Desperately Seeking Sweatpants

One man’s trauma in Toronto’s trendiest changing room

| November / December 2007

  • The Big Reveal

    Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

  • The Big Reveal

I was in the groovy lululemon athletica store—in the groovy Yorkville district of Toronto—trying to buy a pair of sports pants, or whatever it is these days you call the garment that covers the lower half of the body while you’re exercising or performing an outdoor activity. In the old days, by which I mean the late 1980s, you wore wool or you wore cotton. Later on it got slightly but not much more complicated: There was fleece and Lycra, and even sometimes silk.

But today? Today you cannot buy a pair of “activity pants”—don’t they sound like something a baby should be wearing?—without going into therapy. Say what you like about the perils of the North Face of Everest, or hanging from the Spider on the Eiger. I would take three days hanging on the Eiger over a single hour in lululemon, trying to buy a pair of sweatpants.

Lululemon is the Vancouver-based yoga-wear chain started by Chip Wilson, who invented a Lycra-laced yoga pant that did as much for the female backside as Newton did for gravity, albeit in the opposite direction. As a result, every lululemon store in Canada is packed with fashionable and sexy women—a coterie around which a man does not want to be trying on sports pants, especially on a Saturday afternoon. It had been my wife’s idea to go there.

Complicating matters was the bewildering array of pants. The Down Dawg Pant, for instance, didn’t look much different from the Gym Class Pant, except that it was cut off at the knees. It was not clear why or how the Sporto Wideleg pant was either Sporto or Wideleg: It also looked exactly like the Gym Class Pant. But Sydney, a young saleswoman, explained that it was different because Sporto Wideleg pants are made of Luon, a proprietary lululemon fiber that wicks perspiration. Of course, that’s not the only thing modern activity garments do. To judge from the breathless descriptions on the tags, it’s a wonder your sweatpants can’t also drive you home, make a martini, and bash out a 12,000-word thesis on the role of the hammer in Irish fiction.

Did I say I was shopping for a large-sized pant? Alas, I was, and I managed to grab a pair of large in everything lululemon had, whereupon Sydney steered me over to the noisy changing area and a fellow named Mike. “Mike’s great,” Sydney assured me. “He knows a lot about this stuff.”

Mike was 27, dark, and Italian. He was wearing black lululemon Down Dawg crops and a tight lululemon Tech T. Mike’s a teacher in real life, but on weekends he has the greatest job on earth for a single man: Mike runs the changing room at lululemon. All day long he helps yogafied babes try on form-fitting clothes and assesses the results. He’s constantly saying things like “Try the white one” and “Try the four instead of the six.” We were the only guys in the changing room.

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