fashion · fitness

Mixed feelings about high fashion cycling gear

As readers of this blog know, I own a lot of bike jerseys. Most of them are team kit and they’re covered in sponsors’ logos. They’re race fitted and not the most attractive garments on the planet. Function over form, etc etc.

You might not know that as an academic, as a feminist philosopher, I’ve written a couple of papers on politics and fashion. See Fashion and Sexual Identity, or Why Recognition Matters and “Those Shoes Are Definitely Bicurious”: More Thoughts on the Politics of Fashion.

So I confess I was a bit torn when this story made its way through my various social media newsfeeds, Our Favorite Indie Bike Apparel Companies. Some great clothing there. I think fashion matters and it’s interesting, especially when connected to specific identities–such as bisexual, or cyclist, and so I’m intrigued by the idea of fashionable cycling clothing. I think it’s connected to the recent increase in women’s cycling, and to the rise of bikes as a fashion statement.

See Bicycle Chic Gains Speed in the New York Times a few years ago. There’s been lots of criticism by feminists of the Copenhagen Cycle Chic movement. My favourite is Elly Blue’s A critique of Cycle Chic. And I’ve got some worries about the heels on wheels movement too. But one striking thing about bicycle fashion is how focused it is on commuting, on everyday riding. The recent round of bike fashion branches out into sports clothing, bicycle clothing for training and racing on road, track, cyclocross, and triathlon bikes.

My favourite, Betty Designs, didn’t make the list. I’ve been drooling over their stuff for a few weeks. They even have bib shorts, in bright pink, with skulls and crossbones, and a full range of sizes from XS to 2XL.

I love almost all of it.

And I know that attractive kit matters to women. Not looking good in athletic clothing puts lots of women off taking part in sports. See No way am I wearing that!

Yet, I still resist. Why? Well, frugality for one thing. But also in my post on looking cute while working out I confessed to an ambivalence about playing with gender and appearance in the context of sports.

I wrote, “Have fun with your appearance, sure. But it’s a bit of a double edged sword because looking good while working out raises the bar. Maybe this time it’s for fun but next time you’ll think you can’t go to the gym if your favourite outfit is in the wash or if you’re having a bad hair day. What’s fun today too quickly becomes tomorrow’s necessary condition. If it’s obligatory, in my books, it’s rarely fun.”

“I’d also like some spaces, some times and places, in my life, where I don’t have to worry about what I look like. A mirror free zone. Camping has long been that for me in an extended way but I like little mini-bursts of that throughout my week. And physical activity has been one of those places of refuge. I just worry there is so much pressure on women to look good at all times that it quickly moves from fun to obligation.”

But if you’re shopping for my birthday, I do really love the Betty stuff.

From a review of Betty kit:

One of the reasons I originally joined a bicycling team was because I needed new jerseys and shorts. The kit came free with my membership. Now, a few years later, I own so many team kits it’s not even funny! Yes, they wear out, especially when you crash a lot or mountain bike, so there has been some attrition from the collection. But it’s hard to argue with highly functional and comfortable clothes designed specifically for your favorite sport.

Sometimes you just want to wear something other than your team colors. But many generic jerseys and shorts are a little too safe and boring, or they’re trying to be attractive but sort of miss the mark and look sedate and frumpy. Or, the colors are dated. Please, no more baggy 90’s light magenta, teal or purple jerseys!

Fortunately Betty Designs has the cure for boring jerseys. Behold the Tattoo Kit for Women. Printed on a raceworthy, well fitting and comfortable kit that looks great on women of all sizes, the beautiful and eye-catching artwork speaks to athleticism, smarts, bravery and strength with a nice big dose of humor and femininity. I love that Betty Designs is all about in-your-face girl power, but it’s not at all sappy, smug or cutesy. It’s more real and cooler than that, just like all the athletic women I know. The “kick butt” words across the butt is awesome, so are the skulls and butterflies on the front of the bikini bottoms.

Betty Designs knows sports. And fashion. Founder Kristin Mayer is an accomplished Ironman triathlete, talented graphic designer and loving mom. If anyone knows how to combine sport at a high level with a busy work and family life, it’s Kristin. I’m thrilled she found an outlet for her love of sports and creativity to produce such cool athletic wear.

