The soiled truth of comfort clothes

My gray sweatpants are not looking too good these days.

The Sturdysweats by Lee Apparel — size large — have several minor stains and a general faded, sagging, punch-drunk appearance.

“When was the last time you washed those?” my wife asked the other night.

“I don’t know,” I said — honestly.

The truth is the gray sweatpants’ last spin in the Maytag may have occurred during the Clinton administration, or, possibly, when the first Bush occupied the Oval Office.

Many people turn to meat loaf or macaroni and cheese when they need relief from what can sometimes be a cold, cruel world. These are comfort foods.

My gray sweatpants are my comfort clothes. They help me get through the dark frigid Maine winter, and they have done so for as long as I can remember.

Never mind that I’d never wear them with company over, and, rest assured, I would not dare, not vaguely consider, being seen in public with them.

Still, they are a part of me — fabric of my fabric. We are ideal for one another, a perfect fit. When I put them on, they envelop my lower half in a cocoon of gentle warmth and provide a feeling of security that mainly, I think, is about familiarity, the kind that can only come from a trusted friend.

All of which, I realize, does nothing to prevent the obvious question: So why not wash them occasionally?

It could happen.

I checked the tag inside the back of the gray sweatpants. It reads “Machine wash warm with like colors. Tumble dry low. Only non-chlorine bleach. Do not iron or dry clean.”

Yep, the directions make clear that this is not a complicated process, a task manageable even by those inept at most domestic chores.

What the directions do not disclose, though, is the fear factor. And this fear factor is twofold.

The first concern, probably the more likely of the two, is the possibility that through some combination of unforeseen or uncontrollable events the gray sweatpants will still be sitting damp and cold in the washer at bedtime.


Absolutely. And yet, as dire as this situation would be, I could always shove the gray sweatpants into the dryer and extend my day by half an hour, turning my crisis into a mere inconvenience.

But then there’s my greater fear: What if laundering my gray sweatpants changes them? What if they come out of the dryer no longer the same? What if their stained, faded, sagging, punch-drunk state is what makes them special? And what happens if that state can never again be achieved?

So, no, I refuse to throw my comfort clothes in the laundry basket — at least for now. I will in time, however. I realize, truly I do, that at some point they have to be washed. I’m thinking perhaps once Trump is out of office.


Writing is what I do. I started as a journalist, working at a daily newspaper in Maine for 20 years, and now I’m an English teacher, specializing in writing.

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