Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Embracing Wrinkles

Linen Suit + Bike
One question I am often asked about cycling to work, is how to avoid wrinkles on business and formal attire. I don't have many pictures of myself dressed up, but I do cycle in suits and dresses that fall into the business/ formal category. And rather than avoid wrinkles, I tend to choose clothing that either doesn't wrinkle easily, or that is meant to look wrinkled. This habit is a hold-over from a life of constant travel combined with a hatred of dry-cleaning and ironing boards, and it lends itself well to cycling. Here are some suggestions I can make from personal experience.

My go-to fabric for looking presentable in the warmer months is linen (shown above). I own several linen skirt and pant suits, and I mix and match them to create a variety of outfits. People tend to think of linen as a limited, "afternoon tea at a resort" sort of fabric, but in fact it comes in many weights and textures. A dark, crisply tailored linen suit can look formal, while a pastel gauzy linen dress can look whimsical. But what all linens have in common is that they actually look good wrinkled; wrinkles are part of their "personality." That's what makes them great for tossing into a suitcase, and it's also what allows me to get on and off the bike as many times as I want without worrying whether my skirt needs to be frantically smoothed out before a meeting. 

Wrinkled Silk
I am also a fan of "twist-dried" designs. There may be a formal name for this process that escapes me, so someone please help me out. But what I mean is that there is a style of shirts, skirts, even evening dresses where the wrinkles are part of the garment's very design. This is achieved by drying the article of clothing in a wrung-out, or twisted manner. The resulting wrinkles are clearly intentional. They add a sense of structure and the illusion of subtle colour variation to the fabric once it is dry. Typically, the twist-dried effect is produced by the manufacturer, but you can create it on your own by simply drying any shirt, skirt, or dress (crisp cottons and silks with no pockets work best) in this fashion. Having wrinkles as an inherent design element of your outfit eliminates the need to worry about them.

To some extent, the same idea can be generalised to textured fabrics. Tweed, seersucker, lace, embroidery - the texture both disguises wrinkles and somewhat prevents them from forming.

If your dress code limits you to more conventional suiting, I have found that wool skirts and trousers tend to be more forgiving as far as wrinkling goes than other fabrics. They still wrinkle, just less so. Not getting on and off the bicycle saddle every time I stop (but leaning the bike and putting a toe down instead) has been helpful in preventing wrinkles from forming as well.

Of course for dresses there is wool jersey, though it has become increasingly more difficult to find ready-made. I've been working with a designer to help create a cycling-specific dress with a couple of interesting features, and one reason we chose jersey is for its non-wrinkling properties. While I prefer wool or bamboo jersey, cotton jersey and various artificial blends work well in this respect also and are easier to find in stores. Ibex and Icebreaker have begun to make wool jersey dresses, and while theirs tend to lean toward the more casual, it's a promising sign. The nice thing about jersey fabrics, is that they not only resist wrinkling, but also have some give to them, allowing you to move easier on the bike.

Gazelle A-Touren, Leather Grips
One last suggestion I can make for those whose clothing is wrinkle-prone, is to try throwing a coat on over the outfit. Granted, this works best in cooler weather, with stiff wool coats. But in warmer weather even a thin trenchcoat can be helpful. 

While cycling to work is easy if your typical wardrobe already lends itself to it, I think it's important to address the concerns of those who would like to ride in their regular clothing but, for whatever reason, find it impractical. Sometimes it is a matter of having the right bike or accessories, other times it's a matter of making minor alterations to your wardrobe without inherently changing the way you dress. What are yours strategies for dealing with wrinkles and other forms of dishevelment that cycling may impose on your clothing? If it were crucial in your line of work to always look crisp and impeccably groomed, would you still ride to work? 

44 comments:

  1. I do not have to dress formaly but I try not to look like a bum (can be difficult some times, I tend to forget) and I absolutely do not like the so called bike chlotes (lycra in tivoly colours). My most important thing is black stretchy trousers. I started long time ago when I was fed up with trying to clean the "chainring tatoo" off my jeans. Also I found that lighter stretchyer materials than the jeans I used to vear was more comfortable on a bike. Such trousers can be found with just an elastic waistband or more "tailored" fit. The good thing is they are easy to roll up and down depending on what you need. I also have some capris same material and style but this area is coldish so I often play safe and use the "roll up roll down" trousers. Also I stay away from regular t-shirts and use the more tailored ones, a deep V or round to get some sun in and remind myself thet I am not a guy (I tend to do a lot of wrenching and stuff). I ride with heels when I can. I like it and it is easy to do on a bike, easyer than walking in them. I buy myself one pair of nice shoes with heels (w rubber soles) each year. Two years ago some dark brown ones to match my Brooks, dark fucshia suede this year. badmother

