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In Living Commentary

Molly knew right away that Andy was wearing sweatpants. (PHOTO: Jason McDowell )

In Living Commentary

So did Carolynn (PHOTO: Jason McDowell )

In Living Commentary

Don't try this at home. (PHOTO: Jason McDowell )

In Living Commentary

Unfortunately, no one was tricked by the velour blazer. (PHOTO: Jason McDowell )

Can you wear sweatpants to work?


I wore sweatpants outside the house once. I think I was in seventh grade.

Since then, I've made it a policy that sweatpants are for at-home lounging and/or sleeping only. I guess I've worn running pants outside in the winter, but only while running.

I will concede that the rules of sweatpants might be a little different for men and women. I've seen some ladies pull off the yoga pants look when not in yoga. But I can't think of a time when I've seen a non-rapper nail the terrycloth thing.

So, you can tell that I'm a sweatpants snob. That's why I was particularly drawn to an ad I saw on Facebook (yes, people click on them) for Betabrand's "dress sweatpants."

It turns out that the San Francisco clothier not only sells dress sweatpants, but also blazers made out of sweatpants material. I pitched them on this article topic, and they sent over the jacket and pants – or as they call them, "an experiment in sartorial subterfuge."

My question: Can you wear sweatpants to work? Betabrand thinks so.

"First and foremost, we thought it was an interesting idea," said Anthony Jaffe, director of marketing. "Lots of folks seem to have very strong opinions — pro and con — about wearing sweatpants in public. So we thought: Why not create some sweatpant-ish trousers that are actually office-appropriate? When you show up to work in a pair, you're essentially forcing a referendum on the subject."

I do have a pretty casual office. Unless I have a meeting that requires dressing up, my definition of business casual is a shirt and jeans (unless it's over 90 degrees on a Friday, then maybe I'll wear shorts).

Still, I'd never consider wearing sweatpants to work. Until now.

But I had to work up the courage to wear this ensemble in front of my coworkers, who have no problem – nor should they – telling me I look ridiculous.

So do these pants and jacket look ridiculous? In a word, no.

The pants are actually very well thought-out. Made with "high-end French terry," they are charcoal-colored and lined with orange fabric. The right front pocket has an additional pocket inside that's for stashing a wallet. The only obvious giveaway to me are the double-layer knee patches.

Jaffe said the patches are for structure, but also for aesthetics.

"It was also simply a feature that our designers wanted to try out. A lot of folks really liked the visible knee patches. However, our other two styles of Dress Pant Sweatpants (Black and Pinstripe) don't feature them," he said.

The jacket is made from the same material. It's fitted but also unconstructed. With its larger lapels, it doesn't look especially formal to me. If I were to purchase this blazer, I'd size down from an XL to an L (I typically wear a 44R jacket). I didn't at first think I could pull it off.

I needed a trial run.

Wearing comfy clothes from head to toe, I decided to try out the outfit on a trip to the Domes.

Indeed, I felt ridiculous and extremely self-conscious. I wore the gray pants with the gray blazer over a tan sweater. I felt like a mobster getting dressed up for church. Although I was exceedingly comfortable (I felt like I was wearing pajamas), I felt like everyone knew I was wearing a sweatsuit. I shared the experience with Betabrand and they suggested splitting the suit up. Genius!

I regrouped and paired the pants with a tailored blue-checked crisp dress shirt, a black belt and black shoes. I let some time pass before asking my coworkers if they could tell I was wearing, basically, pajamas bottoms.

"I think a professional man can rock the dress sweatpants easily, and not just on Casual Friday," said staff writer Collen Jurkiewicz. "When I saw you I didn't realize you were wearing sweatpants until you pointed it out. Paired with a belt and dress shoes, the pants have the appearance of wool, or at least of a high-quality poly blend. I wouldn't wear them to an important business meeting or to make a first impression."

Our sales assistant Jenn Hintz was similarly thrown off guard. "Interesting," she said. "I didn't notice that your pants were sweatpants at all. Must've been thrown off by the button-down shirt."

The guys in the office were even more ambivalent.

"I was extremely skeptical, because, let's be honest, dress sweatpants seems like an oxymoron," said Managing Editor Bobby Tanzilo. "But they look like wool, though they appear to get pretty linty. So keep a lint roller handy."

And our sports writer, Jim Owczarski, even supported my effort ... to a certain extent.

"As someone who for years had a pair of 'good sweatpants' that I thought were worthy enough of wearing socially – they were Ralph Lauren after all – I can appreciate this idea. I don't know if I'd wear those for serious meetings, but I think in the office, around the 'usual crew' I wouldn't think twice about it. And, except for the jacket, you could definitely come to the office and work the day and I don't think it would occur to me that you're actually wearing sweatpants."

Our senior programmer, Nick Barth, was not impressed, however.

"These pass for wool at a quick glance, but the hems and knees give them away," he said. "Completely unacceptable."

But my long-time colleague Molly Snyder, was on to me immediately – although she knew this experiment was coming but not when. Within seconds, she said "ah, the sweatpants."

Said Molly, "I think the pants look very dapper. Because of the dark gray color – which is key – I immediately assumed they were wool, not sweatpants. I question the reinforced knees and how well they will hold up to repeated washings. If they're more comfortable than regular dress pants than you should definitely feel comfortable wearing them because they easily 'pass' as appropriate office attire."

And leave it to my business partner, Jeff Sherman, for unconditional support.

"Not like I regularly check out your pants, but since you asked – I like 'em. Nice pant, dude," he said. "They look like solid, wool winter pants. A bit dressy, and while I'm not sure about the mildly reinforced knees they're stylish and, I'm sure pretty damn comfortable. My guess is that if a major label/designer jumped on this fashion train that dress sweatpants could become a staple in at least closets in the Midwest."

The next day, I put on the jacket, but before I even left the house, I knew I couldn't fool anyone if I wore a dress shirt and tie. Yes, it's extremely comfortable, but it looks more like a hoodie than a sport coat.

"It looks like you're wearing a blanket," said Molly. "It's more like a Snuggie than a suit coat."

My takeaway? The look can be pulled off, but only separately. The sweatpants are just convincing enough, but if you look closely at the reinforced knees or the hems, you'll sense something is amiss. The jacket, however, is too unconstructed to pass as something nicer. You wouldn't want to wear it to work, but it could certainly class up a sweatshirt and jeans on a winter weekend.

Still, I'm impressed with Betabrand's story. As Jaffe explained it, "One of our enduring mottos is "99% fiction, 1% fashion" — we sell stories (entertaining ones, hopefully) as well as products. The idea is that when someone buys our clothes, he or she also gets to participate in the story of that product. Customer interaction really, truly is at the heart of what we do. Customers' money is also pretty important, so we try to make cool, interesting stuff."

Of course, at $108 for the pants and $158 for the blazer, either you have to be extremely motivated by terrycloth or confident enough in your own style to sell the look.

Give Betabrand credit, though. Both products are conversation starters. Hats (and pants) off to them for reinventing two staples of workwear in a fabric comfortable enough to sleep in.


Talkbacks

devidia | Jan. 23, 2013 at 5:01 p.m. (report)

...oh, and one other thing, according to Jerry Seinfeld, the kind of message wearing sweatpants in public sends is: "I'm miserable, so I might as well be comfortable".

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devidia | Jan. 23, 2013 at 4:55 p.m. (report)

Now I dare you to wear a "Forever Lazy" (see infomercial) to work. That would be a hoot. They even have a trap door in the back.

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