Fashion goes in cycles
Published Date: 09 June 2009
By Claire Black
GLADIATOR sandals with five-inch heels, a playsuit and a silk scarf slung round the neck. It sounds like the perfect fashion statement for a Saturday night out, but actually it’s Laura Cameron Lewis’s favourite outfit for getting on her beloved bike.
“(My sandals] are quite comfy to walk in, but using a bike is just the best excuse for wearing high heels because you don’t hurt your feet at all,” she says. And writer/director/actor Cameron Lewis is not alone in saying no to Lycra and padded shorts and yes to 21st-century cycling chic.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a two-wheeled revolution going on in the world of fashion. It started with the odd snap of top model Agyness Deyn tootling around the chi-chi neighbourhoods of London and New York, looking just like a supermodel would when balanced on two outfit-matching wheels. Then there’s Duffy, warbling as she pedals around in the current Diet Coke TV advert – and even the fashion house Chanel has launched a custom-built eight-speed bike, with trademark quilted leather pannier. It costs more than $6,000, but at least one has been sold: Courteney Cox reportedly gave one as a gift to her former Friends co-star Jennifer Aniston.
It’s a million miles away from activity clothes and sweat rings. Not only are bikes a greener, cleaner way to get around, for a growing number of people they’re the ultimate style statement. “I did tons of research on the net about what kind of bike to get,” says Cameron Lewis. “I read Caz Nicklin’s blog on Cycle Chic and she said that you absolutely have to get the bike of your dreams because otherwise you won’t use it, so I thought, well, in that case I’ll spend £600 on a Pashley.”
The ‘it’ bike of the moment, as well as a hand-crafted piece of Britain’s cycling history, the Pashley is all about style as well as function and Cameron Lewis has not regretted buying her Princess Sovereign. As well as attracting comments in the street most days, she enjoys every minute of cycling on her hand-built machine, complete with “full mudguards, basket on the front and dinging bell”. “You’re proud of it, you’re happy and it suits your style and your personality. It’s brilliant. It’s the best £600 I’ve ever spent.”
The bike is one thing, but what about the fashion? It’s all very well celebrating bikes – they cost a fraction of what a car will set you back; they really do deliver you door to door; they’ve got gears that make even Edinburgh hills manageable. But for many of us, there has always been one buckled wheel barring the smooth path of our love of cycling: the clothes.
Hi-tech in the fabric department they may be, but in the design stakes, not so much. Gaudy, fluorescent, skin-tight Lycra or shapeless, unflattering “activity clothing”, they’re not exactly a fashionista’s dream. If you’re not the type to be impressed by high-visibility strips and reinforced “seat panels” then until recently, at least metaphorically speaking, you’ve been stranded with a flat and no puncture kit.
But fear not: the anti-Lycra lobby is gaining pace. Mercifully, there are designers who love their bikes as much as they love fashion, so they’re the ones creating chic cycling wear and accessories that will please even the most style conscious pedaller.
“When I started commuting around London three years ago, there was just nothing,” says Amy Fleuriot, a London-based fashion student and cyclist and one half of the team behind Cyclodelic. “That big gap in the market gave me the idea for this business. Since then, cycling’s become so popular, (the range] has gone from strength to strength.” Fleuriot teamed up with textile-design graduate and ex-cycle courier Sarah Buck in 2008, to create a range that combined fashion and function. Think reflective studded cuffs, silk cycling scarves , metallic panniers and rainproof capes. This is funky, fashionable clothing that also happens to be bike-friendly. The fabrics are light and stretchy, but when you jump off your bike, you’ll look just as cool as you want to.
Ged Holmyard, of the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op, recognises the cycling style stereotypes, but insists that recently even dedicated cycling gear manufacturers have moved on. “Wearing padded Lycra shorts is still the most comfortable way to cycle, but now people are doing it by stealth, with baggies or three-quarter length shorts that go over them,” says Holmyard. “Sales of loose baggy shorts and even cycle-cut trousers have – certainly in our shops – superseded the old skintight Lycra stuff. The road racers are the last bastion of tight bright polyester tops, Lycra shorts and shoes that you can’t walk in. That all has its place, but there’s been a move towards more utilitarian clothing – stuff that, if you were to wear it off the bike, other people wouldn’t give you a second glance.”
Take a look at any of the many blogs focusing on cycling style and you’ll see that blending into the crowd is far from the aim, however. For many converts to two-wheeled transport, there’s a new world of fashion waiting to be explored. According to Fleuriot, the bigger cycling clothing brands have ignored women, because they didn’t believe that there were enough women cycling to make new ranges worthwhile. According to figures from Sustrans, the UK’s leading sustainable transport charity, 79 per cent of British women do not cycle at all, even though 43 per cent have access to a bike – but things are changing.
“More women have started cycling,” Fleuriot insists. “There are lots of different (contributory] factors, but look at the social, economic and environmental points of view and you’ll see cycling fits into all of them. There are lot of great bicycle boutiques popping up in response to the fact there are more and more people who are making nice things (to wear while] cycling.”
For the ‘perfect’ cycling outfit Fleuriot recommends a merino wool base layer, or something that’s odour repellent and temperature regulating, then a light windproof or waterproof jacket. “Things with a bit of stretch in them are always good,” she says, “but that might just be a really nice jersey dress. It doesn’t have to be Lycra.”
Cyclodelic is working on a clothing range which will be launched in September and includes everything from simple, short-sleeved tops to more complex technical pieces.
“We’ve got a really beautiful batwing zip jersey and another skirt/top, which is a bit more technical,” she says. “I envisage it being really nice for slightly longer rides, worn over leggings and padded shorts, but still it’ll look smart and funky. And then we’ve got a little tailored windproof jacket and a waterproof coat, which will be perfect for commuting.”
For Cameron Lewis there’s plenty on the high street for the aspiring bicyclista. “I found a brilliant mac in Topshop,” she says. “It’s somewhere between a parka and a traditional mac and they’ve got them in lots of different colours. I’ve got a teal green one, which I figure is bright enough to let me be seen on the road without me looking like a loser. I often wear a silk scarf around my neck, just in case it gets blowy, so I can protect myself. If it starts spitting with rain then it doubles up as a proper granny headscarf. I’ve also been looking for culottes: they’re great for avoiding a skirt-blown-over-head situation on the bike.”
Even a style-conscious cyclist like Cameron Lewis has a couple of cycle-specific items in her wardrobe. One essential is underwear. “I’ve got a Lucky Saddle bamboo cotton vest and pants set,” she says. “I always wear a cotton vest if I’m cycling up the hill, because if you do get damp you can always whip it off when you get to work. I’ve got other pants that are bamboo with a removable pad, so you can take it off when you get to your destination. They’re good if you’re going for a long ride.”
And to avoid that sweaty patch on your back, she recommends panniers which, for those of you still considering the merits of bikes, are the equivalent of a handbag. “I am a total addict. I’ve got the black-and-white Basil shopper, I’ve got the satchel from the Cycle Chic shop and I’ve just bought the pine pannier and the big safari one for going camping. It’s totally amazing. I don’t ever need to take a car anywhere ever again.”