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  2. I wear a uniform: Black stretch tank top (Cami-bra from American Apparel), stretch jeans with elastic waistband from Reitmans. That's the base of what I wear.
    Sometimes nice tops, all stretchy or twisted-up fabrics (like your second pic, VERY nice shirt), or flow in the wind type of silky stuff. A big variety of cardigans/pullovers all stretchy, jackets that I remove to ride (cotton, jeans etc.), flat shoes (from always, don't like heels too much). Some dresses, little (stretchy) black dress type, "tennis" dress types, tight (stretchy) cotton short dresses, all kinds of hippy summer dresses.
    Then I vary the accessories.
    I am a firm believer in stern and severe wardrobe full of classic pieces, enhanced by funky accessories: jewelry, scarfs etc.
    This is regardless of transportation mode, it's has always been like that. Cycling has not affected my wardrobe.
    I find it cheaper, costs me less, I don't have to keep up with fashion, I have my own look, It IS professional, and I can do anything I want: run to catch the last metro without twisting an ankle, stand in the snow waiting for the bus, jump on my bike, hop off of it, walk for hours during public transport strikes.

    This look can be "upped" to look more "professional", but except for the jeans that I replaced with black pants, same cut same brand, I have been able to dress like this during all my stay at a big four accounting firm, dealing with partners and very high profile tax clients with no problems. And I was not the only one.
    Well, professional firms are very "black uniform" anyways, but for women, replacing that white shirt by a tank top or a wrinkled-up shirt is all it takes.

    People exagerate the importance of wrinkles, dishevelment etc. in their jobs. In my experience, people who really feeling this pressure on them usually have something else going on at work, but it is easier to put forward the cycling issue than dealing with the underlying problem (psychological harrassement, physical discrimination etc.).

    Again, back in my accounting days, it always struck me how careless "top dogs", whether accountants or lawyers, were with regards to dress codes. Never saw more wrinkled shirts/pants, untied ties, rolled up sleeves, dull shoes, torn hems etc. than on the most successful ones.
    My feeling is that everything is permitted to these (usually arrogant) A types, and the rests of us see our feelings of insecurities being used/played with for reasons other than cycling.

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  3. MelissatheRagamuffinSeptember 7, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    I go for what doesn't wrinkle easily, but also the place I work owns a garment steamer. So, I carry my work clothes in my panniers, then steam them when I get to work.

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  4. Peppy (the amazing avant-garde cycling cat)September 7, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    When my fur gets matted/wrinkled I just lick it clean. Of course wearing crotchless cycling pantaloons has its advantages, for example it's airy and easy to position tail to suit one's mood. Not sure why more cyclists don't go that route.

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  5. badmother - I love that you bought heels to match the shade of your saddle : )

    Peppy - I don't think most human cyclists have the same needs as you, hence the lack of crotchless cycling trousers on the market. But maybe some day they will wise up and make cycling attire for cats.

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  6. Off topic, but since I read mostly via RSS I just noticed the new banner. I like it! I just got my first SLR and have become much more acquainted with climbing on things and rolling around on the ground to get an angle I'm happy with. And I'm glad you didn't tweak the design too much.

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  7. When I was working I would wear black stretchy pants and skirts with blouses that did not require ironing, they were all synthetic fabrics of course, but worked perfectly for that ride I had to work, which was only 25 minutes, going slowly.I didn't find helmet hair a problem, a quick comb through and it was fine. (I live in Australia so have to wear them)

    I now wear skinny jeans or a skirt and tights, I also like to wear vests over my t shirt or jumper as they are warm and the pockets are handy. In summer it is shorts or a dress, just above knee length.

    The pleating you refer to, made by twisting up the garment and tying it in a knot, is called primitive pleating.

    Vicki

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  8. apophasis - Thanks! I had intended for the banner to be seasonal, but somehow the previous one ended up staying for a year.

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  9. Oh, if you are working with a company to make a wool jersey cycling dress, can you recommend that they make it available in larger sizes? Like a size XXL? I love wool jersey dresses and they are as rare as hens teeth in my size. Ibex and Icebreaker seem to think women my size don't want or need their products but I would get so very, very much use out of a cycling dress in wool jersey.

    As for what I do wear to work. Lots of dresses, mostly in jersey. I actually overdress quite a bit for my current job. Most of my coworkers wear jeans and t-shirts, even my managers. I look positively formal in my jersey dresses comparatively speaking with the advantage I'm actually more comfortable than I would be in jeans. Seriously, is there a more comfortable outfit than a jersey dress with leggings? Its like wearing jammies. For non jersey dresses, I find that a fuller skirt gets less wrinkled on a bike than a fitted one. When you sit in a fuller skirt, there's room whereas the pencil style skirts can get that horizontal wrinkling, getting all bunched up around the hips.

