An Ode To The Tracksuit
The defunct wardrobe staple ends up meaning an entire world to me
Dystopian movies always make it look like after the apocalypse happens everyone will be wearing leather pads and spiked collars with skulls around their necks. The problem I’ve always had with such a prediction is that it fails to take into account how much stuff will be just left over and floating around from a century or so of mindless mass-production. Fast fashion, factory generated jackets, polyester slacks. Flip Flops. Braided belts. Sperry Topsiders. I propose, instead, that once society crumbles fashion will collapse. There will be no trend at all much less a trend of nuclear war rompers. There will only be wearing whatever you liked that fell into your hands from whatever era you thought was cool. Whatever makes you happy. Hoop skirts, Baby Phat joggers, Z Cavaricci Acid Washed Jackets with diagonal stitching and puffy sleeves.
This is a thought that came to me when I opened one of my Christmas presents from my kids. 2020 was the year my daughter discovered thrifting and then took it upon herself to indoctrinate her older brother into the dark arts of rifling through piles at the local Goodwill. God bless them, I could not be prouder. Come Christmas in a pandemic year in which their mother lost her job, thrifting for gifts became the family activity. It is in this way that I came to be presented with a brown and gold LRG Tracksuit circa 2001 with about a mile of unnecessary embroidery. The kids laughed and applauded as I opened it. I nearly wept. It was beautiful.
This is not a thing I would have worn at the time in which it was a thing to wear. In the year 2001 I did not think I was cool enough to present myself as this person…a spacey, slightly douchey, mild mannered DJ with a flat-cap and the everpresent odor of stale weed. Perhaps a chinstrap beard. I felt the need to present a little more art-y. I was an outsider. No one understood me. I was weird. This was around the time I realized I could wear sportcoats with hoodies. I was not above a scarf. I took myself more seriously than I should have and looking back I have no idea why. It is obvious to me now that I was ridiculous, young, corny, ignorant, and obnoxious.
But there was a time before that, a time when I was a child and it was the 1980’s and I wanted nothing more than a tracksuit. Red with white stripes, like LL Cool J, or black with white stripes like Run DMC. I wanted the swish of nylon announcing my presence wherever I walked. I wanted the quiet, stealthy sheen of polyester shimmering where I stood. I wanted the suit to be a uniform, an announcement of my membership in the fraternity of Black Men Who Owned Themselves. Black Men Who Strutted. Black Men Who Walked Through The World With Confidence. The tracksuit was not the thing. The swag was. I dreamt of being this when I grew up, of having this swag. But when I finally did grow up, I did not feel like strutting. I felt like hiding, I felt like doubting. I felt like apologizing, convincing and pleading. So I presented as an artist so that people had some context for why I was the way I was. “Oh he’s an artist. That’s why he’s weird.”
I was the only Black kid around white people for much of my childhood and adolescence. Do you know what that does? When you’re surrounded by people who are afraid of Blackness it teaches you to be afraid of yourself.
Still, today, I quite frequently feel as though I’m moving, like cattle, through a fenced in narrow shoot. On the one side a wall of all the ways I’m supposed to be. On the other all the ways I’m not supposed to be. But I can see something else, though, in the distance. I can see that I am now old enough to both be confronted with, and to accept the idea that very little of what I thought matters — like what people think of me — actually does matter. And I can also see that a very few things — like who I love and how I love them — actually matter a great deal. It is my belief that our society, our civilization, our systems are also old enough for that, too. Old enough for freedom, old enough for liberation, which of course, means old enough to stop believing in things that are not true, old enough to stop being beholden to them.
The LRG tracksuit itself can almost never be worn. The pants are somehow both too small and too big, and the zipper on the jacket broke as soon as I touched it. It will remain in my closet and I will occasionally break out the jacket to run a random errand. I may also surprise my partner with the whole ensemble one day just to see the joy on her face. But of course the tracksuit has become about something bigger, and now I find myself with several tabs open with potentially better fitting vintage tracksuits to buy. What a marvelous thing to discover. Something frivolous and beautiful. Something that makes you feel like you can be exactly who the fuck you feel like being.
My kids. I marvel at them. At times they are chaotic and frustrating. But they have an almost supernatural gift to joyfully and playfully push me towards ownership of my truest self. No matter what they do, they end up making me feel like I have no choice but to be fucking real. It is an honesty I appreciate. An honesty that is exactly right for a moment in which the apocalypse is upon us and yet the children keep growing, keep showing up, keep loving you, and keep discovering things that you have known forever, but are seeing as though it were the very first time.