Desperately Seeking Sweatpants

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Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

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.

 “What’s your name?” Mike asked. I told him. Mike wrote my name on a wipe board on one of the rooms: my own personalized compartment.

I needed it. The first pair of pants I tried on were lightweight, light gray Sporto Widelegs. They were tight, so tight they ought to have been renamed. Are you familiar with Google Earth, and the way it uses satellites to zoom down on a neighborhood–right down to your front steps? Wearing the Sporto Wideleg was the fashion equivalent, with my crotch as the center of the map. It was possible to discern not only how many parking spaces I have in front of my house, but also whether they are cobbled or paved. All I could see when I looked in the mirror, frankly, was my penis. There was a Lycra-stitched nonchafing seam around the package zone that made my wasker look as if it were in a private museum. That was when I realized: Yoga clothes are now designed to be crotch-enhancing.

I stepped into the common area, crowded with half a dozen women, and called for my wife. “Pull up the shirt,” she said, “let me see the front.”

I did. “I think, a little tight, bad for my health,” I mumbled.

“That’s not too tight,” Mike said.

“They, um, look vulnerable,” Johanna said. “Turn around.”

“Bum looks good,” she said.

“Agh,” I said. This was exactly the kind of thing you don’t want your wife to say in public: It sounds as if she is reassuring your anxieties. I could hear snickering in the background. Or, to be more accurate, I thought I could hear snickering.

“She said your bum looks good,” Mike said.

“Agh.”

I rushed back into the changing room. I ripped off the Sportos and whipped on the Kung Fu pants, but they had the same problem. So did the Down Dawg crops. They were all package-enhancing.

Only in black did the obviousness problem go away. I am not bragging here: You could have put these pants on a praying mantis and he would have looked like John Dillinger, at least until a female chomped his head off.

Therein lies the dilemma: Do you or don’t you? Men always want women to see and approve of their packages: We want to believe that the peepee is important. (The history of male fashion is in large part the story of this delusion.) But do women?

Helpfully in this regard, as I jumped in and out of ill-fitting pants in my lululemon cubicle, I could hear my wife discussing the issue with women in the changing room lineup. Without exception, they were against having to look at the male genitals while exercising. Apparently at a party, in a pair of jeans, maybe. But when namaste is at issue, it’s nah, mister. “I don’t want to see anything,” I could hear a woman saying, “unless I’m at the ballet.” Peals of laughter ensued.

I had been in the changing room for 40 minutes when I finally tested Hot Yoga Shorts, which resembled a black bicycle short. They seemed modest enough. I stepped out. All eyes went to the, um, zone.

“Oh, those are nice,” my wife said. “I like that seam, across the backside.” I thought maybe I was onto, or at least into, something. Then she added: “Planet Ass wears those.”

Planet Ass, it turns out, is her yoga instructor. It seems women may not want to notice the package, but they do appreciate a nice butt. Especially if it’s not their husband’s.

Agh.

Ian Brown is a Toronto writer. Excerpted from Explore(July/Aug. 2007), Canada’s outdoor adventure magazine. Subscriptions: outside Canada $30 Canadian/yr. (6 issues), in Canada $20 from Box 30025 STN BRM B, Toronto, ON M7Y 2P7, Canada; www.explore-mag.com.

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