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  10. rose - The person I am working with on the dress is a young designer who makes theater costumes and one-off garments, Claire Robinson. But if I do ever work with a bicycle jersey manufacturer, I agree with you re sizing entirely.

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  11. I wish I could cycle in my work clothes - we are business casual. But no matter what I get too sweaty. Today it was sprinkling. So I carefully fold up my work clothes and slip them into one of the Eagle Creek travel packs and slip it into my pannier. When I get to work I can change quickly and still maintain a semblance of being put together. I do go for things like knits that fold easily - Wearever Collection from JJill when it goes on sals has been my go to wardrobe for years.

    I so wish I could look as elegant as you without having to change.

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  12. I will second Rosecampion's thoughts on sizing. I understand that this was a one-off kind of thing, but you know, I'll just throw it out there... in case - cuz, you never know. :o)

    Also, it looks like you got a hair cut? Maybe I'm just seeing things, but thought I'd say that it's a nice length.

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  13. Somewhat off topic - your talk on linen reminds me we have not seen the Co-Habitant lately looking like a latter day Great Gatsby.

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  14. GE - Yes, I cut my hair : ) It started out as a chin-length bob 2 weeks ago, but has grown out alarmingly since then.

    Steve - I will try to coax the Co-Habitant to pose for me more often. Meanwhile, he is the one who took the banner photo.

    Anne Littlebird - I have a post about sweat stains!

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  15. I wish Icebreaker or Ibex would make a skinny pant. Not a lighter weight legging but the same pants as their Izzi pant but with a skinny leg. Everything they offer is boot cut -- it's like one giant late 90s yoga pants hangover.

    Don't get me wrong, I like a wide-legged pant. But I don't like wide legged pants that aren't ultra-tailored. I also feel cold with boot cut pants on and I don't like how they flap around on the bike. It's just really time for these companies to offer a slim leg. Come on peeps! I want a wool jersey skinny pant!

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  16. Yes Velouria U saw the post on sweat stains. :) Yet even today - overcast, mid 50s and drizzly and I still looked like I just participated in the Iron Man. And I only have 3 miles to get to work. It's really frustrating since I am car free and need to look decent for some jobs when there is no time or place to change. It's hopeless.

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  17. "it's like one giant late 90s yoga pants hangover. "

    Haa : )
    You know, wide leg pants are suddenly "in" again. I was trying to buy cigarette pants at the GAP last week and suddenly all they had were bell bottoms. I don't know about Icebreaker, but Ibex is pretty small and interactive - try contacting them on twitter or via email with suggestions and it might happen.

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  18. I am lucky I work in a creative industry, but I still like to dress professionally. I search for jersey/knit stuff since. Lately it's been knit skirts, dresses, pants, things with a bit of stretch in them. Usually items that are well made so they are still professional looking. I find some good options at Ann Taylor, GAP, Zara. My latest favorite is "riding pants" which are tapered with equestrian styling. Perfect for bikes & work. I started doing more knit skirts after I visited Paris and saw nearly every woman in a very basic black knit skirt, tights, with creative styling, riding a Vélib.

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  19. I wear a dress almost every day but I get too sweaty on my bike and then there's the top tube to deal with. I don't have a step through. So I usually bike in my gym clothes and bring a dress that doesn't wrinkle easily in my pannier. I usually bring dress shoes too.

    Funny you mention linen. I actually hate how wrinkly it looks so I avoid it.

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  20. Ha. Well, for me the wrinkly quality of linen takes the edge off. There is something about an overly polished look that makes me nervous and liable to spill soup on myself.

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  21. I feel like no matter what, a certain amount of wrinkles are going to happen, whether it's from sitting in a car, train, or in your office chair. Unless you stand the whole commute and then stand all day at your job. That said, for bike commuting I like to wear jersey dresses, wool pants, some technical-ish twill pants I found that even roll up at the cuff and button, skinny jeans with boots, cord blazers. I have better luck with thicker fabrics not wrinkling, but then you feel warmer as well. It's a trade off. I don't have to look perfect for my job, but if I did, I might bring my clothes to work and change there.

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  22. Curses! I think I just lost my comment, forgive me if this is a duplicate.
    -------------

    In reviewing one of your wool clothing posts, I read about the wrap-dress collaboration and was wondering how it's coming along.

