When is it appropriate (is it ever appropriate?) to wear a fully matching sweatsuit, top and bottom? When I see people wearing a paired sweatshirt and sweatpants, I sometimes think “cringe.” And sometimes I can’t help but want to wear it, too. Which side of me is right? — Pepper, New York
Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel designer whose talent for dramatic pronouncements was equaled only by his talent for dreaming up extraordinary clothes, once declared sweatpants “a sign of defeat.”
That pronouncement would suggest that the full sweatpants-and-sweatshirt look otherwise known as the sweatsuit, that shapeless pairing once synonymous with older gym teachers, out-of-shape joggers and Rocky Balboa, is … well, what? A sign of complete and total surrender?
Perhaps. Or perhaps, given that this is fashion and in fashion nothing is more certain than that which was out will be in again, it is the embodiment of an ironically triumphant return.
In truth, the sweatsuit, a.k.a. pajamas for day, has been making a comeback since the coronavirus pandemic. That period, when we prized comfort dressing over just about everything else, converged with Gen Alpha’s celebration of all things Y2K, including that era-defining item, the Juicy Couture velour sweatsuit. That discovery was exacerbated by the Miu Miu-driven resurgence of the “set,” be it Miuccia Prada’s matching crop top and teeny tiny skirt, Versace’s shortie pajamas or, yes, the matching sweatpants and sweatshirt of yore.
Demna, the mononymic designer of Balenciaga known for reframing the totems of streetwear as luxury, picked up on this idea, embracing not just a signature oversize hoodie but the tracksuit, via his Balenciaga collaboration with Adidas in 2022. To be sure, it was a slicker, more globalized version of the sweatsuit, and one with its own cultural semiology thanks to hip-hop. Last month, he went a step further and paid homage to the Juicy sweatsuit in his fall 2024 show, held in and inspired by Los Angeles.
Not surprisingly, TikTok embraced the trend, with influencers of all sorts discovering the joy of sweats — they don’t call them that exactly; more on that in a moment — especially as a solution to all things airport. Or as a way of looking more pulled together than, say, wearing drawstring PJ flannels and a T-shirt when out in public.
“Suits” have gotten a bad rap in recent years, but the essential notion of pairing your top and your bottom to create an unbroken line and to suggest a little coordination aforethought remains an effective approach to dress.
To this end, the sweatsuit has evolved beyond the usual fleece and baggy proportions, not to mention the whole concept of “sweat,” and is now available in materials like cashmere and wool, often with smaller tops paired with looser bottoms or vice versa. (Everlane, for example, offers “straight leg” sweatpants, which are essentially normal pants with an elastic waist.) I wouldn’t use these options for jogging, but they are awfully good for off-duty swanning around.
As with most things, the details matter. Wear a sweatsuit with a sweatband and sneakers and you look like a victim of the endless cycle of New Year’s workout resolutions. Wear it with a nice handbag and a trench coat and you look like a modern Jean Harlow out to take the air.
It’s really a question of framing. Yes, the sweatsuit as we once knew it may be dead, but long live the lounge suit. Or, as influencers like to call it, the “matching sweatsuit set” or “sweat set.” It’s kind of like the reinvention of Target as Tar-gét. Same word, whole new implication.
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.