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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 1
Sporting sweatpants on the couch no longer signals laziness—or, for that matter, athleticism in repose. With the rise of athleisure and streetwear brands, pursued closely by or in collaboration with luxury brands, sweatpants are a fashion statement. And now that much of the world is at home all the time, it’s sweats’ time to shine. The foundation has been laid for this moment for years, as high-fashion brands have found they’re a way to make money off newly fashion-conscious men, and athletic brands discover a women’s market they’ve long underserved.
It’s still possible to project a genuinely unfashionable, ambivalent slovenliness with your ratty sweats emblazoned with a team or college logo, but it’s a lot harder than it used to be. Let’s get cozy.
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 2
30%: Share of respondents to a 2019 survey who said they don sportswear only for sporting purposes
60%: Share who wear it as athleisure
9%: Rise of the athleisure market in 2019
$167 billion: Value of the athleisure wear industry
39%: Increase in sold-out sweatpants from Jan. 1 through March 16, 2020
40%: Increase in sweatpant sales at Net-a-Porter in the first week of Covid-19 lockdowns
$800: Price of sweatpants at the very highest end of the market
$100: Approximate cost of materials and labor for $800 sweatpants
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 3
The moment when sports gear became fashion can be traced back to the creation of the tennis shoe in the late 19th century. “There is nothing sudden about the influence of sports on the way Americans dress,” Derek Thompson writes in the Atlantic. “In fact, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that all modern fashion is athleisure.” As Thompson points out, the names “sport coat” and “polo shirt” clue us in to their origins of those items. The turtleneck also owes a debt to polo. Historian Patricia Campbell Warner traces the bulk of contemporary American women’s clothing, including sweaters and slacks, to the embrace of athleticism at women’s colleges at the turn of the 20th century (pdf).
Sweatpants began to make a similar transition in the 1980s. The rise of workout videos featuring fashionable leggings and colorful tops, as well as the prevalence of at-home sedentary activities like video games and cable, put more people in loungewear, more often. “The casualization of fashion set a tone in which men and women could acceptably be dressed in this way,” fashion historian Shaun Cole explains to MEL Magazine.
At the same time, hip-hop artists, inspired in part by breakdancing, broke out the gym clothes, especially the slightly more dressy tracksuit. Crossover companies like Supreme and Louis Vuitton creative director Virgil Abloh’s Off-White mixed in high-fashion sophistication and exclusivity.
The result is often much more expensive than a classic pair of gray Champions, but is still a lower-price entry into luxury brands for consumers less interested in craftsmanship or legacy than brand and label. Major fashion houses, such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Balenciaga, have taken note. And Champion has too, collaborating with Supreme, Rick Owens, Todd Snyder, Hebru Brantley, and many others.
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 4
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 5
“Sweatpants are the universal wardrobe shorthand for sloth and lassitude.”
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 6
As athleisure becomes more leisurely, actual athletes adorn themselves with ever more technologically sophisticated materials, following the path of more fitness-oriented brands like Under Armour and Lululemon. Outdoor Voices sells “aspirational realness” with its $95 leggings. Everlane is chasing them with $58 performance leggings. UA offers one of the oddest combos yet: “performance sleepwear” that claims to absorb “infrared wavelengths emitted by the body” and “reflect back far infrared energy, helping the body recover.”
On the other end of the spectrum, will our work-from-home wardrobes cut it at the office once lockdowns are lifted? History suggests it will, as does Off-White’s most recent collection. Major fashion trends—from women wearing pants to denim and wristwatches—have been influenced more by wars and times of crisis than by fashion weeks in NYC or Milan. We’ll just need a neologism for it. Ath-lifestyle? Workleisure? Lifewear? We’ll athworkshop it.
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 8
Sure, you could put on a suit and tie and look like you’re ready to climb the corporate ladder. Or you could throw on some sweatpants and look like you’re already there.
Researchers at Harvard Business School sent shoppers into high-end stores in Milan wearing sweatsuits and fur coats, then asked the shop assistants for their impressions. “While people on the street thought that the well-dressed individuals were more likely to buy something, shop assistants had the opposite view,” Rachel Feltman writes in Quartz. “If people had the gall to wear gym clothes into the store, they must feel pretty confident—and probably have a lot of money.”
The Silicon Valley guys who have made fleece vests a power accessory have figured this out. But be forewarned: You better have the status, or at least the self-confidence, to pull it off.
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 9
1920s: France’s Le Coq Sportif founder Émile Camuset invents sweatpants as a comfortable sportswear option for athletes.
1932: Wool sweatpants are common apparel at the Summer Olympics.
1948: The Italian Olympic team wears tracksuits designed by hurdler and future fashion icon Ottavio Missoni.
1967: Adidas produces apparel for the first time, beginning with a tracksuit promoted by soccer player Franz Beckenbauer.
1976: Rocky is released, featuring the now-iconic training scene with Sylvester Stallone sporting gray sweatpants and a sweatshirt.
1982: Jane Fonda wears fashionable workout wear in her exercise video, including colorful tights and leg warmers.
1986: Run D.M.C. drops the single “My Adidas,” a watershed moment in sneakerhead history—but don’t sleep on the matching sweatsuits.
1993: Seinfeld jokes that wearing sweatpants in public is basically a sign of giving up.
1998: Entrepreneur Chip Wilson opens the first Lululemon store in Vancouver, branding themselves as the luxury yoga pants store, giving women a more flattering option from baggy sweatpants.
2004: Britney Spears marries Kevin Federline, surrounded by bridesmaids in pink velour tracksuits.
2013: Athleisure wear hits the mainstream markets, as denim sales start to decline.
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 10
In the US at least, women are buying way more stretchy pants than jeans.
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 11
“A track pant is the single article of clothing as likely to be worn in a refugee camp in Calais, or by a south London DJ, an Asian grandfather on a walk, or a supermodel,” writes Ayesha A. Siddiqi in Ssense. “Like denim jeans before them, which were once only strictly for cowboys, we’ve reached full saturation of the tracksuit.”
Sweatpants have always been global, passing through the hands of French, Italian, and German design legends, made cool by American rappers, and resurrected by British rappers. They were the cornerstone of collections by the first breakout post-Soviet designer, Gosha Rubchinskiy. John Elliott’s “era defining” sweatpants, the Escobars he released in 2013 (see them on Kanye West in full athleisure mode in 2014) were inspired by South American soccer warm-up gear. Elliott explained the finer points of styling sweatpants to Complex.
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 12
At the onset of the sweatpants and athleisure craze, Childish Gambino released his hit single “Sweatpants,” which never actually says the word. His explanation for the title was that “Rich people wear whatever they want.”
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Quartz Obsession — Sweatpants — Card 13
While everyone loves a comfy sweatpant, there is an internet fanbase for those who appreciate gray sweatpants season, specifically on men. Described as the “dude version of no-makeup makeup,” the lighter color of pants leaves little to the imagination. This sweatpants thirst has prompted the grey sweatpants challenge which inspired men all over the world to taking photos in their grey sweatpants, posing alone, but also alongside random items like brass instruments, televisions, and Christmas trees—because well, the internet.
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