Women rushed past them in M&S as if looking dull was contagious, the French refused to be seen in public and mothers urged their daughters to hide them from any potential husbands. For something so easy to wear, elasticated waists have taken a beating, and until recently were – outside of sports and, in a pinch, airplanes – only acceptable to the very young or very old. . Anyone in the busy, cutthroat business has gone the extra mile with zippers, belts, or buttons when they left the house.
Fashion, of course, has displayed its contempt for the elasticated waist. When Anna Wintour was asked if she had ever worn joggers, she stared at the interviewer with an icy stare and simply replied “no.” The withered line of Karl Lagerfeld – “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you bought sweatpants,” sums up the attitude of the industry. They were the domain of Vicky Pollard and five-a-side footballers. When David Cameron urged us to embrace a hoodie, there was no way he would do it in anything other than well-cut chinos.
But, oh, how times change. I remember living in Paris in my twenties and being scolded by a French boyfriend for trying to go downstairs to buy a baguette while wearing jogging bottoms. “But what about the baker,” he said sadly. “He also has eyes.” Today, that same baker is no doubt eyeing the city’s cool crowd who float around in high-quality tracksuits from ultra-luxe brands like Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and The Row.
High fashion (Stella McCartney, Gucci and Fendi in particular) started this trend a year or two before Covid reared its ugly head, and the rise of “athleisure” meant that celebrities like Jared Leto, Victoria Beckham and Rihanna were regularly spotted in designer sweatpants. But it was during lockdown that the rest of us embraced the idea of a waistline that was shaped for our bodies rather than one that shaped them. After a lifetime of focusing on what made us look good, many of us have finally learned to appreciate the clothes that made us feel good. For anyone who had spent their weeks in suits and boots and their zipped weekends in jeans, this seemed revolutionary.
“An elasticated waist means you don’t have to worry about being tied up like a turkey, which is the very antithesis of chic,” says designer Madeleine Thompson, who makes soft cashmere tracksuits for her eponymous label. . “Fashion now allows us to really enjoy our clothes and people are grabbing this opportunity with both hands.”