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The Case for Sweatpants – The Atlantic

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To mid-aughts celebrities corresponding to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, they had been excessive vogue. To the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Eva Mendes, they’re an indication of defeat; they declare to the world, as Jerry tells George Costanza within the Seinfeld pilot, “I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.”

And because the begin of the pandemic, sweatpants have turn out to be maybe extra ubiquitous than ever.

“A lot of people who had been going to offices stopped going to offices for the foreseeable future,” Amanda Mull, a employees author for The Atlantic, says. “I think people were forced to decide what it is they want to wear for this new circumstance they’re in.”

In this episode of the brand new podcast The Experiment, Mull and the host, Julia Longoria, hint sweatpants via U.S. historical past and debate an age-old query: Do they symbolize laziness, or freedom?

Further studying: “America’s Most Hated Garment”


Be a part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at theexperiment@theatlantic.com.

This episode was produced by Julia Longoria, Gabrielle Berbey, and Alvin Melathe, with modifying by Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Stephanie Hayes. Sound design by David Herman.

Music by Ob (“Grot”), and r mccarthy (“Learning English”), water function (“with flowers”), Laurie Bird (“Jussa Trip”), Column (“「The Art of Fun」 (Raj)”), infinite bisous (“The Past Tense”), and Nelson Bandela (“561 Mac D 10,” “011 HareDoe 019 8396,” “GLU EEE 86”), offered by Tasty Morsels and Nelson Nance. Additional audio from DigitalPimple, Glamourdaze, International Fitness Center, The Richard Simmons Show, Jane Fonda, Hudson’s Bay, Atelier ID, Breakin’ in the USA, WABC, Dance Centre, Adidas, Seinfeld, watchFashionNews, Extra, Vogue, and X17online


A transcript of this episode is offered beneath:

(Dramatic, nostalgic music from a mid-Twentieth-century PSA performs.)

André Baruch: (From the Nineteen Fifties movie Fashions for the Office.) She’s searching for a job, and he or she’s dressed for it too! Tastefully, not expensively.

Host of a Nineteen Seventies vogue PSA: You know, clothes is definitely the primary visible impression different folks have of us. Some say it’s a key to how we seem to others. It, uh, communicates!

Baruch: They not solely look good to us—they’re a superb funding.

(Music echoes, swells, after which subsides.)

Julia Longoria: Hi, Amanda. This is Julia.

Amanda Mull: Hey, Julia! How are you?

Longoria: Nice to fulfill you! [Hesitating.] Not to be an entire creep proper now—and we’ve by no means really met in particular person, due to the pandemic—however my first query for you is “What are you wearing?”

Mull: I’m sporting, um, a kind of shapeless dress-slash-top … (Continues underneath narration.)

Longoria: Amanda Mull is a employees author at The Atlantic. She tries to elucidate who we’re as Americans via materials issues like magnificence merchandise, kitchen home equipment, and the garments we put on—or don’t put on.

Longoria: Like, there’s no strategy to say this with out sounding creepy. [Both laugh.] Are you sporting pants?

Mull: I’m not. I’m not sporting pants … (Continues underneath narration.)

Longoria: And these days she’s been spending numerous time excited about pants. Or not pants, per se, however what pants should say about us.

Mull: I believe that vogue is a social language.

(Slow percussion performs, rising weirder.)

Mull: When I used to be in highschool in 2003, it was the primary time that I had had an excellent regular paycheck. What I wished to do was purchase a Coach bag.

(The music turns into louder and wackier, extra whimsical.)

Mull: I wished to be the kind of one that carried a purse that prices a pair hundred {dollars}. That simply appeared like probably the most refined, grownup factor that I might do, based mostly on my conception of what refined adults did in suburban Atlanta.

(A light-weight, reverb-laden horn riff performs.)

Longoria: It’s so humorous: The Coach bag was so the factor in suburban Miami, Florida, as properly. It was, like, the—the pinnacle.

Mull: Yeah. At some level, it was kind of like, “Oh, I have psychoanalyzed myself. I understand that my desire for these things …” It was positively a striving impulse.

(A fast second of music earlier than the narration resumes.)

Longoria: It’s the sort of the factor you realize, even should you haven’t spent numerous time excited about stuff like this. Clothes converse. They can no less than attempt to inform folks issues, like “I’m rich.” Or “I’m at a funeral.” We’ve arrange virtually, like, these legal guidelines in American life about who will get to put on white at sure occasions, or what it means to put on pink. But, on this time when many people are barely seeing one another, Amanda’s been excited about how the foundations change—which brings us again to pants.

