The first time I ever felt excited about a pair of sweatpants was in 2003. Juicy Couture’s signature $200 velour tracksuits with JUICY sometimes emblazoned across the butt were the new errand-running uniform of paparazzi targets such as Paris Hilton and Jennifer Lopez, and the look had reached a few of the most popular girls at my high school. I was 17 years old, and that combination of endorsements was enough to make me covet basically anything.
Soon, cheaper knockoffs of the brand’s sexy, stretchy wares filtered down to stores such as Old Navy, where I used my meager teenage wages to buy a matching set in black. Parents, tabloid columnists, and seemingly every other manner of responsible adult hated the look. One critic called the snug-fit tracksuits, which paired low-slung bottoms with shrunken hoodies that exposed a few inches of naked torso, “soft-porn sweats.”
Since sweatpants were introduced into the casual American wardrobe in the 1980s, scolds have always found them revolting. Perhaps the two most frequently cited quotes on the style come from disparate sources but express virtually identical sentiments. “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat,” Karl Lagerfeld, the late Chanel designer and fashion icon, once sniped. “You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” On his eponymous television show, the comic Jerry Seinfeld once upbraided George Costanza with the same concern. “You’re telling the world, I give up,” Seinfeld said. “I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.” Sweatpants, the conventional wisdom holds, are slovenly. You must be hiding failure under all that terry cloth.