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Conflicted: Tracksuits

They're back and I feel weird. Do you?

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I don't hate this, and I hate myself for not hating this." This is my response when forwarding a tracksuit pitch e-mail to a few of my colleagues here at Racked. The source e-mail came from Pam + Gela's press team — that's the 2014-founded brand from Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor, creators of Juicy Couture. Juicy, of course, is absolutely synonymous with velour tracksuits, the early aughts, and peak Paris Hilton, in that order.


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Primo Paris. Photo: Amy Graves/WireImage

But this e-mail, in 2016, had pictures of Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevigne, and Rihanna spotted out-and-about in the matching top and bottom style (never mind that most of them were wearing Adidas versions; more Run-D.M.C. than The Simple Life). And they looked cool, dammit. Rihanna wore wide leg green track pants with skinny-strap white sandal heels and a boxy, cropped grey sweatshirt. Cara had on head-to-toe athletic grey with a black motorcycle jacket and round, red sunglasses.

Tracksuits as I first knew them, in the early aughts, coincided with my high school years. That first half had me preoccupied with DIY punk shows, the Livejournal community T-Shirt Surgery, and Manic Panic-ing my hair across the rainbow; the later years were consumed by sneaking from the Milwaukee 'burbs to Chicago clubs to see Flosstradamus, stalking The Cobra Snake's NYC and LA party photos from the heartland, and trying to prep a fashion design portfolio for college applications. Tracksuits and everything that came with them — American blondeness, deluded celebrity worship, lemming dressing — was not only disinteresting to me but low key insulting.

Short version: hell no, I've never worn a tracksuit, those are for conformist preps. Being suddenly attracted to them is... confusing.


A look from Fenty Puma fall 2016 by Rihanna. Photo: Getty Images.

"I'M NOT SORRY!" write designers Pam and Gela in an e-mail to me, regarding the tracksuit reprise. "People are feeling it," they say, referencing Kim Kardashian's throwback ode ("I still have all of mine, I can't let them go LOL!"), Vogue.com's devotion, and their own sales.

I would guess that the cultural appetite for tracksuits begins with the '90s resurgence that peaked around 2013. In the following years, most of fashion reached back to the '70s — which does have its own connection to the tracksuit; more Olympian than Kardashian — but a certain enclave pushed style into the so-bad-its-good aughts.

No one tows the line between nostalgic irony and culture-shifting cool quite like VFiles, the social-platform-meets-boutique. In my eyes — granted I am not a #teen, so I could be wrong — its extensive online and IRL community has been at the forefront of early-2000s revivals. I think it was the first place I saw bucket hats and baggy jeans resuscitated. Of course they stock tracksuits.

Like any good trickle-up, tracksuits have climbed from the Tumblr youth to celebs with plugged-in stylists on up to the runway. February 2015 saw Kanye West at the Grammys in a wine-colored, velour tracksuit and by October of the same year fancy French brand Chloé had a full-blown red and camel tracksuit on the runway. Last week we saw them on Opening Ceremony's runway as well as in Rihanna's debut Fenty Puma collection (with tearaway snaps, at that!).

Vfiles showroom director Ruth Gruca reasons The Second Coming of Tracksuits as an extension of athleisure. "Now that sportswear is socially acceptable for all occasions — dinner parties, the club, the office — tracksuits are everywhere," she tells me by e-mail. Pam and Gela agree, saying "It doesn't matter what you call it — casual, luxury, athleisure — it's a high-low vibe you can dress up or down. It's comfortable, it's street, and, yes, it's chic." (After all of my questions are answered, the e-mail is punctuated with "GYM, WORK, DINNER, CLUB... Yes, please.")

Garmentory co-founder and vice president of merchandising Adele Tetangco tells me she's noticed tracksuit-influenced sets by indie brands like Priory (in microsuede!) and Carleen (in teddybear fabric!) since spring of last year. The difference is that they're "sets kind of like the Golden Girls," she says (an affectionate reference in this case). "It's a lot of matching top and bottom sets like knitted joggers that come with a sweater," she explains. "I wouldn't personally wear an Adidas tracksuit, but I would wear that. I would wear it with my [Rachel Comey] Mars boots or with my Nikes," she says, echoing Pam and Gela's claims to versatility.

"Painted by fine-art undergrad Matt Ardell, this tracksuit is the latest in brand worship on a budget." DIS, $150

From my vantage point, we have three distinct flavors of tracksuit at this moment in time. In order of least to most commitment:

1. Modern Golden Girls

Clu sweatshirt, $255, and track pants, $220. Splendid 'Mesa' sweatshirt, $165, and track pants, $175.

2. Sport Classic

VFiles Sport Plus blue polar fleece pullover, $60 (from $150), and pants, $60 (from $150). Adidas by Y-3 'M Fluid' blazer, $375, and pants, $280.

3. Full-on Juicy nostalgia


Pam + Gela hoodie, $245, and sweatpants, $145. Moschino hoodie, $625, and sweatpants, $450

In the time since that foundation-shaking e-mail was sent to the time I've written this (a few days), my eye has totally adjusted to the tracksuit. It looks entirely normal to me now, here, in 2016. Tracksuits: The more I look, the more I see.

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