Longoria: Sweatpants began their life humbly as a sponge for French sweat. Definitely unsophisticated—also, honestly, a little gross. But they didn’t stay that way. Half a century later, when they made their way to American shores, they slowly tiptoed their way into the mainstream.
Mull: So they started to enter the wardrobe in the 1980s, uh, when, culturally, the United States was having a boom in fitness.
Richard Simmons: Okay, give me that wonderful music.
(The music of an ’80s-style exercise video plays, reveling in the synthesizer.)
Simmons: (Emphasizing each word.) Here we go! Inhale!
Mull: You get the rise of exercise celebrities: Richard Simmons …
Jane Fonda: Are you ready to do the workout? (Video participants cheer and say, “Yeah!” excitedly.)
Mull: Jane Fonda.
Fonda: … This is a beginner’s workout. (Fades out.)
Mull: Some of those people emerged in the ’70s to begin with, but the ’80s is where things really ramped up.
(Music has cut out, and is replaced by dramatic, punchy commercial music.)
Commercial voice 1: (Dramatically.) Winter warmth!
Mull: It was suddenly very, very popular to be a person who exercised and who wore clothing that indicated that you exercised.
Commercial voice 1: Jogging suits for winter workouts …
Commercial voice 2: … Activewear designed to fit your routine!
Mull: Which means that you had people who wanted to buy sweatpants.
Commercial voice 3: Worn by the country’s hottest stars …
Mull: They were a status indicator.
Commercial voice 4: (Singing.) I’ve got international flair, making him know I care!
Mull: And then you also get the rise of hip-hop culture.
(Hip-hop music plays underneath the next section.)
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, homeboys, homegirls: the New York City Breakers!
Mull: Break dancing, things like that were very popular, and those, those are athletic activities.
Carlos De Jesus: Break dancing is a little bit like jazz, where, uh, you improvise around some basic moves.
Mull: They require a range of motion.
Break-dancing voice-over: Bring your right leg under and your right arm over.
Mull: It’s much harder to do that in jeans than it is to do it in a pair of sweatpants.
Break-dancing voice-over: Kick your left leg and return. Kick your right leg …
Mull: And they also were cool … [The sounds of a helicopter taking off play.] because Run-DMC liked them.
(The Run-DMC commercial for Adidas plays underneath the narration.)
Mull: Okay, this is the iconic Run-DMC Adidas commercial. You see them coming in over New York City in the branded Run-DMC–Adidas helicopter. They’re stepping out.
(Run-DMC members say, “My Adidas!” before the commercial cuts.)
Mull: They’re wearing sweatpants treated with some sort of, like, reflective treatment. Very sort of athletic-inspired, but clearly not meant to be doing anything particularly athletic in that moment besides being a rap star. What qualifies as a sweatpant can be, uh, a sort of capacious—uh, capacious thing. [Longoria and Mull laugh.] Sweatpants contain multitudes.