The Clothes Make the Cyclist

Generally, I am not a fashionable person. This has been a source of dismay to me in the past – I was convinced throughout junior high that my lack of style held back my popularity. But at this point in my life, I’ve come to terms with this fact and am happy to have a sense of my own quirky style, even if I’m not trendy in the least. Despite this, I do enjoy looking cute on the bike, even when it’s for exercise. From what I’ve seen, there are five main approaches to biking and style:

1) Stylish and sporty: This approach leaves no doubt that you are fit and spend a tremendous amount of time outdoors, despite the fact that you never seem to sweat so much as shine. The idealized version of this is the domain of expensive women’s catalogues like Title Nine and Athleta, full of active ladies that look like they do nothing all day but surf and rock-climb. Even when the quotes scattered throughout the catalog insist they are normal people, you don’t quite believe them.

Nonetheless, I do enjoy engaging in a bit of this style, and have particular pride in my small bike jersey collection. Along with my enviro-patterned Climate Ride jersey (which is thankfully non-garish compared to a lot of ride jerseys), I have ones that sport white cherry blossoms (same color background and company as this jersey, but with white flowers), and old-fashioned bicycle wheels. I spend a lot of non-riding time on Terry Bicycle-sponsored rides drooling over their beautiful jerseys. This site also has a listing of stylish bike jerseys, including an adorable Sergeant Pepper-inspired one.


Along with the jerseys, I also have a Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Ride shirt from Atayne and a pretty purple-pink long-sleeved shirt that I received for free, although both lack the convenience of back-pockets.


2) Retro Rider: These bicyclists harken back to the days of old, when bicycles were unironically called velocipedes. They dress like proper ladies and gents, all fancy hats, bowties, and long skirts. Some of them even ride retro-style bicycles or decorate regular ones with flowers. These folks don’t ride very fast, but it’s the looking good that matters more than the destination. This style is what the Seersucker and Tweed rides unabashedly celebrate.

Although I’m not nearly organized or put-together enough to manage this style on a regular basis, I do try to make an effort for these special rides. Unfortunately, I missed the Tweed Ride yet again last year (although I did make it to the afterparty), but I’ll try to make a showing at it this year, as well as reprise the Seersucker ride.


The same group just put on the Diamond Derby ride last weekend, but riding at below 50-degree weather in fancy clothes just for the heck of it wasn’t appealing, no matter how thick my tights were.

3) Punk bike messenger style: This style is epitomized by vaguely ratty jeans, lots of piercings, and a very badass attitude. As biking for transportation is becoming more and more mainstream and the Internet replaces bike messengers, this style seems to be dying out. Which in some ways is rather unfortunate, because I’ve always had a fondness for punk fashion, even though I never went all out. The Bicycle Rights guy from Portlandia is the epitome of this way of being, and while the bit is funny, having fewer body piercing/doorway encounters like he does at the end of the sketch can’t be a bad thing.

4) “My bike is just another accessory” style: These are the folks who are just ordinarily fashionable all of the time, whether on a bike or off. A bike is a mode of transportation, and therefore part of their fashion sense, just as a car would be, but not inherently part of their identity. They might slightly modify their wardrobe for easier riding, although you’d never be able to tell. However, they would never cuff a pantleg to keep it from getting stuck in the chain, unless both were done and it was part of an overall summery look. Or, increasingly, they may buy bicycle-specific clothes and accessories, especially if they buy designer brands anyway. Kate Spade now makes bicycle-friendly handbags that clip onto handlebars and if you take this trope literally, bikes themselves in her signature green.


Levi’s is now making jeans “designed for the urban cyclist.” This Wall Street Journal article has tons more examples of very high-end brands that have jumped on the cycling bandwagon. On the not-as-expensive side of things, street stylist bloggers with a focus on cycling like Velo Vogue, Riding Pretty, and Bike Fancy prove that style is perfectly possible on a bike, if you have a knack for looking put together already.

I support this movement in style because it normalizes biking and shows that you too can get places on a bike without being a sweaty mess at the end. Sadly, this is a club that I will never be a part of because of my aforementioned cluelessness trends-wise. However, I do try to look mildly presentable and “normal” when not out for an exercise-based ride. When going to the ice cream shop or movies in the summer, I often wear light knee-length skirts. (My favorite for this purpose is from Five Bamboo.) As my trusty hybrid forces one’s knees rather higher than is comfortable for the sake of modesty, I also wear bike shorts underneath. I then tuck the bottom of the skirt into the bottom of the shorts. As long as the skirt’s fairly loose, it’s not very noticeable. If this seems overly dorky, there are also a number of adorable bike short-skirt combinations available. Or for extra indie-cred, you can buy biking bloomers from one of my favorite shops in D.C.’s U Street corridor, Ginger Root. I also got an awesome handmade bicycle necklace from a local artist there.

5) “Why yes, I did bike here in this” style: These are the folks that looking at their clothes, you would have no idea how they could possibly ride a bike. They are always women and are usually wearing extraordinarily high, spiky heels. They are in a category of their own and I will never, ever be one of them or even try to. I think I would fall on my face getting onto the bike, much less riding it.

So that’s my rundown of bicycle style. Did I miss anything? What do you tend to wear cycling? Do you care at all what you look like?

This entry was posted in biking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Clothes Make the Cyclist

  1. Pingback: The Clothes Make the Cyclist « Will Bike for Change (or Pie!) | Bicycle News

  2. derektigges says:

    Have you checked the Levi’s Commuter Series? They have special clothing for cyclists as well…

  3. Nancy L. Seibel says:

    There’s what I consider “cycle cute” – a fluttery look that I find unappealing on or off the bike. Perhaps that’s the same as your 5th category?

    • The people in my 5th category have some serious panache, so I don’t know. But then I’m not entirely sure I know what you’re talking about. The only person I’ve seen that I would consider “fluttery” on a bike was one of my fellow Climate Riders in a tutu, but she was doing it on a fund-raising bet.

      • Nancy L. Seibel says:

        I probably have a different image in mind. And that look that I’m not so in favor of, others love. So its just an opinion. Love the thought of the tutu on the fund raiser!

  4. Well done!
    Thanks for the inclusion in section 4!
    I also liked Nancy’s “cycle cute” descriptor. I’ll have to add that to my lexicon 🙂

  5. Jean says:

    I’ve given up for now on cycling in girl chic fashion clothes.

    I nearly ranted on about this here:

    I’ve accumulated cycling clothes for now and so I have enough. It saves me from wearing out my business/dressier clothing. So I wear more cycling oriented clothing. Most of my jerseys are 1 colour since I’m not into looking like a team kit.

    Lately I’ve been drooling over the fashionable round helmets, but alas I have an oblong head. Now that is one area I might later spend money on something “fashionable”.

    • I totally get where you are coming from in terms of not wearing business clothing for cycling. I know there’s no way I can physically wear most of my work skirts and jackets (which are fitted) for cycling, especially on my hybrid. I’d either ruin them or not be able to bike, so I have no idea how others do it. On the Capital Bikeshare cruiser-style bikes, it’s a little easier, but still not a great idea. When I wear “normal” clothes cycling, it’s usually casual skirts, jeans, or shorts.

  6. Pingback: We’re Not Just an “Indicator Species!” « Will Bike for Change (or Pie!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s