An acquaintance of mine was recently talking about a mutual friend who’d just become a mother. He had met her out somewhere for a quick coffee, and mentioned she was wearing sweatpants. Of course, just about every human in the U.S. wears sweatpants, but he said it in this way that was very much like, “I can’t believe she’s letting herself go!” (To be fair, she was very well known in her circle for her sexyish hipster style.)
It made me a little sad and irked, not only because “DUH SHE GAVE BIRTH SHE’S ALLOWED SOME LEEWAY! WOMEN DON’T EXIST FOR YOUR VISUAL PLEASURE!” But I was also irritated because what’s so wrong with sweatpants? Sweatpants are awesome, especially for busy moms who have to keep their offspring alive and do the bazillion things that women get saddled with when they become moms. (Meal planning! Medical insurance admin! Financial planning! Negotiations with all kinds of types! Errands, errands, errands! Gah!)
Maybe in an earlier era, my dude acquaintance (and he was very much a bro, for sure) might have had some reason to scoff at the sloppiness and general air of listlessness of sweatpants. More often than not, sweatpants really were shapeless and made of cheap materials.
But now comfy stretchy pants of all kinds — joggers, track pants, slouchy collegiate-type boyfriend-y ones — are an athleisure staple and come with cool details, beautiful luxurious fabrics, elegant cuts and the like. The track pant is now a mainstay, elegantly elevated by the likes of Celine, Chloe, Vetements and other major fancy fashion brands. And this sense of luxe and chic has trickled down, and the fashion-forward factor with it. Sweatpants, track pants…they’re not just the typically slobby model anymore. They’re rad and cool and comfortable.
So I definitely say that sweatpants of all stripes are a mama wardrobe essential — an everyone wardrobe one, really, but I write this blog for stylish mamas and the people who love them. Still, they require some savoir faire so that they look a little more sophisticated and composed — and not like, say, the “slobbing out on a Wednesday night” ones you wear sometimes. (Although, I love those, as well! And I admit, there is a kind of Rick Owens-y elegant goth style where really deshabille type of sweatpants looks super elegant.) If you are interested in making your sweatpants look like, “HEY THIS IS FASHION, GUYS,” then please do follow along…
Keep An Eye For Fit
I know this sounds super-anal, but the key to wearing sweatpants as fashion is making sure they fit well. There are a few crucial areas to keep your eye on: the waist, the hip and the way you want them to fall on the ankle.
For waists, I tend to like a flattened elastic waistline, as opposed to the typical rolled one. You want something that will lie flat and not create extra bulk. I also watch out for too many gathers — it can ‘pooch’ out in a way that makes them less versatile.
In terms of hips, you know how some pants just sort of ‘jut’ out at the hip, creating lumps and bumps that aren’t there? Yeah, let’s avoid that, shall we? And rises are just as important with sweatpants as they are with jeans. Interestingly, I do think a slightly lower rise is more alluring than a higher one when it come to sweatpants.
And when it comes to how they break around the ankle and foot, there are different schools of thoughts. Jogger pants, for example, create a wider cuff around the ankle, giving the classic sweatpant a more ‘skinny’ look. A track pant, though, will likely be more straight-legged, and break just at the top of the foot — you want these to have just a bit of length. (Too short, though, looks goofy, but too long looks sloppy.)
A Special Note About Crotches
First of all, I just want to go on record saying that the word “crotch” just makes me…crotchety. It’s such an ugly word! But sometimes you need to talk drops, especially when it comes to sweatpants. This is another area to keep an eye on — no puckering or gathering if at all possible. (Unless you are going for those drop-crotch ninja/harem sweatpants, which can look super rad, especially with some easygoing simple top and a leather jacket. I love the whole fashion ninja style, and if you’re a mom rocking that style, you are my hero!)
