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Why We Need Sweatpants

Eva Mendes claimed the notoriously comfortable leg coverings were the number one cause of divorce in America, which led to the traditional three-day internet firestorm.

by Drew Millard
Mar 20 2015, 9:00pm

Ronald Reagan image via WikiCommons.

Earlier this week, actress and new mother Eva Mendes—star of such films as Hitch, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans—gave an interview to Extra in which she claimed that sweatpants were the number one cause of divorce in the country. Now obviously, she didn't actually mean this, but the message—that sweatpants are bad, sent waves throughout the internet, where people like to report on things that don't matter and then get mad about them.

Mendes's comments, which were quickly refuted by her partner Ryan Gosling, struck such a nerve because they spoke to a tacit understanding in our culture: Sweatpants, largely, are viewed as the domain of the sexless, as if swaddling your privates in cotton rendered them nonexistent. Think of Mike Judge's 2009 film Extract, in which the driving force behind the entire plot is that Jason Bateman's character Joel is driven to do horrible, antisocial things because his wife, played by Kristen Wiig, is always wearing sweatpants when he gets home. When the sweatpants go on, the viewer is told, Wiig's sexuality turns off.

Sweatpants are unsexy, we get told, they're also unfashionable and lazy. Whenever we dogpile onto a celebrity for letting themselves go, one of the things we harp on is the deployment of sweatpants. They were there for Britney Spears when she was a walking American horror story, and they kept Wolf of Wall Street's Jordan Belfort cozy as he was busy taking horse tranquilizers and crashing his car. Famed designer Karl Lagerfeld once called them a "sign of defeat." Years ago, black metal icon and amateur fashion critic Gaahl told VICE he hated them, saying, "If you're going to be a part of society, you can at least dress properly."

In the past couple of years, meanwhile, sweatpants have wiggled their way into streetwear fashion—En Noir makes a pair of all-leather ones that run for about $800 on eBay and have been seen on the likes of Drake, Kanye West, Beyonce, and Usher. The ever-hateable lifestyle brand Supreme currently sells $128 sweats, and brands such as Mishka and Ron Bass manufacture printed sweatpants that look like an intern's mood board threw up on them. Track pants, the prissy, private-school cousin of the sweatpant, have seen a similar bump in popularity. A Google Trends search for Adidas track pants indicates increased consumer interest in the pants in the past couple of years (a representative for Adidas told me the company doesn't share sales figures), but a trip to any en vogue rap or electronic show will provide all the evidence you need for the $50 pants' renaissance in popularity. Both track pants and fashion sweats catch flack for the opposite reason sweatpants classically have: They supposedly render it impossible for the wearer to be taken seriously.

On the other hand, have you worn sweatpants before? They're amazing. I spent the latest never-ending New York winter in sweatpants, wearing them every day, even to work. My spindly legs stayed (relatively) cozy thanks to sweatpants' patented design of having a shitload of warm fabric. Sweatpants are a simple pleasure, which is why they've been around for nearly a hundred years (there's even a pair on display in the Smithsonian!). Their bad reputation is relatively recent, which means it could shift the other way pretty quickly. Maybe this time next year everyone will be blogging about how amazing sweatpants are. Maybe by then the hottest new media property will be a blog that shows nothing but photo after photo of Taylor Swift in sweatpants. Maybe we will no longer care about such things because the oceans will have risen and we will all just be looking for dry land, sort of like in Waterworld. Wear what pants you like.

Thumbnail image via Flickr user cloppy.

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