Mull: I believe the, uh—the clothes merchandise of the pandemic is sweatpants.

(A clip from Seinfeld performs.)

Jerry Seinfeld: Again with the sweatpants? (Audience laughter.)

George Costanza: What? I’m comfy!

Seinfeld: You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, “I give up. I can’t compete in normal society.” (Fades out.)

(The Seinfeld clip ends.)

Mull: I believe that sweatpants have been painted, over time, as an aesthetic indicator of laziness.

(A clip of an Extra interview with Eva Mendes performs.)

Eva Mendes: (Indignantly.) Sweatpants?! No—no, no, no.

A. J. Calloway: (Shocked.) Never?

Mendes: No, no.

Calloway: Wow!

Mendes: You can’t do sweatpants. [A beat.] Ladies! No. 1 explanation for divorce in America: sweatpants. (Calloway laughs.)

(The clip ends.)

Mull: And that made me an increasing number of inquisitive about how in a different way they may very well be painted. Like, are sweatpants laziness, or are they freedom?

(Music dramatically adjustments tone, changing into delicate and sleek, piano-driven.)

Longoria: Sweatpants. Not probably the most urgent situation dealing with our nation, I do know. But once you stroll via the lengthy and winding historical past of this pair of pants—the sophisticated relationship it’s had with mainstream tradition—a narrative emerges about who we’re and what we worth.

This week, Amanda Mull unwinds the connection we didn’t know we had with sweatpants and makes the case for the way embracing them may simply set you free.

I’m Julia Longoria. This is The Experiment, a present about our unfinished nation.

(The sound falters, then cuts out.)

Mull: To embrace sweatpants as freedom, it’s important to perceive why folks oppose them so vociferously within the first place.

Sweatpants got here from the identical place that numerous the trendy American wardrobe got here from, which is athletics. They had been invented within the Twenties in France by a French, uh, sportswear model for French athletes, so I believe largely tennis gamers, at first. The materials that they’re typically product of is French terry.

Longoria: What is French terry?

Mull: It’s sweatshirt materials, is what you consider. The inside sweatpants feels kind of like a towel as a result of that was actually what they had been for: to soak up sweat. And they had been as soon as thought-about intolerably informal and disrespectful to put on in well mannered firm.

Longoria: Sweatpants started their life humbly as a sponge for French sweat. Definitely unsophisticated—additionally, truthfully, just a little gross. But they didn’t keep that means. Half a century later, once they made their strategy to American shores, they slowly tiptoed their means into the mainstream.

Mull: So they began to enter the wardrobe within the Eighties, uh, when, culturally, the United States was having a growth in health.

Richard Simmons: Okay, give me that great music.

(The music of an ’80s-style train video performs, reveling within the synthesizer.)

Simmons: (Emphasizing every phrase.) Here we go! Inhale!

Mull: You get the rise of train celebrities: Richard Simmons …  

Jane Fonda: Are you able to do the exercise? (Video members cheer and say, “Yeah!” excitedly.)

Mull: Jane Fonda.

Fonda: … This is a newbie’s exercise. (Fades out.)

Mull: Some of these folks emerged within the ’70s to start with, however the ’80s is the place issues actually ramped up.

(Music has reduce out, and is changed by dramatic, punchy business music.)

Commercial voice 1: (Dramatically.) Winter heat!

Mull: It was instantly very, highly regarded to be an individual who exercised and who wore clothes that indicated that you simply exercised.

Commercial voice 1: Jogging fits for winter exercises …

Commercial voice 2: … Activewear designed to suit your routine!

Mull: Which implies that you had individuals who wished to purchase sweatpants.

Commercial voice 3: Worn by the nation’s hottest stars …  

Mull: They had been a standing indicator.

Commercial voice 4: (Singing.) I’ve bought worldwide aptitude, making him know I care!

Mull: And then you definately additionally get the rise of hip-hop tradition.

(Hip-hop music performs beneath the subsequent part.)

Announcer: Ladies and gents, homeboys, homegirls: the New York City Breakers!

Mull: Break dancing, issues like that had been highly regarded, and people, these are athletic actions.

Carlos De Jesus: Break dancing is just a little bit like jazz, the place, uh, you improvise round some primary strikes.

Mull: They require a spread of movement.

Break-dancing voice-over: Bring your proper leg underneath and your proper arm over.

Mull: It’s a lot more durable to do this in denims than it’s to do it in a pair of sweatpants.

