Swuit up: ‘I think sweat material formalwear was inevitable’

In an episode of the highly underrated sitcom New Girl, Nick (Jake Johnson) and Schmidt (Max Greenfield) invent the Swuit™ – “A suit made entirely of sweatsuit material.” That’s tracksuit material to us nations of the British Crown.

“Friends, imagine yourself in this scenario,” says Schmidt to his housemates. “You’re at the local gymnasia [sic]. You’re schvitzing up a storm. Suddenly, you get a text message. There’s an emergency wedding down at the town hall.”

“But, what’ll I wear?,” replies Nick. “I mean, I’m sweating at the gym.”

And just like many great two-man inventions – aeroplanes, Google, Ben & Jerry’s – so the Swuit was born.

Rewatching New Girl recently was a great distraction from the raging bin fire that is 2020. So it was with some amusement that I discovered a curious new trend in Australian women’s fashion. Some are calling it tailored activewear, but I know a Swuit when I see one.

It’s no surprise that activewear has been the lycra-covered cash cow of Covid-19. With much of the workforce working from home, many of us are living in activewear, from basic Bonds to luxury Lululemon and everything in between. I haven’t worn anything non-elasticised since February. In a moment of sheer madness, I even considered buying jeggings.

Of course, we sometimes have to bring our A-game for Zoom meetings and other live duties, but with only your top half visible on-camera, you can look like a newsreader from the waist up and a Bondi mum waist-down. Or with tailored activewear, you can have both at once.

Though it may seem silly, it’s a natural mid-pandemic fashion evolution. It can’t take you “from beach to bar”, which as we know is every Aussie woman’s outfit dream. But it can take you from board meeting to barre class, without leaving your house.

Popular local brands including Camilla and Marc, P.E Nation and Lorna Jane are all selling versions of the Swuit, and women who still somehow have disposable funds are on board. A P.E Nation representative told us that their Elevation Blazer has been a bestseller. So maybe style plus comfort really does equal Swuit.

I asked the New Girl episode’s writer Noah Garfinkel, and director Trent O’Donnell, what they remember about creating the Swuit, and how they feel about the rebirth of this fashion Frankenstein.

“I remember the Swuit being a writers’ room joke that was very unlikely to be an episode,” says O’Donnell. But when the storyline did go ahead: “There were a few different versions of the actual Swuit used in the show because it kept feeling just too silly.”

Garfinkel recalls that at the time of writing the episode in 2014, there were actually a few similar men’s products in-market and that more popped up after it aired. “I’m not sure if New Girl helped spread the idea or if it was simply an idea whose time had come. My guess would be the latter.”

Men’s Swuits seem to have had a short lifespan, as I couldn’t find any examples after 2015. I asked Garfinkel if he thinks the reemergence of the product for women in the new Zoom economy was predestined. “I think sweat material formalwear was inevitable. It was already in the cultural bloodstream before we had to shut the world down and all went insane.”

Finally, Garfinkel believes that while the Swuit was meant to look terrible, the wardrobe department overachieved. “If I remember correctly, there is a line in the episode where Nick holds up the Swuit and says, ‘Who would wear this?’ and in rehearsal, Jake Johnson read the line and then said, ‘I would! I would wear this!’”

At the end of the episode, while helping Nick and Schmidt pitch it to a potential investor, Jess (Zooey Deschanel) says “The Swuit goes from day to night and night to play.” So next time an invitation calls its dress code “business casual”, you know what to do.