These days, spandex comes to mind when fashion and bicycling collide. But once upon a time – long before the invention of this wondrous fabric – bicycling and fashion were not on the opposite ends of the recreational continuum. Thankfully, Dandies and Quaintrelles in D.C. is looking to bring back this era, with a tagline of “Redemption through Style.” These are ladies and gents who are fashionistas first and bicyclists…somewhere else down the line. Nonetheless, I had a fabulously good time riding with the 700 other participants in the Seersucker Ride this past weekend.
The Seersucker Ride, named after the light cotton fabric favored by Congressional members and Southern gentlemen, is a bicycle ride meant to evoke the good olde days of summer. Except that it’s much better than the good olde days, as its participants were both racially and sartorially diverse. The styles ranged from spot-on Victorian to 1920s Flapper dresses to checked Bermuda shorts to modern-day sundresses.
People sported some lovely headgear on top as well. One woman had a hat with a rather significantly sized bird! Most people weren’t wearing helmets (hmm), but some of those who did had cute ones. I even spotted one that looked like a watermelon.
I myself was wearing a 1950s-style cotton dress that I had bought from local vintage shop Junction just after the Grey Market. Simple black flats that do double-duty cycling and complementing a dress made the outfit. I did wear my helmet, and was pleased to see out my haircut is somewhat forgiving on that front.
In addition to fashion-spotting, I also took note of some impressive bicycles. I saw a few hand-built ones, including one based on a design from the 1890s. One cargo bike looked like it could cart around an entire party. Appropriate to the ride’s theme, there were a number of old-fashioned Schwinn cruisers. And a number of people borrowed Capital Bikeshare bikes for the day, bringing some flashy red to the parade.
The ride itself was lovely, but very, very slow. The “long” ride was about 12 miles, with a number of turns, stop signs, and traffic lights. The direct route from the start to the end at Hillwood Estates was only a few miles, so we wound around and through much of downtown D.C. In the future, I would recommend they distribute cue sheets, because 12 miles is a long time to stay together as a group without signs or directions. As it is rather difficult to ride in heels – although the women I saw did a noble job – this was a much slower pace than I was used to. In fact, it was the bicycling equivalent of a stroll. The one excellent thing about the pace was that it kept our lovely clothes from getting too sweaty. Victorian ladies would be proud.
Most of the ride’s geography was easy, with a really lovely downhill through Rock Creek Park. The only challenging part came at the very end, with a substantial but not terrible hill followed by a very steep hill leading into the Estate. As I Do Not walk hills, I was determined to get up it – and did – despite needing to politely ask a couple of walkers to move over.
The Ride ended at Hillwood Estates, the former estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post (what a delightful name!). It reminded me of places I visited in England, particularly Stowe Landscape Garden, with its rolling lawns, sculpted water features, and set-apart formal gardens. It was quite lovely, and the perfect ending to a stylish ride. Meeting my friend Rebecca there, lounging on chairs in the garden, I felt quite posh, in a good way.
The best part of the ride is that it focuses on having fun as a grander theme of life. When people on the street asked what we were riding for, I would yell “fabulousness!” Like the Grey DC Farmers Market, it promotes a good cause while maintaining a sense of whimsy. As a result, it makes biking more accessible. While dressing up in a fancy-retro way seems incredibly “apart” from society, Dandies and Quaintrelles actually does a great job welcoming everyone. No one was too fussy about historical accuracy. No one cared if you got your clothes somewhere fashionable or at Goodwill. No one cared what kind of bike you had – unless it was really cool. Clearly, no one cared how fast you went. No one even cared if you thought of yourself as a bicyclist or not. The ride was free, and the garden party was only $10, to cover the entrance fee to the Estate (their normal suggested donation is $15).
In fact, it was clear that the most important part was that you were there and having fun. And that really seems to be the driving factor behind Dandies and Quaintrelles itself. As they say on their website, “A life lived well is beautiful and that beauty can be evident in the celebration of exceptional personal style, leisurely experiences, acts of kindness.” A motto I can certainly get behind. Events like these make bicycling accessible, combining transportation and recreation so that it becomes one glorious hybrid. Personally, I know I’ll be signing up for the Tweed Ride come fall…