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I wish I could go back and tell my sixth-grade self what Champion is today. Almost 10 years later, I never would’ve thought that rocking Champion would be an aesthetic fashion statement. Now, looking back, I shake my head at what Champion used to represent for me.
I will admit it: I was embarrassed to wear Champion. During my childhood days, in my Maryland small town, Champion was only found on the clearance racks at Wal-Mart. I first started wearing Champion in late 2008. I’d just begun middle school and it was required to have two sets of clothes for gym class—one for the warmer days, one for the cooler days. My warm day outfit was a Justin Bieber tee and black shorts. My cooler day outfit was a gray Champion sweatsuit.
I remember never really wearing it, choosing to freeze instead of covering up in the humiliating Champion set. It fit weird, sagging in the wrong places. I’ve always been petite, so whenever I wore the Champion sweatsuit, I just looked like a walking rainy day, drowning in colorless fabric. (I can’t quite remember if I was teased for the suit, but I definitely sensed the judgment from my fellow classmates. I do remember a few stares here in there. ) It was comfortable, I’ll confess. But while most girls wore cute tennis shorts and hoodies for their uniform, my option was to either shiver in Justin Bieber or be the middle school girl version of the Michelin Man.
Don’t get me wrong, the sweatsuit combo was indeed cozy. It was made from cotton and fleece, a nice windbreaker for when the gym teacher insisted that we play flag football outside in 40 degrees. The sweatshirt was fuzzy, but since I was still in my training bra days, it was more like a cloak than a sweatshirt. It was pants stretchy elastic at the waist and ankles (which no one else had) that caused me to always take the longest in the changing rooms because I had to decide whether or not I wanted to commit to the “Champion Look” that day. I couldn’t bear to be seen in such a calamity, so I’d rip it off, and slip into my Bieber fan merch.
I’ve always struggled with some form of anxiety. So, walking out into the gym every other day—already intimidated by the taller girls with cuter clothes—was something I had to prepare myself for. I’d plan my gym outfits at home, ponder over the perfect pairings for class. More often than not, I’d choose what I thought was cute over what was comfortable. It didn’t matter whether or not I was warm, as long as I wasn’t wearing that stupid Champion sweatsuit. I’d always roll up my black shorts, so they’d be the same length as every other girl’s because having them at knee-length (how they were supposed to be worn) was a little too masculine for my fragile pre-teen ego. I’d even try to tuck in the Champion sweatshirt with the black shorts. But never ever would I wear the suit in its entirety. The harsh pressures of wanting to fit in, even in gym class, were in full swing for me in middle school. I didn’t want to appear as "the lame one."
Now, as an adult, I see Champion being worn by teenagers proudly. Champion has definitely amped up their design game from the early 2000s. Now, they have a range of colors, styles, and fits. It surprised me one day when I was in Urban Outfitters to see an entire section dedicated to Champion clothing. On Instagram, social media influencers like YouTuber Emma Chamberlain have changed the game for Champion. She practically endorses the brand, often sporting Champion in her videos and on her social feeds. Just wear a yellow cropped Champion hoodie, high-waisted shorts, pose like the prayer hands emoji and slap a high contrast VSCO filter onto the picture. You’ve just earned yourself a million likes, and a brand deal from Champion themselves.
Champion’s Maryland Walmart days are over. But as I look at my friends buying $70 Champion shirts, I realize how far the brand has come. From warming the insecure bodies of sixth graders in the gym to becoming the face of trending streetwear, I no longer see Champion as the dreaded gym gray combo to wear on cold days. But I surely will not rush to the racks, just to fit in. I learned my lesson from the dark ages of middle school. Though Champion is popular now, it certainly was not when I was a kid.