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The year’s biggest fashion trend is officially getting an entry in the dictionary

Model Cara Delevingne presents a creation by German designer Karl Lagerfeld as part of his Fall/Winter 2014-2015 women's ready-to-wear collection for French fashion house Chanel at the Grand Palais transformed into a "Chanel Shopping Center" during Paris Fashion Week March 4, 2014.
Reuters/Benoit Tessier
Coming to a dictionary near you.
  • Marc Bain
By Marc Bain

Fashion reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

It’s been everywhere: the coffee shop, the grocery store, the office, and sometimes even the gym. Dressing in workout clothes at all times, whether for exercising or not, has been one of the biggest, most persistent, and most comfortable clothing trends of the past couple years.

The style of dress has earned a few nicknames, including soft dressing, sports luxe, and when it goes really upscale, athluxury—think Vladimir Putin in $1,600 sweatpants. But the popular term, and the one that Merriam-Webster will add in the next update to its unabridged dictionary, is athleisure.

As the New York Times reported, the permanently post-gym look has become significant and widespread enough in the United States to have its name enshrined as part of the English language. The official definition will be “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use.” Merriam-Webster tells Quartz the new entry will go live in early 2016.

“Athleisure,” Merriam-Webster says, has been on its radar for some time. The first citation it has on files is from March 4, 1976, in an ad that ran in a Texas newspaper, the El Paso Herald Post: “Athleisure Shoes by Dunham. One of America’s largest boot & shoe manufacturers,” it reads. “Nylon with suede trim, traction sole.”

Basically it’s an ad for sneakers, a core item of the athleisure wardrobe. Probably not by coincidence, those were also the early years of Nike’s rapid ascent, when the future sneaker giant was rising on a tide of casual athletes across the US as they took up running and other sports.

Today’s athleisure is arguably a part of that same shift, and perhaps it shouldn’t be regarded as a trend at all. It’s a lifestyle in itself, which is why activewear, especially among women, has spread from the track and field—and these days, the yoga studio—to just about everywhere else, including offices and fashion’s runways.

That slow bleed into everyday dress is a big part of why Skechers is now the number-two sneaker brand in the US, why there is a market for $800 sweatpants exists, why Fox News convened a panel of men to decide if women should be allowed to wear leggings anywhere, and why Morgan Stanley expects the activewear industry to add $83 billion in sales globally by 2020.

Call it distasteful, comfortable, lazy, or whatever else. But according to Merriam-Webster, it’s officially called athleisure.

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