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Sweatpants: Lazy or Industrial?

Berklee Groove examines the evolution of the sweatpants' reputation in fashion.

Girl with Micro Braids

DECEMBER 10, 2019

I remember a time not too long ago when wearing sweatpants to school meant one of three things: that you woke up 15 minutes ago, you had a sports trip that day, or you didn’t care about your appearance. In the current era, however, things have changed drastically from what they once were. It has become commonplace, or dare I say, fashionable to don a pair of your most comfortable pants and go about your business. Why such a harsh 180? I present to you Athleisure. Athleisure can also be known as street wear or day wear, and describes looks that are both aesthetically pleasing and athletically functional.

Modern fashion design has morphed quite a lot over the years, but more recently has seen the rise of “industrialism”. Clothing with clean lines, bold color-blocking, futuristic cuts, utilitarian purposefulness, and a dash of modern innovation makes up this particular style of design. It has been referred to as TechWear, a combination of fashion, function, and futurism. Athleisure and TechWear overlap quite heavily in terms of silhouette, color palette, and audience. The themes throughout both are designer sneakers, athletic pants, tight-fits, sports bras, layers, and puffy outer layers.

So what is it that makes these styles so popular? The inspiration behind these designs comes from a myriad of places. The idea behind designs like this come from the modern innovations of practical pieces worn solely for leisure. For example, an essential of this style is cargo pants, or loosely fitting pants equipped with a large number of pockets, buckles, rings, and other traditionally functional adornments. Many designers have incorporated these pieces into their clothing, despite no longer needing them for their original purpose. Incredibly trendy items today can be traced back to those who originally wore them.

Musicians and dancers have worn industrial clothing for the comfort, longevity, and polished look for many years. These artists are traditionally people who influence fashion trends the most and thus the spike in popularity of clothes like sweat pants and Dr. Martens. They have worn these pieces out of necessity rather than simply because of their look, but as their audiences have begun admiring and imitating the outfits they wear, it has become purely fashionable over functional.

It is an interesting commentary on how far society has advanced; many no longer need things like bucket hats or combat boots for their intended purposes, and they go as far as wearing them solely for the aesthetic of the piece. The idea behind the futuristic elements of this style, such as unusual cuts and shapes, is similar to this advancement of society. It’s centered around a world where the only purpose clothing serves is light protection and modesty, so thick layers, baubles, closures, wild prints or patterns, rough edges, and other adornments are no longer in demand. The aesthetic calls for snug fits and smooth fabrics, for clothes that look like they could be worn in many situations. This accounts for a large part of the inspiration behind industrial fashion; designers like ME DIC AL demonstrate this well.

However, another, rather juxtaposing element of this style is post-apocalyptic, wasteland-inspired fashion. Distressed clothing, masks, full-body coverage are described with a fitting term I’ve heard: Urban Ninja. Cyber Goth, HypeBeast, Wasteland, Futuristic, Hip Hop, Steampunk, and many more are all styles that TechWear draw from. It is very unique and diverse seeing how it is an amalgamation of many other genres. It is fascinating to see how something as simple as sweatpants have evolved into such a strong and iconic aesthetic.

If you’d like a better look, here are a few designers that I believe perfectly capture the essence of this style: the aforementioned ME DIC AL, Machine56, HOLYGRAIL_OFFICIAL, and I/AM/NOCTURNAL.

Stylist Sweatpants


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