Break-dancing voice-over: Kick your left leg and return. Kick your proper leg

Mull: And additionally they had been cool … [The sounds of a helicopter taking off play.] as a result of Run-DMC preferred them.

(The Run-DMC business for Adidas performs beneath the narration.)

Mull: Okay, that is the enduring Run-DMC Adidas business. You see them coming in over New York City within the branded Run-DMC–Adidas helicopter. They’re stepping out.

(Run-DMC members say, “My Adidas!” earlier than the business cuts.)

Mull: They’re sporting sweatpants handled with some kind of, like, reflective remedy. Very kind of athletic-inspired, however clearly not meant to be doing something notably athletic in that second in addition to being a rap star. What qualifies as a sweatpant may be, uh, a kind of capacious—uh, capacious factor. [Longoria and Mull laugh.] Sweatpants include multitudes.

(The music comes again in for a quick flourish.)

Mull: So you’ve bought these two kind of disparate teams: one largely Black and youthful, one largely white and older. Both kind of began to circle round this identical kind of garment on the identical time. And these two issues got here collectively to make sweatpants a extremely cool, enjoyable factor to put on.

Longoria: Sweatpants hadn’t simply entered the mainstream. They’d beamed their means as much as the very pinnacle of cool in American society. But Americans are notoriously fickle, and sweatpants couldn’t hold on for lengthy.

Mull: So simply as sweatpants had been kind of getting their second, all of those higher choices that may actually simply present folks your physique—which is what leggings do, which is what spandex does—all of those higher choices got here on-line. So sweatpants, then, kind of shifted within the well-liked mindset as a result of they had been saggy, as a result of they didn’t present your form in any respect. So they—they went from being an indication of athleticism to being an indication that you simply simply wished to put on a pair of shapeless, stretchy pants. That’s how sweatpants kind of bought laundered into this narrative of laziness, of giving up.

Longoria: Hmm.

Mull: You get this cycle occurring many times and once more, of one thing that appeared uncontroversial in a roundabout way for a very long time will instantly turn out to be lame … [Both chuckle.] will instantly turn out to be one thing your mother does or one thing that doesn’t really feel culturally related to you in any respect. And they stayed like that for about 15 years.

Longoria: Throughout the ’90s, sweatpants went again to being simply sweatpants. Something comfy to put on. Basic. Utilitarian.

They had been ready for one thing—or somebody—to select them again up once more. Like we’ve seen time and again in vogue historical past, somebody with energy can take a primary garment and make it go viral.

Mull: The previous a number of hundred years of vogue have seen this occur again and again. Um, an instance of this from vogue historical past is Marie Antoinette.

(Slow, echoing pipe-organ music performs.)

Mull: Marie Antoinette’s courtroom was recognized for being terribly formal. People wore monumental, ornate robes, completed with the best materials, with jewels.

Longoria: They had the Coach baggage of their day, I assume.

Mull: Yes, they’d the Coach baggage of their day. But there’s this one well-known portrait of Marie Antoinette sporting what was referred to as, on the time, a gown de gaulle.

(The music picks up, changing into bouncier, airier.)

Mull: It’s this gauzy, white costume, tied on the waist with a ribbon. And there’s no corset. It simply appears to be like kind of diaphanous.

(Music halts abruptly.)

Longoria: Diaphanous! What an exquisite phrase. [Both laugh.] What does diaphanous imply?

Mull: It’s a type of phrases you be taught writing about vogue.

Longoria: Yeah. (Laughs.)

(Music resumes.)

Mull: It means kind of, like, one thing that’s mild and skims the physique—comparatively comfy to put on. It was, by the point’s requirements, and particularly for somebody of Marie Antoinette’s social class, mainly underwear.

And this was, you realize, actually controversial on the time. But the younger girls of France instantly wished to decorate like Marie Antoinette, on this kind of unencumbered, delicately female means. So that’s, like, an actual turning level—I believe—in historical past that you would be able to see repeated many times as folks resolve that they need to put on one thing that’s just a little bit extra comfy than what they’ve been requested to put on.

(The music turns into lush; a harpsichord-esque synthesizer performs in.)

Mull: Wearing corsets and finery and clothes that weigh God is aware of what number of kilos each single day needs to be just a little bit a lot. [Longoria breaths as if to indicate understanding.] It can be annoying to me. I don’t even, like, put on, um, actual pants.

Longoria: After the break, sweatpants get their Marie Antoinette.