I love the cut of the kit, from the jersey’s sleek longer torso and sleeves and full length zipper. I hate it when other jerseys ride up my back or above my shorts, that’s not a good look for anyone. The flat seams throughout the short and the wide leg band makes the shorts extra comfortable, and the chamois pad is just the right size and thickness. I’m usually pretty sensitive to seams and tags, even wearing t-shirts inside out or cutting out offending tags, and so far, no itchy spots in the Tattoo Kit.

I also love the other designs from Betty Designs. From casual hoodies, T’s, visors and hats to tri suits, athletic cut swimsuits, armwarmers and even an aero bicycle helmet, Betty Designs is about high performance as well as fashion. There are even a few bold offerings for guys. Even her website is smart looking and easy to navigate



8 thoughts on “Mixed feelings about high fashion cycling gear

  1. I like that it’s not all pink! As a fitness professional I always choose function over fashion in my workout attire, but tend to go for something a little better looking for work. I mean, who doesn’t like to look their best standing in front of 20 people and telling them what they need to know to be a professional? That’s why I don’t mind fitness apparel that is geared toward looks. I want to note that I agree with you and don’t think that not having the right outfit should ever deter anyone from getting their workout done.

  2. The only thing I think about with my work out clothing is if I will get too hot or too cold while wearing it and if it will be comfortable and not move around and end up somewhere it shouldn’t be while I am running (can’t tell you how many runs I have been on where I need to pull my pants up every 5 minutes – there is nothing more annoying!). Fashion does not cross my mind at all. Most of my workout shirts are from the many 5k races I have done over the years. I find them to be very motivating!

  3. I hate the pink and purple stuff 🙂 I’ve always been grateful that my height and proportions make it reasonably easy for me to find the gear I need, because women-specific gear and apparel can be ridiculous in their colorways.

    But really, physical activity is for everyone, and only a relatively small minority will place design focused on efficiency at the top of the priority list for what they exercise in. This is especially true for bicycling attire — there is no reason you can’t have intelligently featureful clothing that works well from bike to office to out for a bite with friends.

    And really that goes for almost any exercise-focused gear, too. We don’t need people to “make sure” they are “training” and “not just working out.” We need everyone to enjoy having more exercise in their lives, even fashion mavens and other people who will never, ever have an explicit athletic or performance goal.

  4. My two favorite companies for running gear are probably the most fashionable, Ink n’ Burn and Lululemon. I love them most because both have very functional pockets in their shorts which are sadly missing in most women’s running shorts. And while I love how cute their designs are, I also hate it. I wear them mostly for function but I don’t want to be viewed for wearing them for fashion. I avoid the I have to look cute to work out by mostly making sure my shorts look ugly with my shirts unless it’s a race day.

    1. Yeah I have size issues with them…Oiselle has great shorts with pockets and terrific running bras and they fit me but I’m their upper end. They don’t go past size 12.

  5. This was really helpful. I am tall, long-waisted, and a size 12-14. I windsurf and SUP and finding wetsuits for women that aren’t made by Roxy or O’Neill for junior can be challenging. I want to look “good” but function is paramount. Finding good cycling clothing is also challenging because of costs. This will help me find something appropriate. Thanks for posting!

  6. I don’t wear cycling kit. I do wear cycling jerseys, jackets, shoes, etc. Just that there are no large logos. A lot of the times, I don’t try to make all colours match for cycling outfit –it’s whatever is clean, comfortable to match weather conditions.

    As for cycle chic wear or cycling in streetwear including dresses, dress shoes, etc., it’s just too costly for me because it’s tough enough and often expensive to find very petite women’s clothing that fits me and suitable in taste of business wear. I can’t afford to cycle in such clothing and reduce durability.

    I wrote about this with photos:

    I dislike intensely when men feel they have an opinion for women’s wear on bike –either cycling oriented or streetwear. They should butt out: it’s patronizing and they have no clue about the real total cost of women’s clothing especially when it’s more formal business wear for the office.

    My partner has never told me what to wear for cycling on bike. So I started off cycling for lst 10 years in T-shirts and walking shorts ….for 100 km. touring trips! He just wanted me to bike with him and use my bike properly.

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