I have not worn real pants in over a month.
To clarify: I have not been walking around my house in my underwear. My uniform now consists entirely of sweatpants and leggings — technically pants, but not the kind you’d find on SpongeBob. No jeans. No corduroys. No khakis. Nothing with a waist that doesn’t expand; nothing that I can’t assume the fetal position in.
This is my new normal. I’ve gone from being a “pants person” to someone who fantasizes about a world in which I never have to stuff myself into stiff fabric tubes again. Now that the bottom half of my body has grown accustomed to feeling like a hot dog in a soft dough blanket, I may never go back. Why would I? I’m not a masochist! I’ve tried putting on jeans a few times, only to fall to the floor and kick them off like a woman being eaten by a two-headed snake.
I’m not the only one resisting. As many of us continue to remain indoors, people are having a hard time putting on outdoor clothes again. “Y’all still wearing pants? In this economy???” said writer Heben Nigatu on Twitter last week. “Buttons? Never heard of ’em,” someone replied.
So many people are embracing sweatpants right now, the style has seen a reported increase in sales. But what happens when we emerge from all this? As history has shown, a large-scale crises (like a pandemic) can change the way we dress. One oft-cited example is what happened post-WWII. Pants became more common for women, who were asked to enter the workforce, but after years of fabric rationing and women playing more traditionally masculine roles, women also turned toward fuller, more feminine silhouettes — the trickle-down effect of Christian Dior’s “new look.”
After the Great Recession, wardrobes generally became more casual. For a period, excess was taboo, and as workplaces became more flexible, so too did workplace dress codes. Many people worked from home in sweatpants long before the coronavirus pandemic. (I can only imagine what Zoom staffers wear to work.) But athleisure and loungewear still haven’t been completely normalized. Think of all the headlines about girls getting in trouble for wearing leggings to school, or the stereotypes around sweatpants. The fact that neither were a regular part of my wardrobe until now says something. Trends may change, but society is slower to evolve.
It’s impossible to predict how this particular pandemic will change the way we dress. We don’t know how this story ends. Will designer masks become a status symbol? Will we emerge from self-isolation as flamboyant maximalists who never want to look at sweatpants again? Or will our newfound obsession with cleanliness (and our strained bank accounts) make us sober minimalists? I want to ask if leggings will finally be accepted in the workplace, but it seems more likely that a large percentage of us will not return to offices at all.
“I’m going to wear whatever the fuck I want when this is over,” said a friend recently over Zoom. The stakes will be lower, he explained. We’re all just going to be happy to see each other — grateful for every day that we get to wake up and put on pants. Or not.