Written by Bernadette Callaghan
Graphic by Asil Habara
Cast your mind back to the Grey Sweatpants Challenge of 2016 and the hysteria that surrounded it – men on Twitter wearing grey sweatpants would show off the size of their dicks, or miscellaneous household objects, through the fabric of their pants. Women on Twitter were in two minds about the trend: some found it sexy or funny while others found it ridiculous and attention-seeking. Regardless, it gave the humble sweatpant an elevated status in the male wardrobe. Fast forward to 2020, and TikTok, the viral video-sharing platform, is bringing sweatpants to the forefront of fashion again but this time for women.
Scroll down the “For You” page and you’re bound to come across a dance video, likely starring a teenage girl who’s dressed for comfort, participating in the latest viral dance trend. No one watching these videos is looking at the girls and commenting negatively about their clothes; it’s merely accepted as the norm. Let’s take Hannah (@thexhan) as an example. She is a regular on the “For You” page; a dancer whose typical uniform consists of bucket hats, oversized shirts and sweatpants. At a surface level, she is just another girl participating in dance trends, but her incredible skills and infectious smile have helped her accrue more than 4 million followers. Whether her participation in one of the best fashion trends to emerge in TikTok is conscious or not, she’s not the only high-profile creator to embrace it. Popular users such as @beron1212, @arbacn, @analisseworld and @reitergrace all accept this sweatpant trend and, despite the varied content they create, their core style is remarkably similar.
Think of it as an updated version of athleisure – clothing that is comfortable to live and move in, with the added benefit of obscuring the figure instead of revealing it. It is a style that has been oft-employed by people who are not body confident, who suffer body dysmorphia, or who would prefer to blend in rather than stand out. Ironically, oversized clothing has also starred frequently in runway shows for years now, with oversized shirts and jackets the mode du jour. It is only recently that Gen Z has made this trend of opting for looser, longer styles accessible and appealing for everyone.
Billie Eilish is undoubtedly the first celebrity that comes to mind when speaking of this trend. She walks the line between high and low fashion, wearing huge tracksuits from luxury labels that are at once hideous and incredibly fashionable. In her advertisement for Calvin Klein’s #MyCalvins campaign, she states that she wears big, baggy clothing because “nobody can have an opinion [on her body] because they can’t see what’s underneath”. It is a disheartening sentiment that society, despite its many advances, so often strips young women of their agency by criticising their appearance. That is why it’s so refreshing to see this relaxed, homely style of fashion take off – it is a reclamation of autonomy.
As with anything on the internet, once a trend is discovered, it is readily exploited. Many companies and social media influencers, seeing the growing popularity of sweatpants, have capitalised on sales and released special collaboration designs. Abby Roberts, a popular make-up artist on TikTok with 6.5 million followers, recently dropped her own merch which predominantly features sweatshirts and sweatpants embroidered with her name in a near-illegible font. It seems to draw inspiration from the streetwear brand Skoot, which both Abby and Billie Eilish have been seen wearing. It is a brand that makes the “ugly” fashionable, with layer upon layer of outlandish print and text digitally merged together to create huge statement pieces.
Similar to the sweatpants trend, this traditionally “ugly” style of fashion has a thriving fanbase on TikTok and a subsequent frenzied uptake among Gen Z. Both this trend and the sweatpants share a rejection of ideals in fashion. Neither can be considered traditionally beautiful, and yet the swift acceptance of them among the younger generations may signal a greater shift in standards of dress. With a simultaneous rejection and masking of the body in busy print and relaxed cuts, the combination of these styles calls for a stop to unwarranted body-shaming comments while allowing young women to grow past their potential insecurities on their own terms and explore fashion as a medium of self-expression. Let’s hope this comfortable, ugly fashion is here to stay.