There was a time when wearing a pair of sweatpants anywhere outside of a stadium or gym would have been a sad day for any rakish man. The very nouns – ‘sweat’ and ‘pants’ – hardly set an optimistic tone. And, certainly, the dreadfully abused athleisure trend has seemingly given license for the typically overweight and/or hard-of-dressing to pull on a pair of ‘trackies’ as some kind of default uniform. Jerry Seinfeld had it right back in 1993 when he dressed down George for, well, dressing down just a little too much: the latter’s readiness to wear sweatpants in public suggested he had given up on life. Not for nothing did Eva Mendes recently cause a twitter storm by half-jokingly referring to the wearing of sweatpants as the no.1 cause for divorce.
How, one might proclaim, such a great idea has fallen: after all, sweatpants or jogging bottoms were the simple but much needed application of the appeal of the sweatshirt – warm, cosy, hard-wearing, absorbent, easy to throw on before or after exercise – to the lower half of the body, as Émile Camuset, the founder of Le Coq Sportif, first realised in the 1920s. The idea certainly chimed with the times’ newfound interest in health and fitness and by the mid-1930s athletes were routinely attired in something akin to a sweat suit: the sweatshirt and sweatpants combo, typically in that classic shade of faded ash grey. Come 1976 and Rocky was still truly sweating in his layered sweatshirts and pants for that iconic training montage. He wasn’t wearing them to enjoy a cocktail in a swanky bar. The 1980s Spandex-friendly work-out trend only underscored sweatpants’ tightly defined role.