How the elasticated waist bounced back into fashion

Women scurried past them in M&S as if looking dowdy was contagious, the French refused to be seen in them in public and mothers urged their daughters to hide them away from any prospective husbands. For something so easy to wear, elasticated waists were given a hard ride and, until recently, were – outside of sport and, at a push, planes – only acceptable for the very young or the very old. Anyone in the busy, striving middle made the effort with zips, belts or buttons when they left the house.

Fashion, of course, made its contempt for the elasticated waist clear. When Anna Wintour was once asked if she ever wore joggers, she fixed the interviewer with an icy stare and simply replied, “no”. Karl Lagerfeld’s withering line – “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants ”- summed up the industry attitude. They were the domain of Vicky Pollard and five-a-side footballers. When David Cameron urged us to hug a hoodie, there was no question of him doing so in anything other than well-cut chinos.

But, oh, how times change. I remember living in Paris in my twenties and being berated by a French boyfriend for trying to pop downstairs and buy a baguette while wearing jogging bottoms. “But what about the boulanger,” he said, mournfully. “He also has eyes.” Today, that same boulanger is no doubt eyeing up the city’s cool crowd as they waft around in haute tracksuits by ultra-luxurious brands such as Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and The Row.

High fashion (Stella McCartney, Gucci and Fendi in particular) kickstarted this trend a year or two before Covid reared its ugly head, and the rise of “athleisure” meant celebrities like Jared Leto, Victoria Beckham and Rihanna were regularly spotted in designer track pants . But it was during lockdown that the rest of us embraced the idea of ​​a waistline that was shaped to our bodies rather than one that shaped them. After a lifetime of concentrating on what made us look good, a lot of us finally learned to appreciate the clothes that made us feel good. For anyone who had spent their weeks suited and booted and their weekends zipped up in jeans, this felt quietly revolutionary.

“An elasticated waist means you’re not worrying about being trussed up like a turkey, which is the very antithesis of chic,” says designer Madeleine Thompson, who makes buttery soft cashmere tracksuits for her eponymous brand. “Fashion now allows us to really enjoy our clothes and people are grasping this opportunity with both hands.”


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