I was somewhere pretty dark in the winter of 2016. First, a layoff. Then, a breakup. I am a lifelong depressive, and January is never a good time to go outside, but this was worse than usual. All I wanted to do was sit on the sofa, order Thai soup from Seamless, and watch television shows about Kardashians. But I had a dog. I had to leave my apartment twice a day at least. And that’s why I ordered the highest-ranked sweatpants on Amazon.
Maybe if you’ve been depressed you know the way I felt in those mornings when the dog came into my bedroom and rested her front paws gently on the edge of the mattress by my face. Putting both of my feet on the floor felt like a tall order. To people who haven’t experienced depression, I say: It’s kind of like wearing a hat made out of cement. Even the most simple tasks felt heavy and difficult, including getting dressed to take the dog out. That’s why I decided to order the sweatpants. I wanted to eliminate any kind of decision. The hesitation over what to wear could buy me ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, and that made me late for my freelance job. I wanted sweatpants because they’d be even easier to put on than leggings. Because they would camouflage my body. If I had to move around in the world, I wanted to do it undercover.
That I ordered the top-ranked sweatpants on Amazon is also a measure of how bad I felt, that I wanted the hive mind to make a decision for me. I was a medium-strength shopper. I didn’t do it like a hobby, but when I needed to buy something that I needed, I usually enjoyed the thrill of the chase. Not now. I did not want to consider, to comparison shop. I absolutely did not want to go to a brick-and-mortar retail store. I did not want a garment that was in any way fashionable or flattering. I wanted comfort and function. Many I just wanted them to be an expression, in pant form, of how I was feeling: shapeless.
The top-ranked sweatpants on Amazon in January of 2016 were Champion Men’s Open Bottom Eco Fleece Sweatpant in Granite Heather. The ones with open bottoms, not elasticated cuffs, for ease of putting on and taking off. On the day that I opened up Amazon on my laptop to buy sweatpants, 2,099 people had taken the time to write reviews of those sweatpants. They were people who were serious about sweatpants.
Like me, many of those people were going through challenging times in their lives. Times when they didn’t want to think about getting dressed, when they wanted to feel cozy, when they wanted to wear pants that they could pull on and off without even removing their shoes. There were people who were having surgery and endorsed the sweatpants as perfect for the recovery process. There were people who were going through major life stages — house moves, going to college — for whom clothing needed to be the absolute last thing on their minds. There were people whose bodies were enduring the transformation of pregnancy or weight loss, for whom inexpensive garments with elastic waists were essential. There were people whose reviews made them sound pretty sad. These were the reviews that I liked most of all.
But the 2,099 people who had taken time to review the sweatpants weren’t people who had given up on life, either. They were engaged. They were making the best of things, and they wanted to help their sweatpants brothers and sisters. ‘I want sweatpants for function and comfort *not* fashion,’ one wrote. ‘The pants are easy to slip on and off,’ another wrote. ‘They’re sweatpants, soooooooo’, wrote a third, which was exactly what I wanted to know: that the pants would do what I needed them to do, and nothing more or less. I ordered a size small.
When the sweatpants arrived two days later, I allowed myself to feel a little bit of happiness. I believed that the sweatpants could be the key to breaking me out of my depression. They weren’t, or not the only key. But now when the dog came to wake me in the morning, it was true that I did not have so much of an excuse. I’d pull on the sweatpants, and put on my coat, and as the dog and I made our way down the block I’d think about the other people around America who were wearing Amazon’s top-ranked sweatpants to get through their own daily trials. I was lonely. But I felt a little bit less alone when I thought of my army of sweatpants brothers and sisters, all of us getting through life, moving one granite heather leg in front of the other.
Two years have passed since I bought the sweatpants. In time, the mornings became less cold and dark, and so did my heart. I started taking antidepressants again, and I went to therapy, and I got a new job, and then I met the man who’s now my husband. Sometimes he wears the sweatpants. I’ve held onto them for all this time, even though they’re frayed at the bottom, and I got a more fashionable pair from Uniqlo that I prefer to wear when I’m out in the world, a better and more flattering reflection of the woman who I am today. The Champion Men’s Open Bottom Eco Fleece Sweatpant in Granite Heather has slipped in the Amazon rankings: at the time of writing this piece, they are merely #50 in Active Pants. Who knows whether they held their top rank for a long time, or just happened to be there when I needed them, and my siblings-in-sweatpants, most of all? Out of loyalty, I reviewed them:
I bought these sweatpants as a defense against a time in my life when I was suffering from cold, of the literal and figurative kind, I wrote. These sweatpants are shapeless. They’re good for trudging. I wore them for some weeks, to walk a dog. One morning I woke up, and I felt happier, and then I didn’t need to wear the sweatpants every day anymore. But the time the sweatpants and I spent together was meaningful, and important.