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The comeback of the sweatpants

Our quarantine uniform has much more to do with the couch, than with sports

The comeback of the sweatpants Our quarantine uniform has much more to do with the couch, than with sports

You’re telling the world ‘I give up. I can’t compete in a normal society. I’m miserable so I might as well be comfortable’.

Jerry Seinfeld, normcore guru and well-known fan of the Nike Shox, thus scolded his friend George, surprised for the umpteenth time to wear a pair of sweatpants - sweatpants, soft, non-adherent ones, with an elastic on the waits, and possibly also at the ankles - in one of the most famous scenes of his homonymous sitcom.

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I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.

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In these quarantine days we are all a bit George, let's face it: over the weeks we have forgotten the good intentions on dressing and settling down as if we were actually going to leave home and go to work. We soon got tired of online workouts and training apps, as soon as we realized that this summer we won't be able to put on our bathing suits, we resigned ourselves (and that the money for the gym subscription is now lost). We seem perpetually Ben Stiller in The Tenenbaums, the other clothes hanging in the closet look with envy on the tracksuit we never separate from.

In the last few days, even she has succumbed. Despite the always impeccable blonde bob, the inevitable dark sunglasses, with bon ton cardigan - to always look good during video calls - Anna Wintour has matched very ordinary and normal sweatpants, perhaps even a little creased, the same ones that only a few months ago had sworn not to even own. But this quarantine has changed everything, for everyone, and even if you are the director of Vogue USA, as well as the most powerful woman in the fashion world, or by virtue of all this, you can show off a pair of sweatpants.

Let's be honest, however, Wintour wanted to get on the winners' cart, and she did it a little too late: we ordinary mortals have been living in sweatpants for two months now, our only and true hobby when we still had a busy life and weekends only meant to lie on the couch (good times right?). And this is precisely the point. Wearing a tracksuit today, changing clothes by giving up jeans, shirts and skirts, to put on soft cotton trousers, has much more to do with relaxing than with sport. We know that our wardrobe owes a lot to the world of sport, think only about the success of sneakers in the last thirty years. Some have even speculated that all we wear is athleisure, and never before has this claim been true. 

For the invention of the tracksuit, we have to thank the founder of Le Coq Sportif, Émile Camuset, who in the 1920s created a comfortable alternative in which to train and run, designed for professional athletes. It follows a few years later with a similar creation, this time for the Italian national team involved in the 1932 Summer Olympics, signed by Ottavio Missoni. But it is thanks to pop culture that the tracksuit definitely crossed the boundary dictated by athletics tracks and professional gyms, and climbing the steps of Philadelphia became the most desired - and worn item of the moment. Rocky had created a hugely popular ideal, but workout videos marked the definitive consecration of the sweatpants.

Jane Fonda's training tapes are a game-changer in the sector, not only because they revolutionize the wardrobe of the eighties, decreeing the success of tight leggings and brands such as Reebok, at the time a true and often successful competitor of Nike, but above all, because they reflect a change in mentality. The myth of a healthy lifestyle is born, made of diets, healthy smoothies, simple workouts, to be done every day, in the living room at home, without the need for a personal trainer or to pay. Consequently, it becomes acceptable to wear those same clothes to leave the house, without relegating them exclusively to the idea of training, especially to show that you follow that lifestyle, cool and fashionable. 

At the same time, the other side of the health lifestyle medal of one of the future protagonists of Grace & Frankie is the advent of new sedentary hobbies, such as video games, for which a comfortable pant was ideal for spending long hours on the sofa. The moment we are living now, these days of home lockdown, offer a parable similar to that of Jane Fonda's golden decade, with the exception that today for the physical activity we prefer technical fabrics, leggings and solutions designed specifically for activities different, while the more casual suit is the elegant alternative to pyjamas.

The impact that hip-hop culture will have shortly on the iconography and the success of the suit is unprecedented. What was initially a comfortable but trendy alternative to move easily and therefore to breakdance and dance in clubs, becomes a uniform, the uniform of a subculture that intertwines music, fashion, black culture and dance. There is nothing more representative of the style of the Run DMC with their adidas tracksuit, which has definitely entered the collective imagination.

It is the prerogative of contemporary fashion to mix areas and inspirations. 2013 was the year in which the athleisure trend became mainstream, with many low-cost chains, but not only, from H&M to Urban Outfitters, that started marketing real collections of sports items, while the sales of jeans, the most transversal, therefore, the most successful piece of clothing ever made, began to drop significantly. To contribute to the further success of the trend, the great designers of the moment intervene, from Gosha Rubchinskiy, who between Post-Soviet and the resurrection of the Chav style, also collaborated with adidas, to John Elliot, up to the luxury alternatives of the sweatpants, made by Louis Vuitton, Off-White, and GucciChampion itself launched collaborations with Supreme and Rick Owens among others. 

Even Childish Gambino said it, in the song Sweatpants. Without ever citing the item in question, the American rapper justified the song by declaring that "rich people can wear whatever they want". He immediately explains this concept in the first episode of his new show, #BlackAF, Kenya Barris, creator of Black-ish, who in his new mockumentary on Netflix tells the style and the habits of a self-made and enriched African American, first of all, the tracksuit - of velvet, in technical fabric, logoed, coordinated -, signed Gucci, Balenciaga, Off-White, Fendi, Fear Of God, the only item in its wardrobe, but never for playing sports, just for doing business.

In 2019, the athleisure industry was worth $167 billion, a figure destined to rise in 2020, judging by the growth in sales of sweatpants only since the beginning of the year (+39%). Because if we spend the days at home, lazy and unmotivated, miserable as only the good George Costanza can be, better to do it in a brand new suit.