Roach: One leg at a time

As we crawl out of the worst pandemic of our time toward something resembling herd immunity, it is worth contemplating the societal impact of COVID-19.
packages on a door step getting picked up by a person
Photo by Getty Images

As we crawl out of the worst pandemic of our time toward something resembling herd immunity, it is worth contemplating the societal impact of COVID-19.

New hybrid remote work models, retail, health care, the movie industry, restaurants and many more segments of our lives and economy are changed forever. There is an abundance of analysis proving this to be true.

But the research on these seismic changes omits one very important thing.

No one is talking about our pants.

Yes. Our pants.

Working remotely means that much of America got used to wearing nothing but sweatpants for nearly two years. Or exercise pants. Or yoga pants. Whatever.

With Zoom and Teams technology we could argue before a judge, do an interview on local TV, hold an important business meeting, attend a wedding or funeral, or visit our doctor WITHOUT EVER TAKING OFF OUR SWEATPANTS.

Sure, you might have had to throw on a blouse for the computer camera, or even a jacket and tie, but you were never forced to wear uncomfortable pants. Ever. For more than a year.

Which means we are entering a new trouser reality. A brave new world of comfortable pants.

Prior to the pandemic, we bought jeans and waited for them to be washed multiple times before they became wearable. As soon as they softened, they ripped, forcing us to buy a new stiff and restrictive pair. And so the eternal cycle of uncomfortable pants continued, ad infinitum.

Sure, a few people wore sweatpants in public before COVID-19, mostly friends of Tony Soprano. But this sartorial fashion statement was considered gauche by most folks, hardly appropriate for work or social occasions.

No more. Now we have a vast sea of comfortable post-pandemic pants stretching like spandex before us.

There were signs of a pants evolution before COVID-19. Women were the trailblazers as they introduced elastic materials into jeans. Men followed haltingly. Then Lululemon and other brands made yoga clothes and fabrics stylish. But that was a mere ripple compared to the tsunami to come.

As someone who wears pants, and of an age where one is less willing to sacrifice comfort for fashion, I swore on our family bible that I would never go back to donning uncomfortable pants again. To my surprise, a multitude of merchants had sprung up to serve this very impulse.

And so began my quest.

I first ordered some jeans from a brand called Mugsy. They look like jeans but stretch like pantyhose. Not that I ever wore pantyhose. And not that anyone even remembers pantyhose. They came in regular and tight. Inadvertently, I ordered a tight pair. They required 14 minutes to don and made me look like a sad hipster with chicken legs. They took four hours to peel off before I could send them back. Regular fit fine. These jeans are so comfortable they feel like I’ve had them for 30 years.

Happy with my first foray into comfort, I ordered more formal pants from a brand called Public Rec. They might be work pants. They might be sweats. I’m not sure. All I know is that they are comfortable, yet fashionable enough that I don’t look like I’m having a meatball sandwich with Tony, Christopher and Paulie.

Wading further into this new elastic world I came upon a company called Sene with an even loftier promise: business suits that stretch! Their website offers this breathless description: “The ultimate stretch suit custom-made to fit with FlexTech athleisure fabric for exceptional comfort in any environment.”

It was the last clause of the Sene promise that hit home. “Exceptional comfort in any environment.” Be still my beating heart.

For centuries, fashion has imposed discomfort upon humanity. Corsets, hard leather shoes, neckties like a noose. But now, as we throw open the post-pandemic doors and stumble outside, grateful to have survived the scourge, I believe we will never go back to the old ways of bad pants.

We shall march forward together, like a Soviet socialist realism poster, into a shared, flexible, stretchy, athleisuristic future.

One leg at a time.

John Roach, a Madison-based screenwriter and producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at 

Magazine footer that says "Like this article, get so much more by subscribing"