In retrospect, this was inevitable. Ever since Mad Vlad Putin was snapped pumping iron in a pair of £2,000 Loro Piana joggers, we’ve been inexorably moving towards the day when men could wear matchy-matchy sportswear for activities other than rolling snares in the East River. For Armie Hammer in Adidas Originals, 2 Chainz in full look
It’s a weird and wonderful world, but we’re on board. Men’s clothing offers its share of ridiculous trends, but few have comfort so built in. And as with almost everything we wear these days, you can thank rap for that. “The tracksuit trend stems in part from the emergence of the word ‘cozy’ as an adjective in the form of a clothing aesthetic, from around 2013 onwards,” says Andrew Brines, buyer at Oki-Ni.
For proof, check out A$AP Mob’s Cozy Tapes, the first of which opens with an ode to being, “the sweat fit up […] terrycloth and all that shit,” before flipping rap’s normal braggadaccio script as Juicy J and A$AP Rocky battle it out over whose wardrobe is the most snuggly. “Come through with the really good goose down bubble jacket with the snow boots […] Outfit then flew, fell asleep before leaving the house.”
The tracksuit is that feeling turned up, a flex that says you’re so out dress codes, expectations, social decorum, being cozy is all you care about when you read your wardrobe in the morning. As Seinfeld’s George Costanza once dreamed, “I would drape myself in velvet if it was socially acceptable.” Thanks to hip-hop and Alessandro Michele, two decades later, it is.
A few trends converge in tracksuits, the big one being athleisure, which has changed from wearing Air Max with your suit to going to work dressed as a football coach. But there’s also fashion’s current obsession with the ’70s and ’90s, two decades when sportswear overtook, you know, the sport and the second wind of dirt, which saw kids in trackies take over the charts.
Because of course, sweatsuits never left – they were just out-of-bounds once they became the uniform of weed-slinging kids in the back of the supermarket. Until, at the start of the 2010s, they inspired a string of men, suddenly fed up with their double monks, to strip down to distinguish themselves from all the (other) Pitti posers.
“Menswear entered a new phase, dominated by synthetic materials, sportswear and the notion of being comfortable in one’s clothes,” says Brines. “But the popularity of tracksuits didn’t happen overnight.” First came luxury coziness, courtesy of Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta, which seeped down and transformed from cashmere to polyester. As designers looked for ways to keep pushing the envelope, we got side striped trousersdrawstring suits and finally, inevitably, a wholesale embrace of the head-to-toe tracksuit.
That said, we’re still close to the bleeding edge here, and the full look is full of tripwires. “For a first step, wear it as a separate,” says Brines. “Second, don’t wear tight pants. Some of the ’70s poly tracksuits outline your genitalia, and no one wants to see that.” Channel the roomier ’90s silhouette instead. Third, expect to compare the weather to Tony Soprano.
Five tracksuits appear to try
The recreational athlete
OK, of course you’re not going to wear your tracksuit to sports. But brands with sweat in their DNA have tried to mock them by sticking to their OG function. Tommy Hilfiger and Perry Ellis went all Olympic in their SS17 collections with red, white and blue tracksuits that would look great in the garden or parading around an opening ceremony. The trick here is to wear yours with other sporty-non-sportswear staples, like sneakers you’d never take near a treadmill, or plain black hoodies in fabrics too nice to indulge in a gym. Just steer clear of the sweatbands, Chas Tenenbaum.
Fashion’s current penchant for putting logos on any available surface has found particular fruit in the tracksuit, as for smart designers it’s basically a head-to-toe background block.
The streetwear outfit
If you have time to spend your Wednesday standing in line outside Supreme, odds are you don’t own an actual suit. The tracksuit fills the gap and offers as much impact as anything from Savile Row did for your father, at a (slightly) more reasonable price. Supreme’s the don, of course, though it’s best to get your bots ready to have any chance of doing both. But Palace’s nods to Adidas or premium sweatsuits from brands like LA’s Palm Angels and Japanese brand Needles (who were among the first to capitalize on the trend back in 2014) are ideal anytime you need to stunt on some fuccbois.
Think Run DMC back then, or Armie Hammer now, who until he retired the look this year had 70 in rotation. It’s about brands with credibility on the pitch –
Part of the tracksuit’s appeal is how it looks away from everyday men’s concerns. In a world where you can wear anything to work, odds are you still can’t wear a tracksuit. So for anyone who does it because their job involves posting on Instagram from a private jet, the tracksuit is a badge of honor, a sign that you exist on another plane. For this to work, your sweatsuit has to cost more than an actual suit –
The best workout and sweatsuit brands
Why look further? The three stripes tracksuits spent the 00s supporting Sports Direct but are now a legitimate choice for drill teams, Made in Chelsea cast, and everyone in between. If your tastes lean towards the former, make like Skepta and wear your black, ideally with a murdered logo. If you want something that’s going to pop on Instagram, check out his collaborations with brands like Alexander Wang and Gosha Rubchinskiy.
How did Kappa go from forgetting to celebrate its own centennial in 2016 to collaborating with what-how-much? brands like Marcelo Burlon County in Milan, we’ll never know. But no matter what, the Italian sportswear brand is riding high again (at least until the tracksuit bubble bursts). You don’t have to pay designer prices to carry some of that faith, though; in Britain at least, the brand has been around for so long that wearing one of its standard logo-striped kits gives you a look that’s a mix of irony, nostalgia and in-the-know that’s so hot right now.
For all its sportswear bona fides, Lacoste’s tracksuits are the kind you’d wear while warming up before the French Open, but the brand’s Gallic flair means they’re just as good with a glass of Chablis when the game is over. Go for plain(ish) shades and your tracksuit will work just as well as separates, which not only gives it extra life but also means you can break it out on those days when the full look feels a tad OTT.
Tailored to Skepta, FKA Twigs and Jamie XX, Cottweiler is the thinking man’s tracksuit brand. That’s because designers Ben Cottrell and Matthew Dainty approach sportswear with love, recreating the clothes they wore as kids in space-age fabrics and fresh new details, such as stretchy sleeves and sheer panels. While other brands are content to make silk joggers and put a four-figure price tag on it, in Cottweiler’s hands they evolve. If the sci-fi turns out to be true and we all end up in jumpsuits, we can imagine Cottweiler making them.
LA’s hottest streetwear label is half California surfer, half Soho House resident creative. Its tracksuits are laced with louche cuts that you can slip on straight out of the sea, in fabrics you’d never allow near salt water. It’s not a label for wallflowers – head-to-toe prints on offer this season include camo, tartan and palm trees, while block color fans can step up in lavender or hot pink. With fans like A$AP Rocky and Migos’s Offset, they come with jewelry.