“No Sweats”: Glamour in the COVID 19 Era

Norma Kamali uses sweatshirt material for her Resort 2021 Collection
Photo: vogue.com

The cover story of last weekend’s The New York Times Magazine, “Sweatpants Forever” by Irina Aleksander, painted a doom and gloom picture of the fashion industry and examined what will happen now that no one has a reason to dress up. “Will people buy clothes that aren’t sweatpants in the near future?” The young freelance writer’s specific focus was on Scott Sternberg and his company Entireworld whose motto is “the stuff you live in,”

Sternberg, the former CEO and founder of Band of Outsiders created Entireworld in 2018. Little did he know that his collection of inexpensive unisex basics would be perfect for sheltering in place. In fact, this was the only category of clothing that sold after the pandemic hit. The website is filled with t-shirts, sweatshirts, and sweatpants that are over made to be sized and unapologetic-ally un fashionable. Sweats are getting a bad rap these days. The truth is; sweats can look chic depending on their design and how they are worn.

There was an article in The New York Times about bicycle shorts coming back, “Bike Shorts. It’s Your Time to Shine” by Eliza Brooke, August 13th. If you can make a case for bicycle shorts, why not sweats, or anything else? The truth is, you can!

All bets are off right now. Nothing is as usual.

Norma Kamali Resort 2021 collection
Photo: vogue.com

Norma Kamali has done more to glamorize sweatshirt dressing than any other designer. In fact, she makes sweats look like couture. The award-winning innovator who always leaps years ahead of everyone else put them on the map in 1979. They are still a large part of Norma’s business.

For her resort 2021 collection, Norma used gray sweatshirt material to fashion everything from dresses and tailored blazers, to duster coats, and to the more traditional sporty items one associate with this material. That being said, sweats are not for everyone, especially in their generic form.

Sandy Schreier told me that she wore a sweatsuit on a trip to the pharmacy. The pharmacist, a man she has known for 25 years, did not recognize her. Sandy said it was not because she was wearing a mask and had no makeup on. It’s because she is known for her dressed up attire.

Amy Fine Collins at @amyfinecollinsibdl

Amy Fine Collins’ idea of a sweatsuit is a caftan. When Amy wants to be comfortable at home, she wears one of her many caftans. She is pictured here wearing Tory Burch accessorized with a Kokin hat and Selima sunglasses. Amy doesn’t own a sweatsuit and says you shouldn’t confuse them with fashion. They are, as John Fairchild would say, “body coverings.

Amy dresses up every day and posts images on Instagram. Last week, there was a picture of Amy barefoot on a paddleboard in her pond wearing a long Alice + Olivia dress. Amy is not the only one getting all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Ari Cohen
Photo: nytimes.com

Ruth La Ferla’s recent article, “All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go,” August 11, supports Eleanor Lambert’s contention that “you cannot separate people, their yearning, their dreams, and their inborn vanity from their clothing.” It is in direct contradiction to Ms. Aleksander’s cover story. None of the “fashion faithful” Ruth profiles are wearing sweats. At least, not in the images of their mood-boosting fanciful dress, which are posted on Instagram.

Many things have changed, but human nature is what it is, and there will always be a desire to get dressed up and use fashion as a way of self-expression and identity. We all want to look good and be comfortable, whether we are at home, on a Zoom call, or having lunch or a drink outside with a friend.

Bleusalt The Cindy Pant
Photo: bleusalt.com

Bleusalt’s Cindy pant, $160, (named after Cindy Crawford), is a chic take on a sweatpant. The Kaia pant was recently added ($130). Both Gerbers are friends of Lyndie Benson, who founded the Malibu-based line of 100% sustainable elevated basics in 2017. It’s sort of a fashionable version of Entireworld.

