This Is How the Sweatpant Got So Smart—And Expensive

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with those old sweatpants you shrug on for comfort. But out on the street and at work, a new, sleek, and very pricey sweatpant has taken over.

Photo illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

The sweatpant has left the gym. These days, this one-time exercise-wear staple is worn to go shopping—and not just a quick trip out for milk—as well as the runways of Paris Fashion Week.

The “athleisure” trend has been the catalyst for the high fashion return of sweatpants, spurred by the improved materials that allow sportswear—ranging from yoga pants to leggings—to be worn both casually and fashionably.

While brands such as Adidas and Nike have been creating this kind of gear for decades, bigger names in the industry such as Burberry and Versace are taking advantage of this trend, elevating it to a high fashion platform.

“Everybody really wears this kind of look,” said Julie Anne Quay, the founder and CEO of VFiles. “You can look at TLC, Aaliyah, and even Flashdance. This look has been around for years.”

VFiles and the casual and dress clothing brand Juicy Couture have recently collaborated on a collection that incorporates many elements from the athleisure trend. The “VFiles la Juicy” collection consists of velour pants and crop tops that mimic the appearance of sweatpants and sweatshirts with the text “Juicy” and “VFiles” emblazoned throughout the material.

During the designing process, Quay said she wanted to create pieces that were sexy, fashionable, and comfortable. And sure, practical.

“I think fashion is always a reflection of how we live and go about our daily business,” Quay said. “Life’s fast, so we designed this collection to accommodate the lifestyles we all have.”

Juicy Couture was one of the designer brands during Paris Fashion Week whose runway show featured high fashion athletic clothing. The brand displayed a small collection of sequin and plush tracksuits in the latter half of its presentation.

Also at PFW, Jun Takahashi of Undercover unveiled his women’s collection, of which sweatpants were a major component. Sports jackets, tracksuits, and sweatshirts were also other pieces of athletic gear that Takahashi managed to make sophisticated.

“You see a lot of luxury houses designing sweatpants, hoodies, and backpacks,” Quay said. “The question has to be: Are the people who can pay those extremely expensive prices going to actually dress like that?”

The all-important brand name is the determining factor. For example, a pair of men’s FILA sweatpants at Bloomingdales is priced at $52, whereas a pair of men’s Versus Versace sweats is priced at a staggering $475 at the same store.

From Burberry, a pair of women’s Vintage Crest Sweatpants is priced at $650 (shipping is free, thankfully) at Nordstrom.

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Adidas, the epitome of sporting clothing, has joined the smartening trend and has a pair of men’s Wide Leg Track Pants selling at $320 as a part of its luxury Y-3 collection.

Both Bloomingdales and Nordstrom declined to comment on the sales of these collections of sweats.

By comparison, the Velour Pants of the “VFiles la Juicy” collection are priced at $148. While not on the extremely expensive side, the price is still relatively high for what is, essentially, a pair of pink sweatpants. The collection will sell exclusively at Urban Outfitters and can be purchased online at VFiles’ website.

Quay told The Daily Beast that the brand is not quantifying its target demographic by age but rather “by attitude.” The brand plans on making nostalgia the selling point of the collection.

“I think the target demographic for this collection are people who loved Juicy back in the ’90s and early 2000s,” Quay said. “The new audience will love it now because of what it aesthetically means and stands for. These are going to be two different age groups who are aesthetically connected to each other.”

The practicality of the sweatpant is now not its raison d’être. Brand and material is all. What the sweatpant now lacks in affordability, it makes up for in sophistication and design. Whether the smart sweatpant continues its winning march will be “up to the youth,” as Quay puts it.

“Fashion always starts with the kids, and from the bottom-up, never from the top down,” Quay said. “If you’re going to use ideas to draw attention to your brand, especially if you’re a luxury brand, the least you could do is make the product affordable to the kids whose ideas you’re building off of.”