
I had been retargeted by enough ads online for Mack Weldon to start thinking about incorporating the concept of athleisure into my wardrobe, but my wife had always said sweatpants were a sign you’d given up on life. My old university classmate Cathal Kelly would likely agree.
In a recent column for the Globe and Mail (registration required), Cathal credits Kanye West for helping to push sweatpants to the mainstream. He sees it as symptomatic of a time in which everyone is struggling to find an impossible middle ground between individualism and conformism. This is made particularly difficult, he points out, by the pressure from social platforms like Instagram to continually showcase ourselves to a wide public.
“This new version of the tracksuit advertises to the world that you are an active person. Busy. Busybusybusy. Running around town doing chores. Ticking off a to-do list. Formerly a sign of the purest and most blissful form of laziness, jogging pants now signal the reverse,” Cathal writes. “A person in athleisure is a creative type, rootless, a traveller . . . .best to have a basic palette of interchangeable items that are not so different they require much thought, but different enough they seem curated. Athleisure does that.”
The column is an enjoyable read in its entirety — even in university, Cathal had a talent for cranky but highly articulate take-downs — but I can’t really agree with it.
If you look around, for instance, it’s not true that, as he says, “the fit is forgiving and the silhouette never changes.” Like hoodies, there are sweatpants available today that are basic and baggy or as sleek as a pair of dress pants.
Wearing sweatpants also doesn’t mean you’re stuck wearing all-athleisure, either. Plenty of brands, including Saks, have styled sweatpants up with a sportsjacket successfully.
Even if you stick with a basic black pair, influencers like Daniel Ocean have demonstrated their versatility.
I think in time we may look back on sweatpants the way we once have looked at denim jeans — a style of garment once associated with the working class that migrated into the everyday.
In the meantime, it’s natural that people might find their sudden popularity a little weird, or a bad sign of the times. These transitions in fashion don’t happen at the speed of a sprint. It’s usually more of a jog.