Five Smart Ways To Smarten Up Your Sweats

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Five Smart Ways To Smarten Up Your Sweats

Words by Mr Jim Merrett

27 September 2023

Sweats has to be the least appealing name for one of the most appealing genres of clothing. But let’s put etymology – and, gag, thoughts of bodily fluids – aside and focus instead on soft loopback or fleece-back cottons. Or, if we’re pushing the boat out – and we really should – cashmere. See, we’re in a more comfortable place already. And there’s the draw of drawstrings, of sweatshirts and sweatpants, and their adjacent hoodies and shorts, fashioned from comfy jersey. In this harsh world, comfort is king.

Now, we’re assuming that, at this late stage, you don’t need much in the way of instruction on how to wear sweats, as we’re still inclined to designate them, in a leisure setting. At the very least, you’re familiar with the entry points, which hole is for which limb, etc. But what you might not have considered is how such items can be inserted into your everyday, and even more formal, attire.

What has long served for lounging around in can be easily elevated. In part, this is down to opting for upgraded sweats – time to cast your mind to cashmere once more – but also thinking about what to wear them with. Careful deployment can really raise your game. All it takes is the application of logic. Perhaps we should call them “smarts” instead?

01. Track pants and loafers

What is today known as the tracksuit was introduced and first marketed in the 1930s as “The Sunday Suit”. The idea being that this was the sort of thing that you could wear off-duty, whether for exercise or leisure. With her appreciation of history, designer Ms Grace Wales Bonner here touches on a deeper meaning: the concept of Sunday best. We’re talking a raised seam, rich brown tone and a cut that leans into those of the 1970s, an era when her sometime-cohort adidas sent the tracksuit into overdrive. Play with that sense of timelessness by employing Gucci’s iconic horsebit loafers. Reach a bit further with a classic cardigan and faux-pearl necklace.

02. Hoodie and a trench coat

What comes to the fore today whenever the man does anything erratic or problematic, which he is increasingly wont to do, is the sense that we miss “Old Kanye”. And there’s more to that than humming along to The College Dropout. If you could harness that feeling in an outfit, it would be a hoodie and trench coat. With the hood draped over the back of a Napoleon collar and the hem skirting the calves, there is drama. But by lining up an item that has come to symbolise youthful exuberance alongside one that first fought in the Great War, there is balance. Selvedge jeans and an intricately woven leather bag, too, will help you get your swagger back.

03. Crewneck sweatshirt and suit jacket

The Platonic ideal for the sweatshirt? That might just be Sunspel’s version, here in grey. The Nottinghamshire clothing maker provided the underwear worn by Mr Nick Kamen in that 1980s Levi’s advert, which shifted as many boxer shorts as it did jeans. And Mr Daniel Craig’s James Bond could be seen in the brand’s polo shirt in 2006’s Casino Royale. Which is to say that its basics are far from basic. Enhance yours further with a blazer or suit jacket, in this instance the latter, in worsted wool from Officine Générale. Take things up a notch with a full-grain leather tote, and try on a baseball cap, such as this from cult Korean streetwear brand thisisneverthat.

04. Half-zip sweatshirt and formal trousers

As we reported earlier this year, the half-zip or quarter-zip sweater has experienced quite the sartorial turnaround of late, embraced by prime ministers and Premier League football managers. We’d say remarkable, but the opposite is the point. We suspect that part of the appeal is to appear to be just like the ordinary guy. But, you know, better. JW Anderson’s version is a typically cheeky take, with a naughtily nautical monogram patch and padlock zipper. Since you’re already down as a details man, complete the look with tailored trousers, an Oxford shirt and Derby shoes. Serious, but with a sense of humour.

05. Sweat shorts and a shirt

Shorts with a long-sleeved top is something of an underused power pairing. Maybe because we’re so used to the idea of a short-sleeved T-shirt worn with trousers that spinning it around can also flip our heads. The obvious go-to here is a sweatshirt, but a shirt worn with sweat shorts is next level. A pinstriped shirt? Instant KO. This is the style equivalent of a Street Fighter Super Combo. Throw in a tank top and a silver chain under the shirt, worn open, and it’s game over.