Mr. Cope's Cave: Sweatpants in Polite Society 

You might remember last Halloween, when I put a piece in this space with the hope it would be accepted by The New Yorker magazine for its short humor feature. It wasn't, but I came out of the experience determined to keep trying. It's unlikely I will ever see my name in that fine magazine, but I have made a commitment to send it at least one submission a year, and I will only stop in the event one of them gets accepted, or I die. Besides, by having a piece laying around that has been rejected by such as a prestigious publication as The New Yorker, I always have something to throw into my blog on those days I don't feel much like writing.

Like today.

Hey, don't look at me like that! It's Labor Day, for Hell's sake. What are you doing, Mr. Barbecue?

I sent out the following in the early spring of this year, and by late spring, I'd received my rejection. I've saved it for an appropriate day, and today is as good as any. And here it is...

Sweatpants in Polite Society

(Reprinted From Beltless Living, a publication of the American Association of Comfort-Wear Retailers)

Ask the Mufti Maven

Let us reaffirm from word one that there is no longer any arena in our modern milieu in which sweatpants are not an acceptable mode of attire. However, now that general society has welcomed them into the family of lower-body clothing options, we have been besieged by requests for guidance in how to choose the right sweats for every occasion.

Vera, of Lexington, Ky., was typical in her plea for advice: "I started out like everyone else. Sometimes I just didn't feel like pulling on my jeans for nothing more than a quickie trip for milk and lottery. And you know how it is—once you've gone there, it gets easier and easier. Lately, though, I've been shopping at the new Whole Foods over on Briar Avenue because they have a full line of lactose-tolerant dairy, and I don't feel right in the same old discount-bin sweats I wear to 7-11. Please, Mufti Maven, I need help. My jeans don't even fit anymore, and I don't know what to do."

You are not alone, Vera. Yours is the most common sort of desperation we have been hearing. And how true it is, that what's right for a quick hop to the corner convenience mart is utterly wrong for an extended trip to a place where "Organic" and "Gluten-Free" are its come hither.

For such a setting, we recommend brighter colors and non-ankle-molding cuffs. For instance, a Katy Perry pink (with or without the legging stripes) is always striking against a produce section backdrop. And who wouldn't want to throw in a cluster of kale after seeing it poking its curly head from the reusable bag of a shopper in a smart Whoopi Goldberg designer line warm-up suit? Does that not simply scream HEALTH!!!

We do advise against overly ripe oranges and pulsating purples, colors more befitting a piñata than an ensemble. You don't want people thinking your money came from winning a lottery, do you? Even if it did?

And Vera, pajama bottoms are absolutely verboten. While flannel bottoms with flourishes of SpongeBob or Duck Dynasty adorning them might be OK for a trip out to the mailbox, they are entirely inappropriate for any place with a security camera or a food court.


Need we say, this is not strictly a feminine dilemma. Jerry from Florida cries out: "Four days a week, I work from home, which makes the sweats question irrelevant. Even when I have to Skype clients, I can throw on a turtleneck and jacket, and as long as I don't stand up, everything's cool. But on Fridays, I am expected to go in to the office for a few hours, and I don't see why I can't wear sweats when I do. My boss told me to never, ever, do it again after that one time. But even then, they were clean, as I always put a towel over my lap when I eat. And I was wearing socks, for God's sake. My company has Casual Friday anyway, so what's the big deal?"

Indeed! What's the big deal? This is precisely the sort of mis-stretchables-thropic bigotry we have devoted ourselves to driving back to the Neanderthal Nineties.

Jerry, the germane point here being, you sound like a perfectly respectable Homo elastilis, as demonstrated by your thoughtful practice of using a towel as a napkin. We are confident you wouldn't wear the same sweats to the office that you might use in a game of pick-up rugby or to gargle Thunder Bird in an alley behind a liquor store. Yet your boss still insists you meet your employment obligations in the constricting and archaic costume of so-called "Casual Friday"—anymore, a garb hardly fit even for a lunch date at Olive Garden.

As we see it, you have two options, Jerry. One, find yourself a new job, preferably at a firm more in sync with 21st century, laissez-fabrique attitudes. You might apply to some of those high-techy places out West, where employees are actually encouraged to behave as though the job were one big rumpus room. Surely, a place that provides in-house cat-care salons and foosball tables would not mind a work force packed with people unashamed to be seen in gym clothing.

Two, you might take a chance on some of the "novelty" sweats that are currently coming out of clothing suppliers in Vietnam and Central America. While they have a ways to go in replicating satisfying tuxedo trousers or riding jodhpurs, they have come near to perfecting imitation khaki slacks. Be warned, though, the crease is nothing but a thin dark line scribed onto the material with a Magic Marker, and the overall impression is that you might have spent the night in them sleeping on a bean bag chair.


From the mile-high city of Denver, Dottie sobs: "Mufti Maven, I don't know where else to turn! My husband 'Larry' refuses to wear the new sweats I got him for Christmas. He says he likes that broken-in feel of the sweats he's had since Clinton was president, but what he calls 'broken-in,' I call 'threadbare.' What's even worse, he wears them pulled up over his belly so he looks like a cantaloupe crammed into a tea cozy. I don't think I can live like this for the rest of my life. What can I do?"

Poor Dottie. She is living the nightmare that comes when a loved one abandons the fundamentals so necessary to sweatpants etiquette. I have said it a thousand times, but it appears I must say it again: Larry, when the seat is worn down to a glossy gauze, give them up!

Even the most ardent proponents of perspiration-absorbing attire do not want to read the tag on your underwear through them—not to mention what might be shared by those free spirits who have chosen to go underwear free.

And, Larry, if you wish to hang onto your wife, do keep in mind that sweats were brought into this world to please those with fluctuating notions of where the waistline falls on the human form. In terms of where the tie cord might go, from the pelvic sector to the navel sector, or any elevation in between, it's all about personal choice.

We advise most strenuously against pulling higher than that—for instance, all the way up to the nipple or armpit sectors. In most cases, that would exert a dangerous level of pressure in the crotch sector, as it would require stretching beyond the inseam-to-waistline limits of any respectable brand of sweatpants. Furthermore, anyone who saw you out in public like that would suspect you are insane.

Until next month, it's your Mufti Maven reminding you to STAY LOOSE!!!
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