Mull: And then you definately get to the 2000s, the place a lot about tradition went … bizarre. (Both chuckle.)

(The music slows, then quiets simply as a bell rings to sign the break.)

(The break.)

Paris Hilton: Let’s speak in regards to the Juicy Couture tracksuit.

Mull: Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are, to a sure extent, the Marie Antoinettes of sweatpants.

Hilton: I wished to be comfy and cute.

(The sounds of a gaggle of paparazzi and a voice saying, “M’kay. Bye, Britney!”)

Mull: In 2003, paparazzi tradition meant that this group of girls was kind of inescapable.

Paparazzo: (Over the sound of cameras clicking) Britney, inform us what you’re gonna be for Halloween!

Britney Spears: I don’t know!

Mull: All of a sudden you had roving bands of photographers out, seeking to {photograph} stars doing their errands, going to the grocery retailer.

Hilton: I actually couldn’t depart my home with out being mobbed each single day.

Spears: I simply need my Starbucks, y’all. He’s taking perpetually.

Mull: Before that interval, there have been additionally all the time gossip rags, however with paparazzi, you possibly can see stars simply kind of wandering Los Angeles.

Spears: Why are you so near my automobile?

Mull: And numerous them had been wandering Los Angeles in none aside from Juicy Couture tracksuits.

Hilton: (Over mild music.) I’ve a complete closet that’s solely Juicy Couture. It’s someplace I am going in each single day and simply placed on my Juice.

(A bell dings and the music and background noise go quiet.)

Mull: Which is an organization that I believe most individuals are most likely properly aware of now that began in California with two kind of youngish girls.

So they, uh, designed this sweat swimsuit that was extraordinarily tight. It actually hugged the physique. The pants portion was very low rise, so, you realize, should you had been a real mid-2000s babe, you possibly can let your thong strap peek out of it just a little bit, which upset lots of people’s mother and father.

(Longoria and Mull chuckle.)

Mull: It was actually like somebody went right into a, uh, clothes manufacturing unit and went, “What if sweatpants, but sexy?” (Both chuckle once more.)

Gretchen Mol: They’re simply comfy and female.

Gela Nash-Taylor: It makes folks comfortable.

Sarah Michelle Gellar: My first Juicy merchandise was a black sweat swimsuit, matching pants and jacket.

Abigail Breslin: I really like Juicy! I, like, put on their garments on a regular basis.

Nash-Taylor: Everybody loves Juicy.

Mull: And these tracksuits offered like hotcakes. They had been the most important factor going for years.

Longoria: I keep in mind, like, seeing these, and simply being like, “How are people paying this much money … [Laughs.] to—to have ‘Juicy’ in, like, little diamonds across their butts? Like, how did we get here?”

Mull: Right, proper. And again in, like, 2003, 2004, paying $200 for a sweat swimsuit meant much more in that period than it might proper now. And it’s nonetheless fairly some huge cash to pay for a sweat swimsuit proper now.

Longoria: And so what occurred? I imply, I—you realize, I appear to keep in mind that Paris Hilton and Britney Spears sort of pale from the favored consciousness, and so did sweatpants, proper?

Mull: Yeah. It was kind of just like what occurred within the Eighties with sweatpants. Some higher choices come alongside.

So folks moved on—first, to yoga pants. And then, after yoga pants, comes all the athleisure that we have now now, like very high-tech compression leggings.

Sweatpants, I believe, kind of went again to their standing as being for individuals who had given up. Sweatpants went again to being sweatpants, that are elastic-waisted, and saggy, and kind of shapeless, and a pleasure to put on whilst you’re sitting on the sofa. But an aesthetic marker of—of issues that individuals didn’t need to be accused of.

(Moderate-tempo, chilled-out music performs.)

Longoria: To the mainstream, sweatpants grew to become kind of embarrassing. Something personal that you simply’d put on to be comfy at residence, on the sofa—however not in public. And positively not at work.

But final 12 months, all of that modified.

Mull: Lots of people who had been going to workplaces stopped going to workplaces for the foreseeable future—stopped going to eating places, stopped occurring dates. If you’ll be able to keep residence, which is fortunate in and of itself, you kind of should cope with the bodily realities of staying residence, which suggests numerous sitting for prolonged durations of time. You may need to run after children. You may need to rise up and begin cooking.

So having one thing that’s comfy and versatile and never treasured … to put on proper now’s, I believe, ultimate proper now, for lots of people. And everyone’s comfortable, and sporting sweatpants.

