April 17, 2014
For the Herald
Workout Wear Friday? No sweat, boss!
There’s dressing for success. There’s dressing for the gym.
And then there’s Dress Pant Yoga Pants. The US$88 trousers with belt loops, faux (*) pockets and sun-salutation-ready stretch are the creation of Betabrand, a San Francisco apparel (1) company. Although they might sound like novelty items (2), clothes that can go straight from your workout to your work are going to come in handy in 2014.
That’s because this isn’t just a column. It’s a pitch for offices across the country to embrace my big idea: “Workout Wear Friday.” The basic premise is that people in fitness gear are more likely to exercise — or at least to think about it. So let’s get everyone in comfortable, moisture-wicking(3) outfits (4) once a week to demonstrate our commitment to physical activity.
“This has legs (5),” says Rick Miller. Back in the early ’90s, when he was doing public relations work for Levi’s, he and his team championed a wacky idea called Casual Friday. They distributed a guide that suggested polished looks with khakis and jeans, and a new sort of office style was born.
One secret to their success? Loosening up the dress code was a no-cost benefit to offer employees.
Among certain populations — exercise science researchers, personal trainers, fitness writers — there's nothing eyebrow-raising about stretchy fabrics in the workplace. But in most offices, gym clothes are expressly verboten (*).
The timing is even better now, Miller adds. Companies are once again pinching pennies (6), and they’re more concerned than ever about rising health-care costs. Plus, social media could help spread the trend faster than you can say “selfie (7).”
People in workout gear probably won’t limit their activity to just the one walk, says John Porcari, at the University of Wisconsin.
Back in 2004, Porcari helped lead a study on the benefits of wearing casual clothes to work. A group of 53 subjects wore pedometers both on typical days in the office and on days when they wore jeans. On average, participants took an extra 491 steps — an 8 percent increase — on the casual days.
“Typically, when they wear jeans, they also wear more comfortable shoes,” says Porcari, who believes that societal standards of dress are hampering physical activity. “People tend to be sedentary. If we force them into high heels and ties, we are reinforcing that.”
Adapted from a story by Vicky Hallett, The Washington Post.
Apparel is used to refer to clothes, almost exclusively when it is sold in shops (which have “apparel sections”). This word is mostly used in the US.
(2) Novelty item
Slippers with crocodiles, salt shakers with blinking lights, big “panic buttons” that make a loud sound when pressed, all kinds of useless gadgets that are cheap and plastic and shiny and funny: “novelty item” describes that whole category of things whose only value is in being funny and “new.”
(3) Moisture wicking
Moisture-wicking fabric is cloth that draws sweat off the skin to the outside of the fabric (to wick means to take small drops of liquid away from a surface). It is typically used in performance clothes for sports, because it keeps the body dry during exercise.
An outfit describes a set of clothes that you wear together—not each individual item, but the ensemble.
(5) To have legs
When an idea or news item “has legs”, it means that people will continue to be interested in it for a long time. The opposite expression would be when something “does not ha ve a leg to stand on” (when something is unreasonable or you cannot explain why it is important or relevant).
(6) To pinch pennies
This beautifully alliterative expression means to try to spend as little money as possible. A similar expression is “to cut corners,” which has the added (and negative) meaning that, in order to save money or time, you ignore the rules or leave something out that should be included.
All hail the Oxford Dictionary word of the year 2013! A selfie is a photograph that you take of yourself with a digital camera or smartphone, and which 90 percent of the time ends up on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or all of the above.
Friends from abroad
We have already talked about foreign words incorporated into the English language, so today we have two perfect examples of how cultural stereotypes are expressed in a language through these incorporations.
The word “verboten” is German for “forbidden,” and is used in informal English to express a strong legal prohibition to do something. The word “faux,” on the other hand, is French for “false,” and describes something that tries to imitate something else artificially (faux leather, for instance, is actually plastic!).
Now, why is the German word associated with a strong prohibition whereas the French word is connected with a crafty technique? Could it be because of the stereotypes that English culture tends to associate with each nationality? Interestingly, the German word “ersatz” has (in English) a similar meaning to “faux” —with the added implication that the object is a poor substitute for the original. So, how much more than just words are we articulating when we speak a language? Food for thought in this new year...