And what your judgement on other people’s clothing choices says about your privilege
If you know me at all, you’ll know that my sartorial choices swing wildly from child-like to quirky to sloppy joes. And while it would be incredibly narcissistic of me to think that everyone is thinking about and judging me on the clothes I wear every day, there is a generalised aversion out there, a snobbery, towards trackpants. A snobbery that I would like to gently crush, piece by piece.
Ok, not so gently.
Trackpants are widely mocked for what they ostensibly say about the wearer; slack, lazy, doesn’t-care-about-appearance, unprofessional, unfashionable or downright ugly… the list goes on. Stories abound of people who are horrified that they were spotted by someone they knew, wearing TRACKPANTS, at the supermarket… You know, that one time they ever left the house wearing them…
Trackpants are the outerwear of dirty underpants, friend only to the infamous Crocs (and yes, I could devote this same post to those comfy-cushioned-plastic-fantastic foot-cuddlers). So why would I defend them? Why do I wear them - not just sometimes but OFTEN?!
I’m just going to unpack the genuinely beautiful joy of trackpants here, and hopefully in the doing, I can perhaps tweak some of our preconceptions about clothing, fashion and disability.
Important Note: this is not to gain sympathy and attention to my own particular story, but as a member of the disabled community, I can hopefully use my experience to highlight what many of us go through.
1 - Elasticated Waistbands!
Squishy gentleness around the tum makes me want to break out into song embarrassingly often. I have the unlucky combination of a hernia at the front and lower back issues/slipped disc at the back of me. Not unlike a pain sandwich. Any tightness around the hips, lower back and waist can immediately send pain shooting up and down my back, and stinging sensations in my abdomen. It can be bad enough to make me change my pants halfway through the day; when my back pain is bad I can’t sit up straight, and when my stomach is sore I fight the impulse to fold over forwards.
I’m not alone in this, many many people have pain issues around the abdomen and lower back. Nerve damage from C-sections, sports injuries, arthritis, endometriosis, irritable bowel, fibromyalgia and many more often chronic disabilities can make waistbands a no-go for a large section of the community. Even fabric with a bit of stretch in it, like those favourite stretchy jeans, can be tight or non-wielding enough to flare up a previously invisible issue.
2 - Warmth!
Being cold makes a large proportion of people miserable, for many reasons. From a disability perspective, feeling cold can make pain worse, whether it’s arthritis, fibromyalgia or an old injury(bones with a break in them can often ache or throb in the cold). Those who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder or plain old mental health issues, can be brought much lower in mood from being chilly. For me winter is an uphill battle to feel happy and well, despite being cold. It genuinely kills joy for me.
However it should be noted that warmth is not just a Disability problem, it’s also a Poverty problem. This is an area that I just can’t do justice here, but I’m sure we can understand that with our current Housing Crisis and health problems stemming from damp, cold houses, warmth is a precious thing, not easily got. I have lived in houses where I dressed my children in trackpants and sweatshirts for bedtime, and I am in no way poor by this country’s standards. Next time you see someone wearing trackpants out and about, maybe wonder whether they are experiencing daily, bone-chilling cold rather than just being lazy.
3 - Softness!
Just as tightness around the waist can exacerbate pain in the abdomen area, tight fitting (‘professional’ looking) pants can send pain shooting up sensitive legs, and aggravate any sensory issues that a wearer may be experiencing. For example, those on the autism spectrum can feel actual pain, from burning sensations to stinging, from the wrong fabric or something too tight. My 2 eldest children have ASD and have both expressed serious aversions to tight, coarse or firm fabric on their legs and torsos. While it’s more acceptable (But of course, not ‘fashion forward’) to dress children in trackpants*, in adults it is often simply not possible, especially if your job calls for a dress code or uniform. My own fibromyalgia pales in comparison, but when I am going through a flare or bad patch, the feeling of these unforgiving fabrics can make my day many times more miserable, and returning home often causes me to fling off my pants and reach for trackies like most women do their bras!
*Fashion for kids however, is in some ways much more forward-thinking than adult clothing. You only need to look at the variety of fun and quirky trackpants Cotton On Kids offer, in direct comparison to their adult range. If only we all had access to such colours and prints!
Society’s snobbish disapproval of the old trackpant extends also of course to leggings (which surprisingly fit the above criteria as well), Crocs and hoodies. For some deeply rooted and disturbing reason, our non-adherence to fashion ‘rules’ seems to speak of ignorance, lack of education, lack of intelligence and a lack of ‘respect’ for others. This last one is perhaps the strangest and most vile. We can all remember being forced to wear clothing we didn’t like, or found uncomfortable, to show so-called respect for different occasions - church, school, older people, celebrations or funerals… Choosing comfort in your outfit each day seems offensive and rude, throwing dirt in the face of customs and traditions. Why is it so upsetting to society which pants I put on in the morning?
Luckily, current fashion trends are actually starting to feature smart, even slinky, versions of our favourite old trackies… but we have a long way to go before our privilege stops getting in the way of an individual's clothing choices. It’s easy to laugh behind our hands or silently judge a person walking down the road by their appearance…. But as all of the old sayings in pretty much every culture say - don’t judge a book by it’s cover, or a person before knowing their story.
Kindness wins, always.