How I Learned That Giving in to Sweats Doesn't Mean Giving Up - Fashionista

There's a big part of me that's dreading the end of winter. Not because I like snow or ice or cold temperatures, and not because I'm anti-summer attire (anymore). I don't like boots or bulk or an abundance of layers, and my laziness prohibits me from taking gloves on and off, regardless of how chapped my hands may get. But this time around, I learned to embrace a new definition of comfort.

After totalling my car on the freeway (it's okay: everyone lived and I didn't break bones), I was left bumped, bruised and in need of physiotherapy twice a week. The airbags that deployed at my feet resulted in severe soft tissue damage on my lower legs. (If we ever hang out, I’ll show you the pictures.) Plus, there's the soreness and the proneness to swelling in my legs, back and shoulders. Frankly, denim and anything fitted wasn't really an option.

I wanted to feel like I was wearing a blanket. I wanted to be able to curl up and swell at will if I'd walked a little bit too much. I wanted an elastic waist. And I didn't want to be reminded of how much my body didn't really feel like my own.

So, I learned what it meant to be cozy, and the joy of being wrapped in fleece and warmth. I finally embraced the art of sweatsuits. And even on the other side of the winter, I'm not ready to let them go.

Not that I'm alone. Earlier this month, Zoë Kravitz was praised for her ode to athleisureGigi Hadid, Halsey and Olivia Culpo have all earned kudos for their respective commitments to loungewear, too. 

These differ from the onslaught of Kardashian-Jenner athleisure we were privy to over the course of the mid-2010s — especially since the clan merely embellished styles that were already common in yoga studios, at gyms or college dorms. But it helped bring activewear into the mainstream.

Kim Kardashian Sweatpants NYC August 02, 2017

While the Kar-Jenners in no way invented athleisure, they did succeed at making its newfound sleekness trendy. However, the most recent incarnation of comfort-wear has divorced itself from the slickness of Calabasas chic. Now, it seems uninterested in ensuring its wearers seem streamlined or sleek. In fact, sweats today command the opposite: They're bulky, oversized, roomy and largely shapeless. They're more akin to what we saw in the 1980s and 1990s (shout-out to Princess Diana) and are being released by the brands (like Adidas or Champion) we all wore then, too. They can be pricey (shout-out to Alexander Wang and Vetements) or they can be less so (my closet is full of jogging pants from Roots and the Gap). The possibilities are endless.

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Last month, Zendaya was spotted at an Australian airport looking toasty and chic in fitted navy pants and a roomy orange hoodie, while Hailey Bieber has long established herself as the poster child for sweats with her penchant for oversized bottoms paired with cropped sweatshirts. (She's why I have worn sweats to at least one meeting. I feel fine about it.)

The thing is, we can't get enough, because whether rolling the waistband, pairing them with a crop top, rolling the legs up or draping one's self in head-to-toe fleece (with no semblance of shape), there's no wrong way to wear a sweat suit. Freedom is the root of aesthetic and personal expression, and sweats offer nothing but.

Or at least that's why I love them. Thanks to early-to-mid-2000s rhetoric that to wear sweatpants in public meant that you had given up ("What Not to Wear" really did a number on me — as did "Mean Girls," let's be real), there was an overt pressure not to wear them outside the house. My own comfort and coziness didn't matter if what I wanted to wear alluded to breaking from the fashion rules that were still very much dominating style conversations, and I wasn't about to test the waters since my own aesthetic hinged heavily on what other people thought.

At no point did I want anyone to think that I didn't care about the way I looked. I aspired to exude a particular definition of maturity and confidence and forfeited the way I really wanted to dress sometimes in lieu of sending an aesthetic message that I had my shit together 24/7. I was a woman in slacks, jeans and dresses. I could never give away that I was a human person who wanted to be swaddled in the softest of cotton or privy to an elastic waist that let me bloat. Sweatsuits were for kids who lived in residence, not adults who had careers. And I cared so much about being seen as someone who had grown up and made it.

But the thing about growing up is that you begin to shed the need to appease other people. And over the course of my own late 20s and early 30s, I began to care less about how I was perceived by strangers and more about the way I felt in my clothing. Sure, I still loved jeans and dresses, but I also loved feeling comfortable in a way those pieces wouldn't let me. (I joke about wanting the freedom to bloat, but there's nothing funny about trying to navigate the constrictions of a waistband that refuses to accommodate day-to-day life — or a penchant for eating dairy at lunch despite being lactose intolerant.) I loved sweatshirts because they were easy to wear and cute and sweatpants because I could pair them with anything and still make them work. I had always been a creature of comfort, but my shifted priorities (see: I am too tired to care what other people think of my clothes) let me fly that flag.

Copenhagen Fashion Week Sweatsuit January 28, 2020

Unsurprisingly, a new type of confidence came with it. Formerly a source of embarrassment or shame, my sweats became a new badge of honor. I was comfy. Cozy. So dedicated to the '90s resurgence that I was willing to dress like my 13-year-old self in 1999. It felt good to wear my feelings on my literal sleeves (or pant legs) and to announce to the world that I prioritized my own needs above the rules I hadn't challenged or pushed back on. I hadn't given up at all. In fact, I'd found new life in a trend that seemed to focus solely on softness.

Beyond sweats, more and more celebrities have been seen out in their cozy clothes (never forget the true splendor of Katie Holmes looking equal parts chic, warm and honestly, just damn sexy in her Khaite cardi-bra), as fashion has finally begun to evolve from "here are the rules you need to follow" to "wear whatever you want, you blessed creature." I mean, even Stacy London has been touting the importance of self-expression, which further exemplifies this newfound commitment to individuality and inclusivity — as well as that people obviously change.

Sweatsuits, while so simple, are so important. Because where there will always be a place for dressing up, we hadn't carved out a space in which to fully dress down. Even if, for me personally, leggings don't count (and neither does anything else under the athleisure umbrella, because I just don't know how to wear Lycra without feeling weird.) To look fully comfortable, you must feel comfortable, too. And while I don't doubt that Lycra is the dream for some, for me it's the allure of bulky, baggy jogging pants, sneakers, and sweatshirts. I won't give them up, and I haven't given up. It's just that it's so much easier to take on the world when you're swaddled in sweats.

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