Women’s apparel and the bicycle

It is Women's History Month and I am launching the blog for the REID MILLER Apparel project. It is the perfect time to write about how the bicycle influenced women’s apparel. No, not just bike apparel; the bicycle quite literally transformed women’s clothing.

         Courtesy of inspiringdresses.tumblr.com/

         Courtesy of inspiringdresses.tumblr.com/

The bike was special to our early biking sisters because it allowed them the freedom to venture out, travel further, and mingle with people beyond their home villages (the gene pool was transformed in England as a result) (Robert Penn, 2010). When the bicycle hit the scene in the 1880s, women were wearing constricting clothing such as long skirts with petticoats and rigid corsets. As bicycling became popular, women altered their dress to be more suitable for bicycling. