They say it’s not what you look at that matters, but rather what you see. When you look at a pair of sweatpants, what do you see? A vehicle for stepping out in plush comfort, or a symbol for the loss of hope? The ever-polemic Karl Lagerfeld is purported to have said, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Whether the quote is canonical or apocryphal, I must have unconsciously internalized this ludicrous doctrine, because when Man Repeller challenged me to demonstrate how to make sweats look “put together,” I realized that not only did I not own a pair, I’d also never held these bastions of athleisure in any regard.
When asked how to make sweats look put together, a number of questions arise. For one: What makes sweats sweats? Is it the loose shape of the bottoms or the fabric from which they are wrought? What if a pair of pants is shaped like sweats but doesn’t feel like sweats to the touch? Is a sweater a sweatshirt because they share a common prefix?
Then of course, there is the question of what it even means to look “put together” in the first place. I suppose the answer has something to do with intentionality: achieving an aesthetic presentation that heralds calculation and energy being put into the process of dressing. And I suppose it is for this reason that sweats may have a bad rap in some circles. Often worn for the practical purpose of comfort, they can appear to be the very antithesis of an intentionality in dressing. They might be viewed as coincidental rather than deliberate, as if to say, “I didn’t choose to wear sweats, the sweats chose me,” and if you didn’t choose, then what does that say about your own agency?
The fact of the matter is, sweats can be and often are very much a purposeful choice. And given that they feel particularly relevant to our era of fashion with the rise of athleisure, here’s what I hope is some empirical evidence that sweats can be used in ways that would make Beau Brummell proud, cliche be damned.
When I think about looking “put together,” the first image that comes to mind is that of the dandy, those men who made a religion of aesthetics and sartorialism their liturgy. From the dandy, my mind springs to the image of the Sapeur — the dandies of Congo — and specifically their devotion to a good color story. In this look, I started with a pair of navy sweatpants by menswear brand GoodLife (I found the waffle texture of the alpaca bottoms endearing). To create a bien-sapé (a term that means “well-dressed,” and from which Sapeurism takes its name) effect, two things were necessary: fine tailoring and the right haberdashery.
The mint-green blazer, a complementary contrast to the navy blue (because if we are in the business of turning sweats into suiting, then we are in the business of paradox), came from Lake Studio, a Ukrainian brand with which I have developed an incurable fixation. Adding to the gradient of blues were mules by Malone Souliers that espouse textural play with their chiasmus of velvet, satin and patent leather. Finally, I’ve always thought of well-made hats as the dressing equivalent of a Christmas tree topper (and I suppose I have always wanted to be a Christmas tree?) so a Worth & Worth hat was the haberdashery of choice.
Do porous pants count as sweats just because they are shaped like sweats and have a drawstring but could never deign to keep one warm? I’d say so. In this look, I combined a pair of mesh sweats from No Ka Oi with a classic black blazer from another one of my favorite women’s suiting brands, Blazé Milano. The sharpness of the peak lapel provided a direct contrast to the bulbous trousers.
Cutting a solid black with brown is perhaps my favorite aesthetic formula. The Tome trench I wore, which I scored in a sample sale, did that quite expertly with the subtle detail of an “evil eye” rendered in black ribbon on the dorsal flap. I chose a pair of architectural brown pumps from Korean brand Yuul Yie for their menswear-redolent almond toe box and multi-dimensional heel, and added in a sprinkle of the unexpected with my trusty indigo #oldceline clutch and a vintage Hermes scarf I found on eBay many moons ago.
Of Traffic Cones and Beaver Felt
I worship at the altar of monochromatic dressing, but I never knew what I would do with a full vermillion sweatsuit until I had to do something with a full vermillion sweatsuit. In this look, I tucked a sweatshirt from Aiello into the matching sweatpants and bridged their meeting point with my maroon velvet Tara Jarmon belt (turned a bit to the side to hide the gold buckle as I wanted a cleaner finish). I tucked in the hood of the sweatshirt, intentionally building height around the neckline to form a faux mandarin collar.
To really lean into the traffic cone dreams to which I aspire, I veered slightly from the crimson of the sweatsuit, adding on my other favorite Lake Studio piece from my closet (I told you, the obsession is real): a neon citrus confection of a blazer of a mini dress that I would only dare to wear as blazer. I was arrested by the color, but I stayed for the pleat detail on those sculptural sleeves. The real clincher for me, however, was finding a reason to wear another Worth & Worth hat, one that I consider to be milliner Orlando Palacios’ chef d’oeuvre: the hand-crafted, hand-painted Domo hat of which no two are alike. It is precisely the smattering of moss green, as subtle as a suggestion, on my hat’s dome that I think made the look come together as monochrome without being monotone.
Sweats need not telegraph a certain relegation to the status quo; in fact, they can signal the very opposite. To bastardize Camus, if Sisyphus chooses to wear the sweats, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.” But, before we go drawing a Porphyrian tree of genus sweatpants, let’s just remember that it really is not all that deep: Feeling “put together” is simply about wearing what— I had to do it, forgive me — sparks joy!
Photography by Colby Blount . Follow him on Instagram
Follow Natasha Nyanin on Instagram and her blog, The Ecstatic Flash