New Perspectives on Hemlines
Young Woman 1: This dress is cute, but I totally can't wear it on my bike (lifts hem and stretches it to show how narrow it is).
Young Woman 2: Yeah it sucks when a skirt is too tight and I can't bike in it. I'm like always looking for A-lines and pleats now.
YM1: Yeah I know! Or pants.
YM2: Nah I'm not really into pants. Oh but the stretchy miniskirts are good too.
YM1: Oh yeah! I just saw some over there (points at some shelves and they walk off in that direction).Eavesdropping on this exchange, a few things went through my mind. First, that cycling really is becoming an ordinary thing in our area. These young women - the way they dressed, carried themselves, talked - did not stand out from other women their age; there was nothing identifying them as part of a cycling "subculture." And yet both used bikes to get around. That is like kind of cool, right?
Second, to me this conversation underscores the fact that women's attire - more so than men's - really does call for "bikability" considerations. There are some in the cycle chic camp who argue that we can cycle in absolutely all of our ordinary clothing, and that to look for cycling-specific features is to overly complicate things. But in my experience, even the most stylish women on bikes do not always feel that way. Skirts can be too narrow, trousers can be too constricting, shoes can be slippery, even blouses and jackets can pull at the shoulder seams making cycling uncomfortable (a co-worker in Vienna once tore her top this way cycling to work). Much of this has to do with the fact that apparel designed for women is more form-fitting than that designed for men; there is simply less leeway and less give. Women's apparel also tends to be made of more delicate, flimsier fabrics, more prone to wear and tear. For most women I know who ride a bike, cycling-specific considerations play an important role in their wardrobe selection even if their clothing appears "ordinary" (i.e. not cycling-specific) to the outside observer.
But the more interesting question for me, is that of whether and how clothing manufacturers will respond to cycling-specific demands of their target market, as this increasingly becomes a popular concern. I am not talking about designing cycling-specific lines of clothing; that would be unnecessary. But how about simply designating existing articles of clothing as "bike friendly" when appropriate? Particularly when it comes to online shopping, I think that could be such a useful feature that I am surprised no one has done it yet. When ordinary women start to choose hemlines with cycling in mind, this could be the beginning of something interesting.