The Juicy tracksuit lived and died by the American recession. Founded in ’91, Juicy Couture hit its stride in 2001 following  the dot-com bubble. By 2008, it was relegated to discount retail prison (Kohl’s). Juicy was casual wear with tongue-in-cheek sophistication. It came at a time when fashion was starting to take cues from paparazzi photos, dovetailing with the beginnings of the fast fashion industry. No one could afford anything nice, but we wanted to look like we could.  A perfect storm.

It’s fair to say the gossip magazines of the early 2000s were a unique contribution to our shared visual and cultural imagination. Us Magazine went Weekly instead of monthly, then so did People, and then there was Life & Style, In Touch, Ok!. Suddenly, celebrity pictures were different and there were more of them. We were seeing Lindsay Lohan getting out of a car with no underpants, Janet Jackson’s boob coming out at the Super Bowl, Tara Reid’s on the red carpet. They were also pretty mundane, as publications tried to fill pages and quotas: celebrities on the beach, getting coffee, in traffic. The photos were hi-flash, grainy, exposing, and often distinctly private. At the same time, emerging in a neat Janusian flourish to the paparazzi’s newfound sense of industry was the US’s own brand-new surveillance apparatus. The Patriot Act was signed in 2001, ushering in an era of intelligence gathering that was as yet inconceivable to us.  As the US government started to slowly unburden us of our right to privacy,  the paparazzi began to pursue a parallel, albeit more theatrical exercise in the form of tabloid photography. The sentiment was the same: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. We echoed the refrain from behind our magazines, and slowly got used to the idea that there was something good about being pervasively, insistently watched, even and especially at our most dishevelled and boring.

The Juicy tracksuit was not prohibitively expensive, nor was it prohibitively ostentatious. It was accessible celebrity dress-up. Owning one might allow a feeling of closeness and comfort to the trends and people du-jour, with a high enough price point that we felt like we’d worked for it, but comfortable enough that we could wear it to give an impression that no, we were not working today. It was also one of the first brands to utilize the influencer economy, long before we had a name for it, by gifting the suits to celebrities in the hopes they would wear them and generate free PR. It worked, and yet in an uncanny and genius evasion, the Juicy tracksuit also worked for the celebrity. In its deceptive informality it acted as a kind of foil to the paparazzi, a work suit in its own right for the off duty celebrity.  In wearing them, celebrities were able to give off a deceptive appearance of being ‘in private’, in public; on our side of things, this now feels like a familiar albeit self-enacted delusion as the 2000s trundled on and any boundaries of genuine privacy dissolved. Ostensibly, these celebrities were not Working, but it was also true that work does not end for a public personality, especially now that there are all these photos to take. As a consumer, flipping through zoomed-in photos of Britney in her blue sweatsuit striding out of a Menchie’s in Sherman Oaks, we could feel we were seeing them in their true form, through the keyhole, finally validated in our belief that celebrities, to borrow a phrase, were just like us. For the celebrities, the suits could work in the reverse. The Juicy tracksuit’s uniformity and ubiquity among celebrities and civilians alike allowed celebs to offset the very access they appeared to be providing in being photographed in something so casual. Paired with giant, face-hiding sunglasses, the celebrity could be subsumed in a kind of monochromatic, terry cloth armor with the added defense of a double-entendre brand name emblazoned across her ass. As there is safety in numbers, there is protection in performance; if you were going to be watched, it was better to be in costume.

The sweatsuit in the early 2000s also spoke to the decade’s pervasive, if uncanny, sense of excess. For the first time, in a way that seems symptomatic of an era whose technology and imagery was becoming more and more integrated with quotidian existence, celebrity clothing and the clothing worn by America’s working class was beginning a feedback loop that makes locating a point of origin difficult. In this sartorial mobius strip, it would appear the celebrities had been dipping their toe to what I’d like to tentatively call Silent Majority Drag. Juicy tracksuits were one facet, the others being trucker hats, bedazzling, frayed hems, and the evocatively named “wife-beater”. This coincided with the election of George W. Bush and  a newly mainstreamed liberal ire for the flyover-state yokels he had appealed to and who had won him the election. With the early 2000s came shows like South Park and The Simple Life, wherein this class divide, especially in the latter, was parodied. We started using terms like ‘poor white trash’, ‘trailer trash’. Though I previously suggested the Juicy Tracksuit might indicate a lady-of-leisure, it could also easily translate to on-the-dole. It was an outfit that managed to dress up by dressing down; a perfect encapsulation of this period’s quickly shifting visual indicators of class. Was it top down distribution? Trickle up? A result of the hip hop inspired style that started in the 90s? A psychic download? Either way, by wearing the tracksuits, celebrities managed a smoke-bomb kind of affirmation: We are dressing like you! So that we may be lost in the shuffle.

The year the housing bubble burst was the year celebrities would turn against the camera, with the resounding crack of an umbrella against the window of an SUV. Britney Spears’ retaliation against the violators of her own privacy was made possible by her perpetrators' visibility, visibility being the terms of contract on both sides, despite the paparazzi’s own attempts to disguise themselves -- as wedding guests, as Audubon society members ensconced in trees. In 2013, when the full extent of intelligence agencies’ infiltration into private exchanges was made public, we wouldn’t have the luxury of a similar catharsis. It’s hard to protest against something as boring and invisible as metadata collection, especially when we lack the same iconographic methods of dissent — busting up a car, or shaving your head. Nobody would care. In Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, journalist Jacob Applebaum says at a meeting of the European UN concerning the Snowden leaks, “What people used to call liberty and freedom we now call privacy, and we say in the same breath that privacy is dead…There’s this myth of the passive surveillance machine, but what is surveillance except control?” There had never been a myth of passive paparazzi, and yet that also changed in 2007 when the iPhone was released, condensing the function of paparazzi and intelligence into one mobile repository. The tracksuit, relieved of her duty, fell out of rotation. The illusion of divulgence a Juicy sweatsuit might have provided was too subtle a tactic, and the company folded into the fluorescent annals of the discount rack. It could not survive our loss of naïveté. An epitaph was provided by one of the cofounders: “There was a somberness to fashion, a seriousness... and it really wasn’t on brand for Juicy”.