[After a moment.] Well, not everyone’s comfortable. Everybody’s depressing, however— [Laughter.] however no less than they’re comfortable to be sporting sweatpants.

Longoria: In the pandemic, sweatpants are again within the mainstream. But this time, it’s not as a result of an influencer made them cool once more, not as a result of folks need to signify some kind of cultural cachet. They’re again as a result of folks working from residence aren’t making an attempt to suggest something in any respect.

Mull: I believe the sweatpants are kind of, in some senses, a void. Where folks constructed up identities to display to the surface world—constructed wardrobes to make themselves match their jobs or their social lives or the self that they need to mission at their children’ college conferences, issues like that … When you’re at residence, you’re not projecting something to the surface world. And once you don’t have the chance to do this anymore, what do you put on? What do you worth? What turns into essential to clothes then?

And for lots of people, I believe it’s simply consolation. It’s not having to consider what you’re sporting, as a result of there are such a lot of different annoying issues to consider.

(The chilled-out music performs up for a second as a voice, auto-tuned past recognition or comprehension, sings.)

Longoria: I don’t know. I assume, like, I respect that you simply’re leaning into the sweatpants, however I’ve bought to say I’m … [Sighs.] For some motive, early on within the pandemic—it’s sort of gotten much less so these days—however I might get up and placed on pants and placed on make-up and placed on, like, do the entire thing, placed on my face, although we had been simply in our flats.

(Music stops.)

Longoria: And I assume I … There’s one thing in regards to the ritual of that, of, like, placing on exhausting pants, denims or no matter, that I actually maintain on to. Maybe you don’t need to be your full self at work, proper? Like, your—your full self is personal. Um, and—and that act of placing one thing on sort of separates work from life.

Mull: Yeah, I believe that for lots of people, that’s a really actual factor. So I can perceive desirous to get that again in some capability. For me, it’s doing my hair. Even if no one sees me, besides my little canine, um … [Both laugh.] It is a means that I—that I maintain on to the person who I’m outdoors of my residence. So I believe that that might be just a little bit totally different for everyone.

Longoria: In the pandemic, sweatpants have achieved one thing uncommon in vogue: They’ve turn out to be near common. But there are nonetheless haters on the market. There are nonetheless individuals who suppose that, like a towel for French sweat, sweatpants are just a little gross.

Mull: I believe that individuals who nonetheless hate sweatpants in any case of this time hate it as a result of they hate different folks’s freedom and so they hate the consolation that different folks have embraced that they themselves haven’t allowed themselves to have but.

Longoria: What do you imply?

Mull: Because sweatpants are for when it’s worthwhile to be comfy. They may be for when your denims don’t match like they used to, or they may be for once you simply don’t need to shove your self right into a pair of super-structured pants, or they may be once you need to chill out. And I believe that America, as a rustic and as a tradition, typically has an issue with, like, consolation for consolation’s sake. You know, we have now a hardcore, strict, Puritan background that also rears its head often in—in the way in which folks make assumptions about others and their intentions and what we must always all worth.

I believe that being actually upset once you see any individual else being comfy comes from a perception that … discomfort is critical. And that you simply deserve some kind of cultural credit score for placing your self via it. And that individuals who resolve to not put themselves via it are one way or the other, in a roundabout way, inferior to you due to that alternative. People who reject that, and reject the worth of all of the power they’ve spent on it for his or her complete lives, may be actually upsetting.

And I believe that it doesn’t make sense to object to sweatpants, as a result of aren’t there instances that everyone desires to chill out? To simply take pleasure in their physique as their physique desires to be?

I believe that’s superb. I don’t suppose that there’s a superb motive to shit on that.

(Fluttering, dreamily ambient music performs.)

Mull: I don’t suppose folks have to put on sweatpants in the event that they don’t really feel like sporting sweatpants. But I believe that if that’s what their coronary heart tells them, then they need to go for it.

Alvin Melathe: This episode was produced by Julia Longoria, Gabrielle Berbey, and me, Alvin Melathe. Editing by Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Stephanie Hayes. Sound design by David Herman. Music for this episode by Tasty Morsels and Nelson Nance. Our workforce additionally consists of Emily Botein, Matt Collette, Tracie Hunte, and Natalia Ramirez.

If you want what you’ve heard, please inform a good friend to take heed to our present. And be sure you charge and evaluation us on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listened to this episode.

The Experiment is a co-production of The Atlantic and WNYC Studios. Thanks for listening.

(The music performs for a number of seconds after the narration ends. Then quiet.)

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