When news broke last week that Juicy Couture tracksuits will be back in stock at Bloomingdale's this July, a half-dozen friends texted me the good news. “I thought of you immediately. You must be dying,” one friend wrote. Dying? Well, sure. But only because I bristle at the suggestion that they're “back.” Because in my mind, they never left. I first came across the Juicy tracksuit in 2004. The gossip floating around my Massachusetts middle school sixth grade class was that Sydney Steinberg owned six — more than a thousand dollars' worth. Sydney was in my homeroom, and I pined to be just like her: She had a training bra, pierced ears, and a posse (I had none of these things). I watched her walk into class every morning, swaddled head-to-toe in powder-blue velour or white terry cloth, a silver “J” dangling from her chest. When she passed my desk, I could see the word “JUICY” embroidered across her butt. I begged my mom for a Juicy Couture tracksuit, but she put her foot down. Why drop $200 on a pair of sweats for a kid about to hit a growth spurt? Instead, she brought home a plastic bag with three matching ones from BCBG: teal for me, gray for her, peach for my sister, suggesting that the three of us could wear them when we traveled together, so she'd always be able to spot us in a crowded airport. “But this isn’t Juicy,” I whined. “Oh, it's basically the same thing,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Come on. Just try it on. You'll love it.”
It was baggy around the midsection, loose through the thighs, and had no writing on the butt. I hated it on sight. I took it off, threw it back in the plastic bag, and yelled that I would never wear an off-brand tracksuit again, especially not if I had to match my dopey little sister. I was 12 years old, thank you very much, and I knew how to stay safe in an airport. (Yes, I was a terror back then. Mom, I'm so sorry.) By the time I was in high school, I had amassed a collection of Juicy from birthday gifts, and allowance-purchased pairs from the sale rack at TJ Maxx: velour jackets in hot pink, purple, and ice blue; a kelly-green pair of pants with a tiny hole in the knee, a black polo with the terrier logo; a navy terry cloth jacket that I promptly lost. I had nothing on Sydney Steinberg — who had since moved on to collecting Seven for All Mankind jeans and Longchamp totes — but it was something. And then, as suddenly as Juicy exploded, it vanished. Like French manicures and low-rise jeans, the comfortable coordinates plummeted in popularity as the first decade of the millennium came to a close. I was off to college by that point, and I didn't have room in my dorm closet to bother bringing my Juicy collection from home. Besides, I had moved to Manhattan to attend NYU; my wardrobe was filled with vintage dresses for day and bandage skirts for night. Nobody in Greenwich Village would be caught dead wearing a tracksuit. Three years later, something shifted. People threw around words like “athleisure” and proudly reclaimed “basic bitch” staples out of irony and nostalgia. When Mom asked what I wanted for my 21st birthday, I only had one thing in mind: a pale-pink velour Juicy tracksuit. She stood outside the dressing room curtain as I tugged that beloved J zipper-pull over my chest and smoothed the baby-soft fabric over my thighs. My reflection in the mirror looked nothing like it did back in middle school: Rather than seeing a scrawny kid drowning in velour, desperate to fit in, I liked the way I filled out the outfit. I stood tall. I had poise. I had grown up.
Two months later, Juicy Couture closed every single one of its stores in the United States. Six months after that, Juicy cofounder Gela Nash-Taylor told a reporter, “We wouldn't feel comfortable wearing that pink tracksuit now.” I, on the other-hand, certainly did. I wore the pink tracksuit everywhere: to parties, to bars, to bed, to break up with a boyfriend. I accumulated a pair of ultra low-rise purple velour pants from a thrift shop for $15 and a black tracksuit from JuicyCouture.com during its 50% off St. Patrick's Day sale. I'm a Taurus, which means I prize comfort and glamour above all else. So, blame the stars if half my wardrobe consists of velour bedazzled with rhinestones. Somewhere along the way, though, I stopped seeing my tracksuits as clothing. They became something bigger — bravado, armor, an extension of how I want to the world to see me. To use a heinous phrase from the year 2016, they're part of my personal brand. I pose in tracksuits for thirsty selfies on Twitter. I wear them around Brooklyn, the bottoms of the pants tucked into Uggs, practically daring people to snicker. I even once, experimentally, tried to seduce a guy I was dating while wearing a tracksuit, just to see if I could. (For the record, I could — he said I reminded him of the queen bees he crushed on in high school.) Waving the Juicy flag loud and proud is like telling people I still feed my Neopets or that I watch The Simple Life. But the reason I still wear Juicy today is because the brand is a symbol of everything I ever wanted in the 2000s. Back then, I was painfully shy and awkward. Fast-forward a decade, and my life looks like something I plucked out of my most feverish middle school fantasy: I get paid to think about celebrities and live on the internet; I finally got boobs; I've kissed more than three boys; I can afford to buy my own clothes and don't need Mom's permission to do so. It's certainly not perfect — not every day is as sweet as Bonne Bell LipSmackers — but I have the life I always wanted and the wardrobe to match. When I zip up a tracksuit, it's my way of nodding to that middle-school girl who so desperately wanted to fit in. It's my way of telling her Hey, it's going to be alright.
It's no accident that things I love most fervently all hit peak popularity when I was at my most awkward, my least confident. It's why I still know the lyrics to Britney Spears' “Toxic” by heart, quote Mean Girls daily, and, yes, wear Juicy. These are the things I wanted to cling to out of hope that one day, I'd shed this frizzy, un-coordinated prison and emerge as a cool, confident adult. It's the same as how people cling onto blue eyeshadow or Clueless or shoulder pads as a way of saying, "Yes, I'm a part of a cultural movement that's bigger than myself." The things you hold in high esteem when your own self-esteem is low become imprinted on your soul in a way that's impossible to forget. On a recent Thursday night, the first truly sweltering day of the year, I found myself frantically scrolling through eBay, desperate to find a specific item. It's a smocked strapless dress made of kelly-green terry cloth. Juicy, of course. Nothing exactly right is popping up — the closest items are either hovering around $300, or cut in children's sizes. I've seen it somewhere before, but I can't conjure up the image right away. Then it hits me: duh. I Google images of Sarah Jessica Parker and find her wearing the dress. My dress. She's pregnant and playing Carrie Bradshaw in season 5 of Sex and the City. Because it was 2003, she paired it with a cobalt-blue leather purse the size of a small toddler and red slingback pumps. I toggle back to eBay. Nada. Defeated, I go to bed. Eighteen hours later, I'm leading my family down East 7th Street for a picnic in Tompkins Square Park. We're jabbering about Memorial Day plans and my sister's upcoming prom when I stop cold. There's a sale rack outside a vintage store, and the very first item hanging is the smocked green dress, size adult medium. It's $20. I buy it on the spot and wear it all weekend long. It's ironic that wanting to be cool so badly has led to me to worship a brand that became the marker of uncool for many years. But part of growing into adulthood, I think, is learning to be okay with that. The reality is that I am not cool — not really, not now or ever. I can't name a single club that anyone would actually want to go to. I dance like a slightly drunk grandma. I don't even know how to use Snapchat. People far cooler than I might soon buy Juicy at Bloomingdale's. They'll think it's kitschy, nostalgic, hilarious. If the brand doesn't capture their imaginations the same way it's captured mine, they might cast aside their tracksuits in another two or three years, or whenever athleisure finally cycles out of fashion. And that's fine. I'll still be sunbathing in Central Park, laid out on a towel in that green smocked dress, muttering my mantra for the past decade under my breath: Viva la Juicy.