In the November/December 2014 issue of Momentum Magazine, Editor-in-Chief Mia Kohout asks the question, “Do we need bike fashion?” For a magazine dedicated to making biking-as-transportation “Fun, smart, stylish and sexy,” it might seem like a surprising question – bike fashion fills many of its pages. Mia answered her own question by saying that of course anyone can bike in whatever is in their closet, and that well-made, expensive bike fashion pieces are, like any other expensive wardrobe investment, just that, an investment piece. “Well-designed and well-made clothing can be expensive, whether for riding a bike or not,” she states. I agree – I could buy a knit wrap dress anywhere, but I still aspire to an original Diane von Furstenberg.

Diane von Furstenberg's iconic wrap dress

Ooh…. Diane von Furstenberg’s iconic wrap dress (photo courtesy of DvF website)

Regular readers of my blog know that I am obsessed interested in bike fashion, and started making my own clothing that is both office-appropriate and bike-appropriate. Fashion is not only important to me, it is important to all of us, whether we like it or not. In The Encyclopedia of Fashion, by Georgina O’Hara, the author writes, “Fashion is a mobile, changing reflection of the way we are and the times in which we live.” Michael and Ariane Batterberry write, in their massive Fashion: The Mirror of History, “To our minds, clothes have traditionally served four basic functions: to protect the body, to exalt the ego, to arouse emotions in others, and to communicate by means of symbols.” We may not need fashion, but we do need to be covered, to protect our bodies, and that need combines with the need for self expression, which then becomes fashion. The need to be covered, protect myself, and express myself results in my reflective bike fashion.  Fashion Books

Mia’s question made me return to Lauren Steinhardt, the designer who designed the REI Novara dress I bought earlier this year, and gave us some insights to the bike clothing world (be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of her interview). For her MS in Design and Human Environment, Lauren’s thesis, titled “Women’s Commuter Cycling Apparel: Functional Design Process to Product,” spends a lot of time considering the different elements of bike commuting, and what women want to wear. Lauren interviewed women bike commuters in Portland, OR, to get feedback on what they want in bike commuting clothing, and then designed a small collection based on that feedback.

Lauren’s background research initially explored identity and apparel as group membership – anyone can relate to high school cliques, uniforms, the “roadie” look of a full Lycra kit, the “Kate Middleton” effect, and so on. We dress in ways that express not only who we are, but with whom we wish to be identified. However, as Lauren points out, “the cyclist who uses the bicycle primarily as a form of transportation may not wish to identify in the role of recreational or professional cyclist” (pg. 17). The women whom Lauren interviewed did not identify as “cyclists,” but as professionals, and chose their clothing based on that, rather than cycling function.

In evaluating her research, Lauren used research done in 1992 by J.M. Lamb and M. J. Kallal, “A conceptual framework for apparel design,” (Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 10 (2), 42-47). Lamb and Kallal developed a design process that considered the functional needs, expressive needs, and aesthetic needs of the clothing consumer. Functional needs includes fit, mobility, comfort, protection, and donning/doffing of the garment. Expressive needs includes values, roles, status and self-esteem of the consumer. Aesthetic needs include art elements, design principles, and body/garment relationships. I’ve never seen this breakdown before, but it was the perfect format for Lauren’s research, and makes sense to me.

The FEA (Functional-Expressive-Aesthetic) model of consumer needs, but Lamb & Kalla, 1992

The FEA (Functional-Expressive-Aesthetic) model of consumer needs, by Lamb & Kalla, 1992 (Scanned from Lauren’s thesis)

Based on the interviews of women commuter cyclists and an analysis of cycling clothing companies that existed at the time, Lauren determined that most women’s cycling clothing, even that intended to be for bike commuters, did not fulfill the expressive or aesthetic needs. Regardless of how “fashion forward” each participant may or may not have been, each apparently expressed a dislike of traditional bike clothing and accessories, and rejected clothing that could have been more functional because it was not expressive or aesthetically pleasing, and didn’t fulfill the need to be office-appropriate. The majority said that they wanted to be able to walk into their offices looking professional, and that since many of them participate in social events or run errands afterwards, they wanted clothing to wear that was socially appropriate for those situations. Some of the women also owned “bike gear,” such as padded bike shorts, but were dismissive of wearing bike-specific clothing on their commutes, and didn’t see the point in buying clothes (such as by Trek or Pearl Izumi) at bike shops.

