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Item of the week: the retro sweatpants

By Rachel Douglass



(From left) Image: Levi's, Madewell, Karl Lagerfeld

What it is:

Sweatpants gained popularity during the 1980s, a decade that is often defined by the sudden fitness craze that took hold of shoppers. Vintage styles typically come in high-waisted, baggy fits, with loose materials around the legs and elasticated ankles. Many iterations also utilise bold colour palettes, which are often in blocked patterns, geometric shapes or used in seam piping, further emphasising the shape. For SS23, many designers seemingly took inspiration from the decade to inform on their sportswear looks, where the retro sweatpant was either seen on its own or paired with a matching sweat jacket.
Image: Scotch & Soda

Why you’ll want it:

This trend has likely seen a resurgence as loungewear evolves alongside changing consumer lifestyles, as an offset of the pandemic, during which sweatpants and comfortable apparel took the front seat. As life begins to settle back into normality, loungewear has moved beyond its place as simply a comfort wardrobe and has stepped into more fashion-forward, out-the-house appropriate styles, with pieces beginning to emerge that encourage dailywear. The retro sweatpant mirrors this shift, as well as the ever-increasing interest in vintage apparel, with both brands and designers looking to appeal to shoppers that are looking to combine the two trends.
Image: Levi's

Where we’ve seen it:

Vintage-inspired designs played a big part in SS23 collections. For the likes of Martine Rose and Saul Nash, retro sweats came in the form of two piece suits, with piped seam details and typical block colour schemes. Amiri also took a whole outfit approach, albeit sticking closely to the American collegiate style for a look that consisted of sweatpants and a matching letterman jacket. Meanwhile other brands took the trend more literally, with pants in neon colourways, closely reminiscent of their 80s roots. This could be seen in the collections of Bluemarble and Vtmnts, both of which opted for bold hues and baggy fits.
Image: Stella McCartney

How to style it:

Sweatpants can work well with sweaters in similar colourings or paired with a jacket or top that matches the style, for a complete loungewear look. Trainers or slides are the perfect footwear to tie the outfit together. To avoid sweatpants becoming too casual, pair the look with a fitted crop top or bralette, bringing the item closer to the eveningwear category. To mix it up even more, add a pair of heels in a contrasting colour, further boosting its formality. Other experimental pieces that can go alongside sweatpants are fitted button-up shirts, figure-hugging corsets or bulky ankle boots.
Image: Axel Arigato
The retro sweatpants, like other trends, are likely an offset of pandemic-induced themes that can mostly be linked to the rise in athleisure and loungewear styles. Designers took the look to runways for SS23 in which they displayed a vast variety of ways this piece can be worn that bring it beyond its origins to become a dailywear item.
Image: Na-kd

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