By Christopher Cudworth
You probably have a favorite sweatshirt just like me. It has likely been in your closet for 5, 10 or even 20 years. Some sweatshirts seem to last forever while others collapse at the seams.
My most versatile and favorite sweatshirt is a purple fleece from LL Bean. When it was given to me for Christmas 20 years ago, I wasn’t keen on wearing it at first. My favorite brand at the time was Patagonia, and LL Bean had horned in on the activewear market by mimicking the styles created by the more innovative Patagonia lines.
However the LL Bean fleece top had several great features. It was light enough to wear running down to temperatures as low as 30 degrees. It was also thin enough to use as a layer under a windbreaker. Not many sweatshirts can actually make that claim. Most are too thin for an exterior layer or too thick to wear under anything. That means the weather conditions in which they are suitable to run in are fairly limited. A fall day of 47 degrees with a mild wind up to about a 56 degree spring day when it’s not raining. Otherwise, a sweatshirt is too bulky or thick to wear.
That’s why fleece was invented, to give you layers that don’t bunch up that much and can be layered for warmth and moisture wicking.
The LL Bean shirt fits those qualifications. And despite my guarded brand disgust as the thought of a copycat occupying my closet, the purple fleece “sweatshirt” became an integral part of my running and cycling wear over the years.
Miles of loyalty
We have seen a lot of things, that purple sweatshirt and I. Thousands of running miles in all kind of weather in spring and fall. It has never grown stinky or rank, the way some modern fabrics do if you let them line dry or make a mistake washing them. And speaking of drying: the purple sweatshirt has been soaked while still on my body and soon enough, with a little open air, got dry again so that I would not chafe or freeze.
The sleeves have also held up very well. Often the sleeves on a sweatshirt get stretched out if you push them up your arms when the day warms and your arms get hot. The next time you wear them the wrists are loose and the sweatshirt never feels the same again.
But not the purple sweatshirt. Its sleeves have rebounded from multiple cruel treatments and hundreds of washings. I am one thankful dude about such durability. One cannot appreciate how much a sweatshirt can bug you until the sleeves give out. Then you’re running and the wind blows up your arms or the floppiness ruins the zen of being outdoors. Flippy flappy floppy sweatshirts are not to my liking.
The purple sweatshirt is also unique in that it can be worn effectively while riding as well as running. Most cycling gear is too tight or spandexy to wear while running, while most running gear is too flappy to wear while riding. But there are garments that can cross over, and those are greatly appreciated for their utility.
My purple companion has also favored me in the eyes of the opposite sex on occasion. Because it’s so comfortable, I’d often wear the purple sweatshirt to events like praise band rehearsal. One night one of the female singers turned to me and said, “I like your sweatshirt. It’s a good color on you.”
Middle-aged men do not often get compliments from beautiful young women in their 20s. Yes, I was happily married at the time and did not misconstrue the compliment for anything other than a pleasant nicety, but the compliment was great to receive just the same.
Sure, I’ve made the mistake of throwing on the sweatshirt when it had been worn running and was not yet washed. Suddenly you catch a waft of how you really smell and a flush of embarrassment washes over your face. “Damn,” you think to yourself. “I stink!”
So you surreptitiously shed the sweatshirt to a safe place and tough it out in just your tee shirt. Then you wash the purple beast one more time.
Finally after two decades of use the purple LL Bean sweatshirt is showing signs of dissolution. The cuffs of the sleeves are looser than they once were. That means the stretchy stuff inside is decomposing with age. Once that process is complete, the purple sweatshirt will have to be retired.
For now it commiserates with a bright green Nike running top that is perhaps the single most comfortable garment I have ever worn. It clings lightly to the skin, and has thumb holes so you can pull the sleeves down over the hands in cool weather.
It’s a winner. But it still has a long way to go before it surpasses the purple sweatshirt in sheer utility. If it were to make it two decades, I would most surely be pleased. And a bit older. But perhaps no less comfortable.
Having seen important things come and go in my life, I have grown wise enough not to be overly sentimental about any material goods. Our lives change. Even our loved ones come and go from our lives, and some leave forever.
Which is why constancy is such an appreciated value in life. It may be the lone conservative thread in my otherwise liberal heart. But it pulls tight the garment of my soul, and keeps it close and strong.
One can only pray for such steadiness and hope in life. And pay attention when it comes around again. Because you never know how long a friendship or a love affair can last, even when it has a tinge of jealousy at the start.