Stylish sweatpants have evolved from ultimate fashion faux pas to catwalk classic. A symbol of effortlessness, these items are now a stalwart of the athleisure trend, with its strong links to urban style and the music industry. In fact, hip-hop and pop artists such as Kanye, Beyoncé and Rihanna have all turned their talents to streetwear design in 2016, under the labels Yeezy, Ivy Park and Fenty x Puma respectively.
Whether teamed with the classic tracksuit accoutrements of trainers and a sweatshirt or given a fresh twist as evening wear and high heels, stylish sweatpants have taken on a new lease of luxe life.
The sweatpants trend sowed its seeds in the 1990s. Its current resurgence taps into a general global nostalgia for the era, which is also seeing the Spice Girls reunite for a tour and Gwen Stefani-style slip dresses layered over T-shirts.
During this decade, Aaliyah showed the world how to wear sweatpants. The Brooklyn-born actress, singer and dancer was perhaps best known for two things: her hit album One in a Million and her unparalleled taste in joggers. She embraced the tomboy trend, sporting basketball jerseys, masculine vests, mesh tops and backwards baseball caps with her tracksuit bottoms.
Inspired by Aaliyah’s instantly recognisable aesthetic, women of the 90s looked to the Tommy Hilfiger menswear range. In one iconic photo, the late singer pairs sweatpants from the fashion house with a matching crop top and poker-straight hair.
Girl band TLC also championed stylish sweatpants. Similarly to Aaliyah, they teamed theirs with navel-baring mesh T-shirts, in keeping with the trend’s distinctive R&B influence.
Fast forward to today, and sports-luxe sweatpants are key for Kanye’s Yeezy label. In his AW15 ready-to-wear collection, the rapper offered a truly upscale take on streetwear with male models sporting fur coats over monochrome sweatpants pulled up to the knees. Loose joggers in full and short-length cuts also featured, coloured in the rapper’s quintessentially normcore palette of dirty greys and camel tones.
Off the catwalk, models such as Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne are increasingly swapping jeans for sweatpants. In June 2015, the latter teamed grey joggers with retro trainers, Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses and a black shrunken jacket while shopping in London. The layering echoed the informal yet structured note of Chanel's AW14 Paris Fashion Week show, in which Delevingne donned distressed pink sweatpants and a matching top with a heavy Chanel coat in lavender tweed.
Formal vs. informal
"Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants." quipped Karl Lagerfeld. But even Kaiser Karl himself has been proven well and truly wrong: the sweatpants trend is becoming increasingly prevalent in both off- and on-duty contexts.
Combining traditional sportswear with structured items is pervasive in both men and women’s fashion, most notably in Rihanna’s recent collaboration with Puma. In a striking monochromatic palette, her debut AW16 RTW catwalk show in February 2016 presented high-waisted tracksuit bottoms for men and flowing joggers contrasted with stiletto heels for women.
Gigi Hadid has made sweatpants her fashion identifier, enhancing their status. Attending the SS16 Balmain show at Paris Fashion Week, the model coordinated tight white sweats with a crop top in the same stark hue, finished off with a cover-up crafted from gold-toned sequins in horizontal stripes. By switching out the glimmering coat and crop top for a slimline suit jacket and pussy-bow blouse, this ensemble could be easily adapted for the office.
To incorporate the sweatpants trend into workwear, women are choosing a soft-grey palette paired with streamlined pieces such as tailored jackets or crisp shirts tied at the waist.
A swathe of smoky hues is often favoured by Kendall Jenner. The model characteristically finishes her ensembles with slick sunglasses and hair swept into a tight knot for added finesse. The head-to-toe-grey trend has also appeared on attendees of several Paris Fashion Weeks, who slip on sleek sweatpants with heels, eye-catching jewellery and flashes of lipstick to up the sports-luxe aesthetic.
Vetements opted for a brighter take on designer track pants as on-duty wear in its AW16 collection. At Paris Fashion Week, the label showed a vibrant ensemble of red sweatpants with matching sweatshirts, pointed leather boots and classic trench coats.
With joggers increasingly being worn in the street, on the catwalk and even at the office, the sweatpants trend is firmly ingrained in the fashion world, bringing the unprecedented factors of comfort and practicality to the fore. Until it goes out of style, it's worth taking advantage of that.