Women’s Clothing for Biking that Doesn’t Look Like It’s for Biking: What to Wear, What to Wear

The post that started it all…. The weeks and months of accumulated frustration that led to this post (which originally appeared on my personal blog in September 2010) also led, fairly directly, to the launch of this blog and my idea for bike fashion shopping events to bring some products to Spokane that aren’t otherwise available here.

Barb Chamberlain with bicycle at bike rack

You'd never know I'm wearing "bike clothes." That's the idea.

So in a nostalgic flashback with a few updates:

I have nothing to wear.

As in, there are very few choices if you’re a woman looking for professional clothing that’s made for cycling. This has two dimensions:

Comfort: No ill-placed seams in the crotch, no fabric that irritates, no flappy wide-legged trousers or long full skirts that get caught in the chain.

Style: You are appropriately dressed to walk into a meeting in which all the men wear ties and jackets and you’re the only person taking off a helmet and gloves.

Once upon a time I used to drive to work and hang clothes there. I now bike almost year-round so I really don’t want to drive (and was never very happy with having to decide a day or two in advance what I’d feel like wearing on a given day–what woman is?).

In my next phase I tried riding in bike clothes, rolling everything and packing it into panniers, changing when I arrived, and changing again to ride home.

But that’s a bit of a hassle and one of the major things I like about riding my bike is the hassle-free nature: no paying for gas, no looking for a parking place, and the feeling of freedom I get with every ride.

Mostly, I’ve changed my shopping habits to get to where I am now: If I can’t bike in it, I don’t buy it. Which, coincidentally, both saves me money and prevents a lot of buyer’s remorse over the guilt I feel when I look at an article of clothing I almost never wear.

I do a lot more moving and contorting in dressing rooms than I used to so I’m sure I can throw a leg over my bike and take off. I use a road bike as my commuter so there’s the potential for some serious flashing of random passers-by if I don’t remember my mother’s efforts to raise me to be ladylike.

What I really want—what I’ve started dreaming about—is good-looking clothing that no one will guess is made specifically for cycling.

Only I will know about the extra comfort elements and careful tailoring, the fabrics chosen not only for their non-chafe chamois-like interior finish but also for their water-resistant and dirt-repelling exterior qualities (with no swishing when I walk! That means most technical fabrics are off the list).

Fashion-forward options with secret gussets will get us beyond the Spandex Dork image from which cycling suffers and will help encourage more women to bike, I’m just sure of it.

Bike Shop Girl blogged about this same dilemma. I found out because I asked her via Twitter, after a semi-fruitless Google search, if she knew of anyplace to get good-looking pants. (My search, in case you’re curious: women’s tailored clothing urban biking—terms I arrived at after realizing that “professional” and “cycling” in the same search would yield nothing but Spandex and race results).

For now I’m making do with regular clothes. You’ll see posts here about how I manage some of the clothing issues and I have a whole series on pants shopping to come. Skirts and dresses are relatively easy, as you’ll be able to see from the pictures in my post on a week’s worth of clothing choices. I’ve learned quite a bit about the best shoe choices for biking in style, too.

The real answer, though, is for clothing manufacturers from the fashion and cycling industries to recognize they’re missing the opportunity that lies at their intersection. Thus my quest continues.

Your Turn

  • What are your clever accommodations if you’re a bike rider who needs to look polished at work?
  • What’s your biggest frustration with “regular” clothing?
  • What’s your biggest frustration with “cyclist” clothing?
  • And have you found the perfect pants?

20 Responses to “Women’s Clothing for Biking that Doesn’t Look Like It’s for Biking: What to Wear, What to Wear”

  1. hmmm…While it won’t help you directly for a while, contacting Apparel, Merchandising, and Textiles dept of Universities could give young designers a chance do a challenging project while influencing them for the future.

    • Love that idea! Coincidentally I recently started tracking down contacts who put together a show of local fashion designers last year. Hoping to enlist them in doing a show for which I’d give them some bike-friendly design parameters and they’d create. If it happens, you’ll see blog posts!

  2. My solution is, unfortunately, still very much a contort-and-change challenge. I try and wear slacks and an exercise top for the ride to work, and then switch out to a button-up shirt or work top once I get there. Downy’s Wrinkle Release has become a standard in my backpack.

    My biggest frustration with both “regular” and “cyclist” clothing is, ironically, the same. I am very plus-sized (size 28, 28-very tall in pants) and finding clothes that fit, look decent, and let me move is tough. While I completely appreciate that some bike clothing is available in plus-sized, it’s all very spandex-y wear and nowhere near office-appropriate. The office appropriate wear assumes that I will be doing nothing but sitting all day. I’m to the point of thinking about hiring a seamstress to make the “perfect” set of work skorts and/or slacks I can’t seem to find anywhere.

  3. http://www.nonavarnado.com the whole line (excepting the spin collection) is designed to look like fashion & work like cycling wear.

  4. Your site is so great. Girl after my own heart. I can see I have a lot of reading to do here as I make decisions about gear and apparel that’s going to work well for me AND look good.

  5. ohhh, those NV Riding Pants are super cute! Keep at it, Barb–there must be the perfect clothes out there somewhere.


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