    Do you have a sense yet if this young designer will actually be able to offer a (I imagine limited) run of these dresses?

    Or does the wool and labor factor simply make it cost-prohibitive?
    -Gina

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  23. what rosecampion said +a zillion. and pockets.

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  24. My commute (now that I've worked out the wrinkles) is 1 hour... 3/4 of it spent cycling slowly up a gigantic hill. (No, really. It takes me 20 minutes to get home.) I pack everything in my panniers, then hang stuff to let the steam relax the wrinkles while I shower at work.

    If I was working in a professional office, I'd store clothing at work, dropping it off and picking it up from a dry cleaners or full service laundromat during my lunch. I used to work at a law firm, and quite a few of the lawyers did just this.

    (@rosecampion, try a ponte knit pencil skirt. Mine is rayon, but you can get different fibres.)

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  25. Ibex and Icebreaker have been making dresses for quite some time-and have long been a favourite for travelling and biking. They are wonderful and versatile. They are designed to be worn cycling, climbing mountains or whatever and still look nice for the dinner in the nice restaurant or night at the theatre in the end. Ibex's dresses tend to be a bit odd with useless pockets, little hoods, 3/4th length sleeves instead of full length and such, but are beautifully made and the fabric is lovely. They need to take a note from icebreaker and design something simple.
    Icebreaker's dresses are flat out wonderful,but definitely meant for fit people. I only wish I had money to buy all the dresses they had this spring/summer season!
    I haven't had a 'nice' job in years, but I did bike to work in my work clothes with little problem. If I were going much longer distances I would wear a casual top while cycling and get washed etc at work and change into whatever is proper.
    Because I get sweaty on my commute to work I change my top and get dry again because I work in a big freezer and wearing damp sweaty clothes would be horrid.
    But my vote for formal work wear is definitely wool!

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  26. The prototype looks great btw...and are those skirt snaps? I used to use safety pins on my skirts and dresses when biking to work....or clothes pins...and at some point I stopped caring because only once has my skirt every blown over my head.
    But I'll take one in all my favourite colours please!

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  27. Oh pants! With the arrival of skinny jeans a few years back, I discovered the perfect riding pants. Not only do they make me think of horseback riding and swashbuckling, you do not need leg protectors strapped around your ankles. They look great and are highly unlikely to get chain goo on them or caught in the chain and get a tear in them. Gone are they? Blast it all! Bell bottoms are just plain boring, done far too many times and impractical. I have many flared jeans and cords from a few years ago that I was planning on turning into cigarette legged pants.
    I second asking Ibex to come up with something. In the meantime, look up how to make skinnies out of regular pants online and fetch yourself some fine wool pants from second hand stores.

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  28. For the guys who have to wear a suit to work it's the slacks that pose the biggest problem. Having to clip one's pant leg on the chain side will still wrinkle the most wrinkle free wool slacks. I would stash an extra pair or two at the office. The up-side is that the jacket endures almost no wrinkles - unlike a car commute's affect on the jacket back. And remember - ties and rod brake mechanisms are antithetic!

    Re:.."(but leaning the bike and putting a toe down instead) has been helpful in preventing wrinkles from forming as well".

    If by any means possible you can touch your toe to the ground while seated, your seat is too low. According to an orthopedist cyclist friend, this is a good way to do damage to one's knees.

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  29. Velodog - does this refer to any bike or just the aggressive sports bicycles? It seems absurd to not be able to put your foot down while riding an upright bicycle.

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  30. Velodog/Bojana - It depends on the bike (seat tube angle) and on how much you are able to lean it while still keeping your balance. Your saddle is not necessarily too low if you can put the tip of a toe down. Also, see here.

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  31. @ Heather -- skinny jeans are not remotely gone, never fear :) Fashion editors will not give up something called "skinny" easily. There were plenty of skinny pant at yesterday' and this morning's shows.

    I think we've reached a point where there are sufficient markets for various styles. While the idea of a "trend" still has some power (chiefly marketing power, stores like something they can market specifically), it has far less than it once did. The people who drive trends are extremely "trend" averse in a way they never were in, say, the 90s when there was no internet to diffuse looks to a wider public. Intensely trendy stuff will always look dated quickly, but style is willfully, insistently wearing what you want :) so I think there will be skinny pants for quite a while.

    I like all styles but I find skinny pants great for cycling and it's also very easy to keep sleek while being much more relaxed in skinny pants.

    J Crew has tons of narrow pants right now. I like the Minnie ones in stretch wool for cycling. IME they run huge, which is the norm for mass brands.

