In looking back over the year in fashion, If I had to choose one fashion item that, for better or worse, best symbolizes 2020, it would have to be sweatpants.
It was the only category of clothing that was flying off the shelves after the pandemic hit. They quickly became emblematic of our new “shelter in place” reality, illustrative of the casualization of life-and fashion- that followed and shall continue in the foreseeable future.
The cover story of The New York Times Magazine on Sunday, August 9th, was “Sweatpants Forever” by Irina Aleksander. It was about the unraveling of the fashion industry, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the words of the magazine’s creative director Gail Bichler, “The article explores why this moment belongs to sweatpants and how they are fundamentally changing the fashion industry”.
Ms. Aleksander painted a doom and gloom picture and questioned whether people would buy clothes that aren’t sweat pants if they didn’t have a reason to dress up. This sparked an immediate backlash. Unsurprisingly, it did not take long before sweats started taking on a negative connotation. Many COVID weary fashion figures said they wanted to burn their sweats and hoped never to see another pair again. Their demise is premature.
Coincidentally, “Ultimate Gray” was just named as one of Pantone’s Colors of the Year for 2021 (the other one is “Illuminating Yellow”). It resembles sweatshirt gray to me.
Like sneakers, jeans, or any other wardrobe basics, sweatpants are universal, democratic, and not class structured. They are just part of one’s wardrobe and not meant to replace anything else. Pandemic or no pandemic, there will always be a need for something that’s sporty, comfy, and easy to pull on, whether it’s for staying home or venturing outside.
Designers like Norma Kamali, Ralph Lauren, Rick Owens, Max Mara, Brandon Maxwell, Rag & Bone, and Givenchy (several of whom just unveiled their recent pre-fall and spring 2021 collections) are inspired by the underlying ease and comfort of a sweatpant. They are reinventing them in fresh new ways. At times, they are almost unrecognizable as sweatpants.
“It’s about combining your favorite looks with sophisticated comfort. Getting dressed now does not have to mean getting out of your favorite sweats”- Brandon Maxwell
Givenchy’s creative director, Matthew M. Williams, continues to focus on strong-shouldered suits and strict tailoring. But for his pre-fall 2021 collection in Paris, Matthew included a group of sporty, athletic-inspired bombers and sweatpants-like leggings. The cool sports shoe and bag, embellished with the designer’s signature edgy metal spikes, embue an edge.
One of the coolest versions I’ve seen is Rick Owens’ iteration. Rick slims down the silhouette of a traditional sweatpant/jogger and uses luxurious tan goat leather/cotton spandex for his ultra-chic iteration. It is currently on sale for $1311 at bergdorfgoodman.com.
For those who want something festive for the holidays but refuse to give up the comfort of a sweatpant, there are many dazzling options. Norma Kamali’s wide-legged BF Elephant elastic waist sweatpants, made of silver ripstop, is on sale for $125. It is available at normakamali.com.
Dolce & Gabbana’s sparkling gold-tone sequined sweatpants feature a drawstring waist, side pockets, black & white piped logo, and branded drawstring waist. They were reduced from $1766 –$1236 and are available at farfetch.com.
Karl Lagerfeld’s silver-coated cotton sweatpants with a futuristic KARL log will assuredly light up the night. They sell for $225 and are available at karl.com/us.
Karl once famously said, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants.” Karl never lived through a pandemic, and clearly, he would not object to some of the appealing and updated versions available now.