John Jannuzzi

What People Talk About When They Talk About Grey Sweatpants

John Jannuzzi
What People Talk About When They Talk About Grey Sweatpants

By Hayley Phelan
Illustration by Tara Jacoby

As infinitely complicated and diverse as this world can be, it can usually be neatly divided into two camps.  There are people whose inbox always reads zero. And then there’s the other kind. People who set 10 alarms five minutes apart. And the other kind. People who eat the crust. And the other kind. People for whom the words “grey sweatpants” float in one ear and out the other with little impact….

And the other kind.

Those in the latter category have found a lively home in the online cult of grey sweatpants — a community of like-minded folks who revere the humble loungewear pant for its heart-racing, seductive qualities. (Yes, you read correctly.) Carefully Google “grey sweatpants” and dozens of appreciation posts will come up; on Instagram, the hashtag #greysweatpants brings up over 11.2 million results and, in recent weeks, #sweatpantseason has been climbing in popularity on Twitter. In the cult of grey sweatpants, nothing is sexier than a dude whose lower half is swathed in cotton jersey.

If you’re confused, don’t worry. We decided to get to the bottom of this puzzling phenomenon and went straight to the source. Here’s what Team Guys in Grey Sweatpants had to say.

“I would best describe it as male lingerie to a woman,” explained Rosanna, 34, a devotee of the grey sweatpants, who gets excited when the season comes around. “Women typically look forward to the change in seasons when it’s colder because guys will typically start wearing sweatpants,” she said, adding that in the summer, “basketball shorts are the equivalent,” inspiring their own, though slightly quieter, cult status.

“What can I say, I just love them,” gushes Casey, 41, another sweatpants lover. “What’s not great about them?”

It’s not just women that lust after a guy in grey sweats. “There’s something appealing about them,” said Mike, 31, who thought a little harder and then decided that that “something” wasn’t so mysterious. “It’s about the ass.” Thanks to their thin, pliable fabric and light color, grey sweatpants show off every curve and dimple to a shelf-enhancing effect. It’s basically like a push-up bra for men.

Indeed, for the women and men who love them, sweatpants aren’t really about the pants themselves, but what they’re covering up. It may be a weird corner of the internet or a not-oft discussed topic, but there’s no denying the contingent of humans who consider a pair of sweats to have the same powers as a perfectly-cut and seductive tuxedo.

While we’re used to seeing a woman’s shape on display in leggings, dresses, or anything form-fitting, grey sweats — with their lack of tailoring, and, shall we say, accommodating fabric — essentially put the pants on the other leg, so to speak.

There’s more to this fandom than gawking, though. We heard stories of them summoning up cozy memories of night’s in or mornings after. It’s a softer side of the appeal, you could say.

“They remind me of being at home with a guy,” said Natalie, 33. “Like they would put them on afterward to get coffee or water.” (Fill in your own blanks about the afterward there, people.)

As for the best way for a guy to wear them, it’s pretty simple: Put one leg on and then the next. Though many sweatpant fans love a guy in a “crisp white tee,” most agree that anything (or nothing) on top will do. Ditto for shoes. As far as fit goes, you don’t want anything too tight as to put yourself on display — remember, leaving a little to the imagination goes a long way.

Of course, the setting must be considered; this is not a look to meet the parents in, nor a trip to the office. But since we’ve still got a few more weeks until the heat really hits — with no doubt plenty of hours on the couch and Netflix-binging on the horizon — this may just be the perfect time to invest in a great pair of sweats and join the cult.

Hayley Phelan is a writer living and working in New York City; Her work has appeared in the New York Times, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal and Elle.