Last week The Curmudgeon wore sweatpants for the first time in nearly 42 years.
It’s been so long, in fact, that the very term has undergone a change: what once were referred to as “sweat pants” are now, much to The Curmudgeon’s displeasure, “sweatpants.”
While sweatshirts have been around forever, sweat clothing in general, and what some people now call “active wear,” were not always such a big part of American fashion, if one can be permitted to refer to sweat clothes as fashion, which The Curmudgeon most decidedly does not.
The Curmudgeon recalls very clearly the first time he even heard of sweat pants: it was September of 1970, he had just entered high school, and his new gym teacher, a miserable excuse of a human being who also was the coach of the school’s horrible football team and who was so thoroughly incapable of separating his extra-curricular job from his real job that the day after games he would set his class up in some activity and then walk 100 yards away and turn his back to us so he could be alone with his misery, explained that in high school gym class was held outdoors until the end of December and then from April 1 onward so we would need a sweatsuit to keep us warm when we were outdoors. The Curmudgeon reported this to his parents, who bought him matching blue sweat pants and a sweatshirt (it was blue or gray, that’s all that was available those days, and any mom who bought sweats was going to buy blue because they were less likely to show stains), as did most of the parents, except those rich ones who purchased overpriced sweatsuits at the school store and let their kids go to gym looking like bananas because the school colors were black and gold and the sweatsuits sold at the school store were 95 percent gold.
So for the next five years – as he has mentioned in the past, The Curmudgeon attended a five-year high school – he wore sweat pants from roughly October through December and then again from April until it got warm enough to go outside without one. Consequently, he is fairly confident that the last time he wore sweat pants was sometime in late April or early May of his senior year of 1975, at which point it started to become warm enough to leave the sweats at home and brave the outdoors in those tacky white gym shorts boys wore back in the day.
And as far as he knows his sweat pants disappeared in a drawer, never to be worn again – assuming he even bothered bringing them home from school at the end of his senior year.
Over the years sweat pants and then sweatpants, and sweatsuits, emerged from their niche as something you wore to stay warm while exercising outdoors to become something that people wore when not exercising – when shopping, running errands, going out to eat, socializing, sitting around the house, and more. Some people called them running suits or jogging suits, although relatively few people ran or jogged in them. They also became fat pants for a lot of people – pants that would stretch as they stretched and expand as they expanded without the need to buy new pants or to address the underlying causes of all that stretching and expanding. As more people wore them they became better looking – well, to some people and in a manner of speaking, certainly not to The Curmudgeon – they came out in colors other than gray and blue, acquired pockets and flies, grew stripes down the sides of the legs for reasons no one has ever been able to explain, and even came in materials other than traditional sweat fabrics, most notably artificial materials that you’d never wear while exercising because they didn’t breathe at all. Parents started wearing sweatsuits and then even grandparents started wearing sweatsuits.
In other words, they became…regular clothing.
Well, for some people.
But not for The Curmudgeon, who found them appalling and hideous and uncomfortable, and he while has never been terribly interested in how he dresses, he was damned if he was going to go out wearing something he knew looked hideous on absolutely everyone.
So he didn’t. Twice in the years after he was paroled from college his parents bought him sweatsuits as a gift and he still has one of the sweatshirts from one of those sweatsuits but he never, ever wore the pants – not even indoors. Why not? Why not wear them around the house in the evening after work or to sleep on chilly nights?
The truth: aside from being uncomfortable and their sheer ugliness – and to this day he continues to view all sweatpants to be unconscionably and unacceptably ugly – he was afraid that if he wore them too often he would never notice that he had gained weight and gotten fat: that they would become his fat pants, too. The Curmudgeon has always been inclined toward, shall we say, portliness, and he was always terrified that if he wore sweatpants too often he would fail to notice himself exceeding even his normal level of portliness.
And so he declined to wear sweatpants.
Until last week.
So what happened?
As he has written in the past, The Curmudgeon works at home and engages in a mild exercise routine before work. He spends about 15 minutes stretching, most of it on the floor, and then another 15 or so on a stationary bike at about half speed, neither for aerobic nor anaerobic purposes but just to continue the stretching (he gets back on the stationary bike after work for a more vigorous workout). He has always found long pants to be too constricting for both the stretching and the pedaling, so even in the winter he’d put on shorts and engage in his morning exercise regimen in his first floor condo, which was always quite comfortable.
But when he married he moved into his wife’s home, a 112-year-old house that, like most houses, has a chilly basement that is at its chilliest first thing in the morning. At first The Curmudgeon tried to ignore his discomfort, but when he found himself making excuses for skipping his morning stretch he realized he had to do something to enable him to hit the basement once again.
Hence the sweatpants, from a regional department store, for $7.99, which can’t possibly be more than his parents paid for his gym sweat pants in 1970.
They’re blue, and they’re sweatpants material, not a silly nylon. No fly, no pockets, and certainly no ridiculous racing stripe down the side. Just a drawstring up top and elastic at the bottoms, so alterations were unnecessary. And The Curmudgeon has learned yet another downside of sweatpants: they are a magnet for any dust and dirt on carpets, and with half of his morning exercise routine down on the floor, that’s a problem. He has a choice: become a compulsive gambler or look the character “Pigpen” from the Charlie Brown comic strip. A hint: The Curmudgeon has never been big on vacuuming.
And so, after a hiatus of nearly 42 years, The Curmudgeon has again donned a pair of sweat pants, er, sweatpants.
But he’s never, ever leaving the house in them.