Bleusalt The Shirt and The Skirt in camel
Photo: bleusalt.com

Like everything else in the well-priced collection, it is made from an eco-friendly soft, breathable cashmere-like fabric. The well-edited line includes items such as a wrap dress, a tube skirt, joggers, leggings, a classic shirt, a sleep shirt, sleep shorts, a polo shirt, and scarves and wraps in varying sizes. Everything is fitted, not oversized, and meant to be worn from day to evening. The color palette is sophisticated: all the items are available in black, navy, white, light gray and beige, See: www.bluesalt.com
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Altuzarra Resort 2021
Photo: vogue.com

Ease, lightness, and movement are the operative words Joseph Altuzarra uses to describe his resort 2021 collection. The collection is feminine and flattering (everything is belted), refined yet with a very appealing ruggedness. The collection is neither loungewear nor athleisure, and there is nary a sweatpant insight. Although Joseph’s soft gray flannel cardigan jacket and matching trousers could be considered a stylish version of a sweatsuit.

Altuzarra Resort 2021
Photo: vogue.com

Perfectly proportioned and beautifully fabricated, the overall feeling is relaxed, cozy, and chic. The emphasis is on deconstructed tailoring, elongated shirt dressing, and soft knitted separates. Platform lace-up velvet boots provide the perfect balance. Its modern glamour hitting just the right note.

“I think that attitude about people not dressing up is over and I think people are on the rebound. I think that taking pride in your appearance surpasses fashion. It’s really your own self-respect”- Yeohlee Teng

Yeohlee Serra 2017 Exhibition at the Phoenix Museum of Art
Photo: azredbook.com

Efficiency, concise functionality, and striking geometrical designs are at the heart of Yeohlee’s designs. Some of her pieces are included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum at FIT, the Victoria and Albert Museum, LACMA. “Whether you are in the Alps or New York City, you have to dress for the environment, and then you have to dress efficiently,” says the designer.

Yeohlee Black Gabardine Holster Pants from Fall 2020 Ready-to-Wear
Photo by Kyle Ericksen

Yeohlee’s best seller is the Holster Pocket Pant. There are a lot of pockets in Yeohlee’s clothes because of the pickpockets she says. The pockets are efficient and also great for gestures, giving you a place to put your hands. This $750 version, in wrinkle-resistant, washable black gabardine (100% microfiber), has the comfort and ease of a sweatpant but is so divinely chic, it could easily work for evening.

Zero waste and up-cycling have been part of Yeohlee’s core ethos from the very beginning when it was founded. Yeohlee believes in consuming all our waste and working toward zero inventory. All of Yeohlee’s clothing patterns have incorporated the principle of maximum utilization of fabric.

Yeohlee’s signature garment is a one-size-fits-all hooded cape cut from a single 3.25-yard piece of 60-inch fabric, using all of the material with no waste whatsoever. This unique cape brought Yeohlee her widespread attention when it was included in her first collection in 1981, and it has been in every one of her collections since then.

Yeohlee black and white poncho Fall 2020 Ready-to-Wear
Photo by Kyle Ericksen

For Fall 2020, Yeohlee created a striking version in a heavy black and white gunmetal water repellent textile, $1950. It has a diagonal seam across the back so it can be worn by itself or over your other coats and has inside pockets belted under the cape. Also, it’s voluminous enough to ensure that you stay 6 feet away from your fellow citizens.

I spoke with Yeohlee last week. The designer absolutely does not believe that the world is reverting to sweatpants. Yeohlee’s shop at 12 West 29th Street (212 244 8635) reopened in Phase 1 and they have been continually selling on YEOHLEE.COM. Yeohlee is making a wedding dress for a client, and she has customers who need extraordinary things. Dropping by are friends and loyal customers like Bobbi Queen, Valerie Steele, Deborah Berke, the Yale Graduate School of Architecture chair, and Helen Mills, the chair of the fundraising department at Baruch College.

“You can’t underestimate that warm and happy feeling that you get when you buy something you love and treat yourself nicely. In these times, those things have merit” – Yeohlee.

“We still have joy in design, we still have joy in construction, we still have joy in fabrics that are washable and fabrics that have color, and we still have joy when people appreciate them and buy them and then reorder them” observes Yeohlee.

Yeohlee sketch for Spring 2021

For Spring 2021, Yeohlee is using a lot of natural fibers and is upcycling everything. It’s a collection where the fabrics flow from the beginning to now. As for the silhouette? Yeohlee thinks more about function and style. Whatever fits that mood is what she will go for.

“Spring 2021 won’t be your usual thing,” she promises. The one thing you won’t see is sweatpants.

Marilyn Kirschner
Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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