Cycling In Style
By Tracey Ellis
Chic city cycling – does it exist? Tracey Ellis takes a test drive down the elite runway of one of the world’s busiest and most fashionable cities to see the latest cycling trends.
Cycling doesn’t have to be all about skin-tight spandex and sore behinds. It can be a journey meandering from A to B, the quickest route to work, or a relaxing ride to de-stress. Cycling is also better for the environment, good exercise, and quite often a quicker mode of transportation than the clogged commute that exists in most cities. And with more and more women taking to city streets on two wheels, the fashions stakes have diversified with ladies emerging in the shape of sexy, modish forms astride metal stallions of all shapes and sizes. It’s all stemming from where most things fashionable and feminine do – the stylish city of Paris.Riding a bike is not new to most people, but riding it around the gridlocked streets that consume Paris has its challenges. With motorbikes weaving and pedestrians wandering aimlessly, the Parisian roads can be a dangerous obstacle course for cyclists, almost requiring a full suit of armour for protection. But in true French ‘laissez-faire’ style, almost anything goes for cycling attire; combining fashion with an air of sensibility is the key. The introduction of the hugely successful ‘Velib’ in July 2007 – the largest ‘self-service’ public cycling system in the world – has made city cycling easily accessible to everyone, and many women have embraced this healthy lifestyle with handbag and heels in tow.
The installation of 1,451 velib stations offering more than 20,000 bicycles has prompted a huge increase in women using the bike for commuting to work, short trips, or when taxis are unavailable. As of May 2008, women riders make up nearly half of the cyclist population in Paris. So, Parisian women are using the bike more, but are they maintaining their renowned ‘chicness’ while cycling? Apparently so (pics) And surely tight, short skirts and high heels are out of the question? Apparently not (pic) It seems some Parisians are not willing to sacrifice style for practicality, and if they turn a few heads in their journey, even better.
Cycling fashion has moved on considerably since bicycles were first invented in 1878 – a time when full skirts and ‘woollen suits’ were the outfits women were expected to wear, along with waist-pinching corsets. Cumbersome, heavy, and hot, women’s cycling dress was anything but sensible, but they were determined to master this new two-wheeled contraption while maintaining their decorum. Surprisingly, the cycling trend has prompted trends in fashion over the years. Bloomers were created by skirts being buckled around the ankles for safety, a smart and eventually stylish solution because by the 1890’s bloomers were worn increasingly in public in Paris, not just on bikes. These soon became quite fashionable in the form of ‘Turkish trouser’ style outfits. Then in 1895 came the bloomers costume with high laced boots (pic). Deemed to be safer than a skirt, this outfit also retained a woman’s femininity rather than having to ‘dress like a man’. And let’s not forget the men: cycling in their business suits they look just as smart as the women, cruising along Rue de Rivoli with their briefcases in baskets.
Back in the 1890’s, a ‘Norfolk suit’ was the dress of choice, an iconic outfit made of sturdy tweed paired with box pleats over the chest and back and matching baggy-kneed trousers. These ‘knickerbockers’ – worn with knee-length stockings and low shoes – were the sportswear fashion that men wore shooting and golfing as well as cycling. Men of today may have dropped the knickerbockers but remain ever-classy in their Dior or Chanel suits cycling to work. Undoubtedly, today’s cycling fashion has become less bulky and more liberated. Unless one is training for the Tour de France, being fashionable at all times is central to the Parisian spirit. Here’s how they do it:The ‘must-have’ accessory on a bike is sunglasses. Not only do they look cool, but they keep out bugs, harsh wind and dust. As for shoes, flats or wedges are best, but heels are possible too if you can master your balance at the red lights. Parisian women get it right by wearing kitten heels or pretty ballet flats instead of stilettos, remaining stylish but sensible. Scarves are in every Parisian’s wardrobe all year round.
They cut the chill on windier days and rarely fail to look stylish.Dresses and skirts may free the legs, but keep in mind they can ride as high as five inches when cycling. Whether a slim-fitting Dior suit or flowing fifties skirt, the Parisians wear them often as it is effortlessly sexy and completely feminine .Tight, skinny jeans teamed with gladiator sandals have been a popular look this past summer, the stretchy variety for ease of movement while pedalling. With fall approaching, classic trench coats of all lengths and colours are appearing, flowing out like mini wing extensions as they ride by.The biggest fashion faux pas on bikes? Riding with low-rise trousers so your underwear is showing (this is like an open invitation to Parisian men).
And backpacks; instead you see designer handbags, briefcases, or shopping bags resting in baskets or bags on a long strap across the body. The other reason Parisians are the most fashionable cyclists? They have little interest in wearing helmets. Free-flowing hair overrides safety, but at least the cycling speed is slower in the city. The future of bike fashion looks modern, versatile and creative: the unisexy Dhoti lounge pants from Down Town Betty and Outlier’s daily riding pants for women are two examples of progression created by past trends. And with Bike Fashion Shows popping up in New York and Vancouver presenting ‘fashion-forward’ chic urban clothing designed with the bicyclist in mind, it could help promote a cycling lifestyle to suit everyone. Sportswear is ultimately considered an American invention, while the home of ‘designer sportswear’ resides most definitely in Paris with designers such as Gabrielle Chanel creating haute couture designs, (though they are not as flexible as American sportswear). But when it comes to basic cycling that has a purpose, the Parisians are masters at combining chicness with practicality, especially when using their bike as a way to get to and from work while maintaining a business wardrobe.The French prove that fashion for the active person doesn’t have to be about cycling shorts and t-shirts. It’s more about fashion for the active business person which, for them, doesn’t have to lose style, just as long as you can pedal.
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