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Front Porch: How to wear sweatpants with dignity

Thu., April 7, 2011

So what’s wrong with sweats anyhow?

OK, you shouldn’t wear baggy-bottomed, light-gray sweatpants to the Spokane Symphony. And they don’t belong at a wedding. Or probably a funeral. But really, I think we need to loosen up a little about sweats.

Normally I decry the diminishing of societal standards. Good grammar, word usage and spelling are essential to the survival of civilization, as far as I’m concerned. Belly shirts and flip-flops should be outlawed, unless one is 8 years old. “Please” and “thank you” must be reinstated in all questions with an ask in them or in response to receipt of something. Limits are to be mandated for the number and location of body piercings. And everyone – male or female, young or old – must hold open the door for the person following behind.

Just a few simple rules. So I should really hate the emergence of sweatpants out in public (except for at the gym, of course). But I don’t. You can probably guess why.

I am reminded of a story ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer told. An elegant and sophisticated woman, always impeccably dressed on camera, she is married to famed film and stage director and producer Mike Nichols and often accompanies him to social events required in his industry. However, she confesses that when she is off-camera, she lives in sweats. Apparently it’s rare for him to see her at home in anything else. And she’ll go out in them as well.

There was some casual occasion – I don’t remember what – which he was going to, and he asked her to accompany him. She said she kind of complained. She was in her sweats, didn’t feel like getting dressed up, all of that. In exasperation and apparently in the spirit of compromise, he turned to her, she said, and wearily asked, “Well, can you at least just put on your good sweats?”

I’ve forgotten what she said back to him and how it turned out, but I commend her for her sartorial predilections (and open confession about them) and him for acknowledging that good sweats actually exist and can be seen in public – even among the glitterati.

Now a distinction should be made between sweatshirts and sweat bottoms. Sweatshirts are a part of Americana. Good luck trying to take a Cougs, Bulldogs, Eagles (Seahawks, Mariners, Trail Blazers, etc.) sweatshirt away from a fan. There are sweatshirts with puppies on them, political slogans, flowers, you name it – something for everyone. They’re warm and easy to wear and, especially with a shirt or turtleneck underneath, pretty darn OK, if not downright spiffy, for all sorts of public wearing.

But sweatpants are a whole other subject, and the one for which I’m trying to find some public legitimacy. I’ll concede that sweatpants that droop many inches below one’s bottom look rather slovenly. And those that reveal what we used to call plumber’s butt (crack cleavage is a more modern, though less tasteful, term, my younger friends tell me) – well, that’s not acceptable.

However, a properly fitting and not-stained pair of sweatpants can look quite nice, especially when coordinated with an above-the-waist garment in a harmonious color. Secondly, they are just so darned comfortable.

These little wonders are easy to put on – no zippers, buttons or snaps – and are so waistline forgiving that last night’s lasagna or that time-of-the-month bloat just aren’t an issue. And you can go out and eat lunch with friends and not fear button-popping or the discomfort that comes of sitting for a long period of time with increasing constriction at the waist. They are also soft and warm. Frankly I can testify that they keep legs nice and toasty when time is spent outdoors in the winter (especially when wearing microfiber sweats). And they are wonderfully easy to maintain. Though not recommended, you can leave them curled up in a ball in the corner overnight, and they look just fine in the morning. Try that with your belted cotton pants.

I do wear slacks. I do wear jeans. But I really, really, really like to wear sweats. I have them in numerous colors. I have a couple of pairs I just wear around the house (they sag) and a couple I’ve deemed fit for public viewing.

I’m not sure how much of a hypocrite this makes me – you know, kind of like situational ethics – but I’m getting to the place where I can live with it, even so. I was just hoping to find some rationale or aha moment that would clear it all up for me, that’s all.

But, please, don’t get me started on people wearing pajamas out in public. That is so wrong!

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@ Previous columns are available at columnists/.

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