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Sweatpants have smothered business casual. Could that change last forever? - The Boston Globe

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“It’s just more comfortable," he said. "It’s hard to be at home and fully dressed.”

Spying on what’s going on in the background of people’s homes during virtual meetings has become a white-collar pastime these days. But something else is lurking just off-screen: the abandonment of anything resembling business attire.

People are wearing sweats so frequently that it has upended the fundamental tenets of laundry, as people slip into long-abandoned jeans to wash their collection of sweatpants, instead of vice versa. Others have organized formal dinners just to change things up a little. One person, in a fit of panic, rushed into his closet one night to see if his business suit still fit. Many have exclaimed that if this virus ever goes away, switching back to work clothes could prove impossible.

Chris Flores works from home in a shirt and tie — and sweat pants.
Chris Flores works from home in a shirt and tie — and sweat pants.Chris Flores

Heck, Anna Wintour herself has come around.

They’re "like a second skin, almost,” said 32-year-old Sean Rourke, who, like so many others, has worn sweatpants during video calls for work. “Everyone looks business casual from the waist up.’”

Even Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, whose public-facing persona demands a look of professionalism, has found himself leaning into it.

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“I was the kind of guy who, before, I would wear a suit almost every single day,” he said. Now, “sweatpants-slash-comfortable pants are much more common than I would have ever worn them before. No doubt.”

Just the other day, as Chapdelaine uncharacteristically wore sweatpants to go grocery shopping, his 3-year-old son made a passing comment about his new look. In a tweet, Chapdelaine joked he had been shamed by a toddler.

“He looks at me and goes, ‘Why are you wearing that?’” Chapdelaine said. “He just never sees me leave the house in sweatpants, so he called it out.”

While some have embraced their new WFH garb, others are drawing important distinctions between pairs of drawstring pants.

Crystal Lee, a graduate student at MIT, says she’s found a line between what she calls “work sweatpants” and “relaxing sweatpants."

The difference, she explained, is that the work sweatpants are more “athleisure,” and could be worn, say, in an office setting, whereas the latter are the ones she wouldn’t dare wear outside — or even on a Zoom call.

“I try to preserve some sort of internal sense of working,” she said. “But talk to me in a week, and maybe that will change.”

A possible sign that her restraint is eroding came when Lee found herself putting on jeans to wash the clothes that have become the backbone of her pandemic wardrobe.

“I don’t think I would wear this amount of ‘stretch’ all the time," Lee said, "without the quarantine.”

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Even as the humble sweat pant has emerged as a lockdown hero, critics continue to poke holes. In a recent Los Angeles Times article titled “Enough with the WFH sweatpants," a deputy fashion editor took aim at dressing-down, calling for a moratorium on “sweatpants, ratty, gray, decades-old collegiate sweatshirts and obscure minor league baseball caps.”

The hot take was met by swift rebuke, and on Twitter was ratioed — it received more angry comments than retweets and “likes” — into oblivion.

The newspaper later begged on social media, “please forgive.”

Though fashionable sweatpants and joggers have long been a major staple of streetwear and hip-hop culture, and athleisure has become a mainstay — breaking down barriers between work and play — the coronavirus shutdown could lead to a broader spectrum of consumers buying into those trends.

“I do think it will convert their mentality as to, ‘OK, well, I want to be the most comfortable, I feel the most comfortable, how can I keep that comfort?’ ” said Priscella Shum, global design lead for fashion collaborations at Reebok. “Something inside of them will click, and they’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, I can wear something like this’ " out of the house or in the office, depending on the style.

That won’t be the case for Kosta Ligris, chief executive and cofounder of Stavvy, which develops technology for real estate transactions.

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To be sure, the former lawyer is enjoying the comforts of working from home, and is “in sweatpants daily right now.” He even ordered a new pair of Lululemon sweatpants the other day.

But as soon as we can trickle back into the office, he’ll be the first to fold them up.

“That’s going to be the victory; that’s how I know this is over with," Ligris said, "when I go back to the 30 pairs of jeans I have that all look the same.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.



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