Apparel Needs Model for Female Bicycle Consumers, by Lauren Steinhardt

Apparel Needs Model for Female Bicycle Consumers, by Lauren Steinhardt (Scanned from Lauren’s thesis)

Lauren’s thesis is full of more and better detail, and I definitely recommend the section where she designed 6 garments and prototyped a pair of pants. But for the purpose of this blog post, I want to focus on the functional, expressive and aesthetic needs reported by her research. The reason why we need bike fashion is because there are those of us who do not want to buy or wear bike sports clothing, ie, jerseys covered in brands and logos, padded bike shorts, clipless shoes, and so on, because although it fulfills our functional needs (keeps clothing out of gears, keeps us warm, functions better with a road bike perhaps), it doesn’t appeal to our expressive or aesthetic needs. For example, I do not identify as a “roadie” or “cyclist,” so I don’t want to wear a hi viz yellow jacket or anything Lycra. I identify as a professional (or fashion designer, haha!), and as such, wish to look like one on my way to and from work. Hi viz pink and yellow definitely do not fulfill my aesthetic needs; they are colors I look terrible in (frankly, no one looks good dressed like a highlighter). I want to wear teal and gray and rose and leaf green. I want to be able to lock up my bike at work and walk into my office ready for meetings, or at least looking professional enough that I am not embarrassed on my way to the restroom to change and apply makeup!

This is a rather long way of saying that we need bike fashion such as the designs by Iladora, Vespertine, Ligne 8, Iva Jean, and more because they tend to fulfill our expressive, aesthetic AND functional needs better than other, more readily available commercial clothing lines. They might not yet fulfill all of our needs equally, and I will always find a way to fit Piperlime and Ann Taylor Loft into my bike wardrobe, but we need bike fashion companies to help us identify us as people who are fun, smart, stylish and sexy – and ride bikes for transportation.

Ladies biking in Arlington for fun - smart, stylish and sexy!

Ladies biking in Arlington for fun – smart, stylish and sexy!


8 thoughts on “Why I Think We Need Bike Fashion

  1. I like that wheel of cycling consumer clothing needs. Useful.

    The only annoying problem I have with cycling clothing that is disguised as streetwear, is that often it’s still expensive. Off-putting.

    • I find the cost of technical bike gear off-putting (seriously, $90 for a jersey? $90 for padded shorts?), and you can’t wear it at work, so I guess it all depends on what you value and consider costly! For example, I refuse to buy a $40 sports bra, but there are companies out there that thrive on that. There is a market for everyone – and thank goodness! Would we all want to be wearing the same thing? I think not. Huzzah for choices!

  2. Great post!
    I’ve dropped the sports gear for my commute and back to ‘everyday’ clothing. My skirts and dresses do fine as long as there is enough width in the hem for cycling.
    Here in the UK the majority of cycling commuters wear high vis and usually lycra. I have a very unattractive shapeless high vis orange and yellow waistcoat that I wear over my normal jacket. It has great reflective panels so it is a necessary at the moment until I can come up with something else. (I also make sure I take if off before I walk into the office!)

    I love the collections from Vespertine and Ligne 8. The dresses with the 3M threads are fab. I wonder if the fabric is available to buy?

    • Thanks, I’m glad you like the post, and congrats for biking in everyday clothing! I have discovered that I can’t wear pencil skirts on my bike because of the top tube, and my favorite suede skirt for the same reason, but other than that, I can make most things work fine. I wish I could afford something from Vespertine; I’m saving up. I appreciate the fact that Ligne 8 has so many options. I don’t know about the fabric that Vespertine uses, but there is a British company that makes tweeds with the reflective thread in it. It too is expensive, but once I come up with THE perfect sewing project, I’ll splurge and get some. Maybe next year!

  3. So I’m sitting here trying to count the number of bike-specific fashion items I wear for my work and bike date commutes. I’m up to three:
    * padded lace-trimmed liner shorts for under dresses in the summer, mainly for modesty
    * a reflective belt by Vespertine that I wear over my winter coat because it’s dark for my pm commute
    * a wool cycling cap with brim for cold and wet days

    I think that’s it. My dresses are off-the-rack, often knit from Prana or Title 9, but not always. I rarely wear dress pants, but my jeans are off-the-rack. Jackets and coats are off-the-rack and completely non-sporty. Gloves are lined kidskin leather for cold, nylon for wet, nothing in summer.

    I think I don’t need bike-specific clothes because I ride a fairly upright bike with a chain guard. If I was more leaned over I’d need more flexibility in the shoulders and lower-back coverage. I think the only bike-specific item I might want for work is one of those pencil skirts that unzip. I’d love to be more supportive of budding bike fashion entrepreneurs, but I honestly don’t need the majority of it, and it’s expensive since it’s such a niche market.

    • I don’t think any of us who prefer to ride upright bikes and normal clothes *need* bike fashion, but I personally like the details like a higher rise in the back of the pants. My commuter bike has me just forward enough that I like a bit more coverage. And let’s be honest, no one *needs* anything that is sports-specific (really, do people really *need* expensive leggings to run in? No, but plenty of companies sell them), but that doesn’t mean people don’t want it! I wish the stuff I like, dresses from Title 9 included, wasn’t so expensive, but I know from personal experience that clothing made in the US by small companies is expensive because sewing ain’t cheap. Everything I have made is probably on par cost-wise with anything from any of these companies like Iladora and Iva Jean. That’s part of the reason I don’t want to sell it – who could afford to buy it? So I prefer to support other companies to the best of my slim wallet abilities. I’m saving up for next year’s purchases already!

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