Our Cozy Quarantine Is the Death of Sweats

By Greg Scott Bruce 
Illustration by David Park

Once real pants are on, the workday begins. That’s the thought, at least, dating back to a less-lax work culture, where one would rarely see colleagues outside of their quintessentially “corp” fits (except on, say, Casual Fridays). Today, that’s not remotely the case—the pants you work in could be a variety of things other than stiff, starchy, and all-around uninspired slacks. For the workforce inhabiting an open-office floor plan—a clear identifier of contemporary industries and startups—employees waltzing into their 10-to-6 (9-to-5 has no chill) in borderline pants-like-things, is fairly standard now that workplace slouches unequivocally toward “chill.”

And it is pretty chill here. Especially for those currently with the privilege of working from home—the pinnacle of privileges, at the moment if only because we aren’t necessarily wearing real pants right now. We’re wearing cozy, restful sweatpants. And that exact fact of “cozy over everything” is the serious affair I’ll unfold.

Image Courtesy of Stüssy

Office culture has changed: Instead of, or along with, 401K matching, health-and-dental insurance, you could be granted 24-hour access to an array of ping-pong tables and dad beers. It depends, of course. In these types of modern offices, you’re most likely to see workers tucked into their wildly tapered athleticwear, swathed with techy side-zippers. Or, on the off-chance, you might spot someone wearing cropped sweatpants or capris (maybe they’re European?). But at Team Epiphany—whose offices are on the middle of Wall Street, by the way—you wouldn’t see any of that nonsense.

Rather, you’d see Coltrane rocking a head-to-toe Coke Energy x Camp High Collective sweatsuit—that includes a kimono robe made of heavy, ring-spun cotton—which is quite possibly what the shaman wears at the peak of Mount Cozy-Olympus. Around the corner is another sovereign of the cozy movement strutting the TE premises, KP, the self-proclaimed “Prince of Nightlife.” He’ll be, of course, sporting sweatsuits like they’re his second skin. Even the agency’s brand of merchandise consists of various sweatsuit sets (ox grey, black, electric-yellow tie-dye, and more), on 24 oz. heavy-duty fleece from Standard Issue by Jimmy Gorecki—the streetwear designer whose nickname is JIMMY SWEATPANTS. Clearly, tech fleece is bottom shelf stuff at our workplace.

For today’s knoweldge worker, stuck at home, wearing sweats is more of an universal truth, however unspoken. It’s a premiocre joke for this age of Zoom calls: Making note that someone else on your team or client call isn’t wearing the “proper” pair or pants, or even that they’re not wearing pants at all. It really doesn’t matter. And, frankly, I’m writing this wearing some canary yellow Stussy reverse fleece sweatpants myself.

See, I’m all about cozy, I relish in it. The only clothing-related purchase I’ve made so far was a pair of Hoka Recovery Slides—designed for marathon runners when they’re fully tuckered out—because I won’t be slipping shoes on for the foreseeable workdays. Utilitarian coziness has been my strategy. It does, however, make me look like a dad or a janitor, sometimes both, and I’m worried that not just that I’ll change sartorially for the slouchier, but, post-Quarantine, we’ll all dress differently after our overkill of loungewear.

When it’s time to head back to a physical work environment, do our sweats come with us? As Quarantine continues to be extended, we’ll become unreasonably molded to our sweatpants, too attached to our cozy counterparts (literally at the hip), and our real pants will seem way beside the point. With the advent of anti-anxiety products, sweats could be labeled as a new coddling object—like fidget spinners, weighted blankets, CBD-anything—to help us mollify back into our former workaday routine. While sweats being described as “anxiety armor” isn’t necessarily that far-fetched, neither is the thought of wearers ceasing demand. Athleisure, loungewear, and leisurewear businesses could face the recockning coronavirus has imparted on the fashion world at large—ripping apart retailers, halting fast fashion, and restricting domestic wholesale—once the smoke clears.

