In an informal poll of about 20 people, almost everyone knew what I was talking about when I mentioned the term “the Sweatpants Kid.” Even the outliers usually understood what I meant upon further explanation. Only one person polled couldn’t fully grasp the Sweatpants Kid, but maybe that’s because they were the Sweatpants Kid and just never, ever found out.
The Sweatpants Kid was the kid (usually a boy) in elementary or middle school who wore sweatpants all the time. Sometimes he knew he was the Sweatpants Kid and sometimes he didn’t. But it didn’t matter because he was the Sweatpants Kid. That’s that.
The trend always fell off around high school, when the Sweatpants Kid receded into the shadows. This was mostly because the Sweatpants Kid either started wearing pants or because sweatpants became normalized and acceptable for kids of all kinds. The Sweatpants Kid at my high school never stopped wearing sweatpants, but so many other kids were wearing sweatpants by senior year that he blended right in. There was an underlying class tension about why kids were so cruel and judgmental about the Sweatpants Kid — mocking those in a different class bracket is inexplicably codified into the middle-school experience — but today, it is important to remember: The Sweatpants Kid was right.
Unfair mockery of the Sweatpants Kid, as is the case with most childish mockery, came from a place of deep envy. It may not have been immediately clear why he was always wearing sweatpants, but chalking it up to a lack of family funds is a cruel and paper-thin ruse: Making fun of any kid for anything they wear is pointless. Do you think that kid is going out and buying clothes himself? Driving to the store in his kid-size car with his little kid-size credit card? No. But while all of us were trudging through those early adolescent years in clothes that our parents made us wear, fidgeting in scratchy shirts and pulling out those painful barrettes during recess, the Sweatpants Kid was the epitome of the sunglasses smiley-face emoji: chill, at ease, and comfortable as heck. The Sweatpants Kid had not a care in the world. He should have been crowned Homecoming King. The Sweatpants Kid knew something we all wish we had known.
The redemption and pedestal-hoisting of the Sweatpants Kid is an important correction to make. Adult life is a terror for people who prefer to dress for comfort (see: me, you) — you have to wear jeans, work-appropriate attire, formalwear to weddings, formalwear to funerals. Adult life is one huge “Shirts, Shoes, or No Service!” sign everywhere you turn. You can’t even run to the CVS for a Snickers without throwing on a “little dab of makeup” and a clean T-shirt. The Sweatpants Kid was prescient enough to have figured out at a young age that if he didn’t take advantage of these few short years when it didn’t matter how he dressed, he’d imprison himself to a life of stress about being sartorially appropriate, whatever that is. The Sweatpants Kid was clairvoyant and exceptionally chill. He, more than the first kid to get an iPod, the kid with the fresh Jordans, the kid with an “allowance,” actually got to enjoy the experience of being a kid, which is to say: no rules and no cares. Just him, some sweatpants, and kicking back in the sandbox.
Sweatpants Kids of the world, wherever you are, we salute you. We hope you grew into happy Sweatpants Adults.