“You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants?” Jerry asks a casually dressed George. “You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.’ ”
That one exchange from an episode of Seinfeld that aired over 20 years ago has helped define the discourse around sweatpants. Any conversation you have about them is likely to shift toward George Costanza, the de facto style icon of comfortable dressing. Consequently, there’s a good chance you’ll look like a schlub if you step outside in a pair of sweats, unless you’re on your way to the gym or you have a rap recording deal.
Then along came fashion sweatpants, to the chagrin of belt manufacturers everywhere. Despite that oft-shared quote from Karl Lagerfeld that “sweatpants are a sign of defeat,” they’ve been popping up in Vancouver’s most stylish boutiques, and it isn’t difficult to spend more money on some comfy sweatpants than on some uncomfy skinny jeans.
“They’re more like fashion pieces. They’re definitely a different approach to activewear,” explains Natsumi Akatsuka, buyer and store manager for Roden Gray (8 Water Street). “People that work out want to feel like they’re dressed up too. But they don’t want to actually go all the way to wearing suits or dramatically change their style all of a sudden. They can actually put on nicer pieces and still feel like themselves.”
The current wave of fashion sweats, which it’s safe to assume no one is wearing to Club 16, place an emphasis on craftsmanship with tapered fits, exotic fabrics, meticulous detailing, and, occasionally, zipper flies. (Think about that last one for a moment.)
“Sometimes with normal sweatpants, you still feel like you’re working out or sleeping or lounging in the house. With high-end, top-quality pieces, you can still feel confident enough to go outside,” Akatsuka says while showcasing the sweats on offer at one of the city’s premier menswear stores.
Hearing Akatsuka passionately describe the artistry and attention to detail on pairs of Thom Browne cashmere sweatpants ($1,595) or the kolor Side Stripe ($475) makes purchasing them seem like a sane proposition. A more affordable option, and a top seller at Roden Gray, is the John Elliott + Co Escobar ($230), inspired by the U.S. soccer team’s warm-up outfits in the 1980s.
Fret not if you’re a bit lighter in the wallet. You can be on trend and on budget, according to Vancouver stylist and sweatpants proselytizer Leila Bani.
“It’s taking something that’s so pedestrian and being all, ‘It’s fashion. Look it up.’ There are two schools of thought. You can go for the elevated, tailored vibe,” she explains. “Or you can just rock it and go for a straight prison look, which is also amazing.”
For the former, Bani recommends homegrown line Reigning Champ (starting at $110), available at gravitypope Tailored Goods (2203 West 4th Avenue). For the latter, she recommends sweats by Champion and Fila. These are tough to find, so your best bet is to keep your eyes on the racks at Winners (various locations).
The consensus is that black sweats are good for blending in, while white or grey ones tend to draw more attention to the fact that you’re, you know, a grown man wearing sweatpants in public. If you’re sporting a pizza-stained T-shirt and ratty Reeboks, it won’t matter how much money you dropped on your fashion sweats. The key to pulling them off at work or as everyday wear is to complement them with a nice shirt and sneakers. Showering occasionally will also do wonders. Alternatively, Bani, whose recent styling credits include the likes of GQ, suggests just being comfy and not giving a fuck.
“I think it comes back to the lifestyle here. You don’t see people dressed up. I love Vancouver because I can be a slob,” she declares. “I’ll be comfortable in my stretchy shit. Whatever. Embrace it.”