Right now, ecommerce and Instagram marketplaces are trying to sell their audiences kits of WFH “essentials”: sweatsuits being the most common item. Some sites, like Need Supply, even have a dedicated tab for working from home that they’ve prominently situated on their homepage as their financial focal point. Others have aggressive email strategies that try a little too hard to relate to current times. (Expect to see email subject lines with “Stimulus Check Shopping Szn” if you havent already.) 

The recurring targeted ads for “Netflix and Chill” fits, coercing us to stay equipped with cozy and warm things, will make us grow tired; tired of sweats. America already boasts an “always-on” work culture, and if we’re led to believe that workers are always drudging in their sweats, rarely switching out of them, then we’re defeating the purpose of what they first symbolized: a safe haven away from our responsibilities.

If coziness is a state of mind and our sweats are our conduits for reaching this happy place, then our pursuit of pleasure is in need of some detours. The wardrobes of those for whom sweatpants are a way of life might find their closet taking on less cozy connotations. In a meta-reversal of work culture, sweats become our new uniform. Eat, sleep, sweats, repeat. It’s not actually that dystopian, but it could be. Regardless, we will get tired of cycling through our comfy attire like we’re living in the reruns we’re bingeing. Luckily, for sweats, we might not want to wear pants right away because it could take us some time to correctly style (and fit!) our dust-covered chinos and fatigues.

As stated previously: Being ready for work and having pants on are mutually exclusive; a tale about trousers, as old as the time streetwear became workwear. The same cannot be said for the hoodie—the Voltron-head completing the sweatpants—that will never cease to be a styling staple. You can really do anything in them and look good and feel good about doing those things. As much as streetwear brands and jawnz enthusiasts obsessed with “high-low,” (wearing high-fashion with Crocs, or something to that degree) styling loafers and dress shirts with sweatpants, the hoodie’s been on that wave before their mood board of Instagram-saved photos ever was. Hoodies can dress up easily: paired with double-breasted blazers, ruffled under trench coats, worn with corduroy slacks, the list goes on.

Sweats don’t even have more than, what, four materials? And they can barely hold daily essentials; you’re lucky if the pockets have functioning zippers. Our notion to wear soft, subtler textures on our legs will subside. People will gravitate toward bottoms made from water-repellent canvas, tartan wool, a tweed houndstooth hybrid—materials that sweats cannot replicate, nor replace—and will accompany a hoodie wondrously.

Images Courtesy of Noah NY

Still, I wonder: When we transition back to a more pant-inclined world, will we (more so, me) feel too accustomed to our loungewear? Will we want to wear our sweatpants during the day, outside, in the real world again? Will we want to have dinner parties with close friends in, dare I say, casual leisurewear? Because at some point, we’ll feel like we’ve done enough in our sweats. Hell, they could become cursed after this. Just like how runners discard their tattered track shoes after 400 miles, we’ll start to feel odd, deep down, about how much use—all of sitting, laying, stretching, nothing-ing—our sweats have tracked.

Our collective reasoning for disavowing our sweatpants will trickle slowly. We’ll recall how much we liked the stacks and creases from our Levi’s 501s and Acne Studios; or how Noah’s Single Pleat Trousers are the puzzle-piece silhouette to a beloved pair of Chuck Taylors; or how cargo pants really should only be made of ripstop cotton and cargosweats (see: abomination) shouldn’t have ever been masterminded.

These notions will arise because we won’t reminisce about the times we wore sweats—scavenging old emails for free trials on Hulu, making Bon Appétit recipes without bougie ingredients, or how we did heaps of work in the confines of our sweatpants. They’ll be slowly absorbing the negative energy of 2020, and we’ll subconsciously want to separate ourselves from them. After all, they could become our new symbol of malaise, a fleece reminder of these dark times. 

So, am I going to stop wearing sweats on Zoom calls or during my office-less workdays? No, I’m not a masochist. Once it’s summer, I’ll adapt to sweatshorts and Patagonia baggies. But much later down the line, I’m going to broach our unquarantined future with nervousness—that when I put my sweatpants back on it will trigger me into a state of “bad vibes, bro.” And that’s enough for me to speculate that the sweats I’m wearing right now might be on their last legs.︎