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  32. Bojana - Half of my riding is on upright bikes and I have the seats adjusted for an almost full extension (about 1 or 2 deg from full). Hopping off a bike at stop might be something different for you, but it is certainly not absurd. Velouria, you are right though - with a slack enough seat tube one can have it both ways. It's got to be pretty darn slack to accomplish this though. A slightly bent leg at the pedal's nadir is better for the knees and more importantly, allows maximum energy transfer to the drive-train. I think this principle applies to both "aggressive sports cycles" and leisure bikes.

    V - Thanks for the link. I did read it.

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  33. 'The resulting wrinkles are clearly intentional. They add a sense of structure and the illusion of subtle colour variation to the fabric once it is dry.'

    I'm not sure about this. I work in a company which is full of the usual spiel about non-discrimination and equal opportunities but I'm male and if I tried the 'twist-dried' excuse for an unironed shirt I don't think I'd get very far.

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  34. : ) Yeah I think it only looks convincing on specific types of (women's) garments that lend themselves to this technique.

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  35. Not a big fan of the Gap in general, but their black slim cropped pant is, imo, the perfect commuting pant. For longer rides the crotch seam gets uncomfortable, but for my daily 6 mile jaunt the stretch twill fabric is super comfortable and breathable in all but the hottest weather, and the tailored look and color nullifies any worries about sloppy appearance or chain tattoos. Highly recommended. I avoided dresses for a while as I ride a frame with a 'men's' top tube, but frankly I find the problems with skirts and top tubes are (at least for me) overrated. In fact, when weather permits, I'd much rather ride in jersey skirts/light dresses and leggings (which can be ditched or replaced with nicer stockings on arrival, if necessary).

    Velouria, that one-off wool jersey dress is really splendid--much nicer and more thoughtfully designed (no surprise there!) than any of the wool dresses I've seen on the market, which are usually too sporty for my tastes. If you ever felt like pitching it to a commercial outfit, I for one would be very interested in owning such a garment!

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  36. I also choose clothing that requires very little in the way of preparation. I think it is easier as a woman,so I own lots of knits and stretchy things, lacy stuff, tartan and tweed things, long sleeved shirts that get layered under vests and coats/jackets that mostly just need airing and the occasional (like not even annual) treat visit to a dry cleaner for my very favourite few items.

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  37. "Anne Littlebird said...

    ****And I only have 3 miles to get to work. It's really frustrating since I am car free and need to look decent for some jobs when there is no time or place to change. It's hopeless."

    I had the same problem (a short three mile ride, but with rolling hills that left me sweaty,) and toweling off in the bathroom was unappealing. The problem can be resolved bu getting an electric bike or electric assist trailer - I find that I ride my bike more now than ever, get as much exercise, and no more sweating.

    Also, ditto on the black wrinkle resistant pants! I usually wear a cami underneath a suit jacket. The cami doesn't wrinkle, and the lined construction and material of the jacket hold up very very well.

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  38. Honestly, wrinkles are the least of my worries when commuting. I've never gotten any more wrinkled from cycling than I have from sitting in a desk chair all day. For me, the obstacle is sweat. I live in warm, sunny Los Angeles and work about 8 miles from home, with a few hills in between that, while not huge, are still enough to get the heart rate up. My dress code is mostly business/formal, and I do not have access to showers at work. All of this keeps me from cycling to work with any regularity. By the time I get to the office, I'm dripping with sweat and my hair is soaked, which makes it hard to look professional and not be gross, even if I bring clothes to change into and baby wipes to freshen up.

    My previous job was much closer to home and much more casual, however, so I biked every day. Lots of cotton knits - shirts, skirts, dresses.

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  39. Anon 5:52 - Thanks re the dress. It has some issues we are still working out, and I don't think any garment is for everyone. But hopefully we are almost there and I will write about it soon!

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  40. I try to wear wool now, I recently did the race around Rutland (100 miles) and we wore merino wool for that it felt great, cool, loose and easy to wear. Plus now it is going into winter I can wear it for the office.

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  41. Travel shirts by Columbia are great. They don't wrinkle due to sweat. They also have nice cooling features like mesh underarms, sides, and a hidden mesh placket in the back (very subtle and exactly where sweat gathers even riding bagless).

    What irks me aren't wrinkles, but the dreaded saddle imprint on dresses or leggings (they tend to wear down the fabric). So I wear a cheap stretch skirt over leggings. Jersey dresses I try to fluff out while at stops. If you're wearing a skirt, Dottie from letsgorideabike rotating the skirt method works well.

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  42. Mohair does not crease, which is why they use it in suiting fabrics. A woolen skirt made with some mohair in the blend will not crease.

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  43. Mohair is darned itchy, IME.

    Elena

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