Consider The Pants Themselves
Outside of fit, there are a ton of options that make sweatpants a legit fashion item. There are different materials: nylons that double as silks, for instance, and my favorite Everlane does them in its street fleece material, which is cotton bonded to neoprene, giving it a stiffer treatment. There are cool details that designers incorporate at the side or ankles: zippers, for sure, but also mesh stripes or braiding and lacing at the ankle (rather cool for your romantic hippie bohemians.) I have a black pair of black Fabletics track pants with some braiding at the ankle — you can see them above — and they work out really well with my fancier, more structured Everlane sweatshirts or even a simple silky black fancy tank and some kind of heel or sandal for a dressier occasion. That’s the nice thing about track pants, specifically — if you get a plain kind in a matte-enough nylon material that can almost double as silk, they make for a very comfortable evening pant. Track pants for date night…huzzah!
Blocking and paneling work as well to make comfy pants a little more elevated — for instance, quilted options are increasingly popular and rather luxe-y. The olive green pair I’m wearing below has a front panel of a very thin, silky nylon, while the rest is traditional fleece, and has some zippers at the ankle as well. The genius of a fancy sweatpant is in the details, and there is definitely a pair that works for any style and sensibility out there now.
Of course, there’s also just a simple classic jogger style in fleece, which are versatile and humble. In this case, if you’re aiming for fashion usage, it’s worth looking into ones made of good high-quality material.
To Pleat or Not to Pleat, That is a Question
I say no pleats, honestly, unless you are basically a rail-thin ectomorph or exceptionally slim-hipped…or maybe 20! The big exception may be just a dart or two in the front, which gives the sweatpant just a bit more structure in a crucial area.
Shoe Choice Is Key
Sometimes you want to wear a sweatpant as loungewear, but sometimes you want to wear it like a fashion item. If that’s the case, your other outfit items need to telegraph your fashion-ness. Wearing sweat pants with gym shoes, a workout sweatshirt (as opposed to an elevated one!) and your hair all awry will just make them look sloppy, no matter what the provenance of your pants are. (It’s not like you can put a sign around your neck that says “BUT THESE ARE COMME DES GARCONS, PEOPLE!”) You want SOME element of formality: like a nicely cut turtleneck sweater, perhaps. Or — my favorite fancy-up method — a non-typical shoe. I’m fond of the strappy sandal or the flashy ankle boot myself, but others with very elegant and/or trendy styles could do a heel. (By the way, I remember seeing this kind of look in the first Sex and The City movie on Carrie Bradshaw — was this the first recorded pop culture incident of the fancy sweatpants phenomenon? Discuss…)
Tops! Tops! Tops!
I usually don’t care about fashion rules — okay, sometimes I do but usually I think the rules are ridiculous and overly bourgeois. But I do think balance is a nice guideline, unless you are super avant-garde or young and trendy. (Which can be about the same thing, really…both are loveable anarchists.) Which is also why I do think it’s a good idea to be a bit more structured, formal and/or unexpected in your top. You know, just a bit more considered. A simple turtleneck looks really elegant and accessible with fancy sweatpants — and then you can casual it down with a pair of fancy sneakers or Vans type of slips-ons, or dress it up with a nice ankle boot or heel. I’ve seen some moms about town work a pair of streamlined sweatpants with shrunken button-down oxford shirts and a simple chic sneaker, which makes for a great casual tomboy look. If you are pretty fashion-forward, a voluminous white tunic top topped with a shrunken denim or moto jacket over track pants and a slightly avant sandal is a very chic look, too. (If it works for professional fashion sphinxes like Phoebe Philo or Claire Waight Keller, it can work for you!) Tops and shoes are an area where you really do have to experiment to find your own personal combination…you want something that is a bit more polished but still feels easy. Right now as fall gets cooler I like them with my strappy wedge sandals and a long-sleeved drape-y cotton top, but when winter rolls around, I plan on playing around with ankle boots and sweaters to see what works.
Of course, there are times when you can’t be bothered and just want to wear something free-feeling and cozy-making, because life is life and sometimes you need the fashion equivalent of being held. And there is so nothing wrong with that! That’s the genius of sweatpants — ease, comfort and versatility. They’re the ne plus ultra of loungewear, but they also clean up pretty well with some know-how and savvy.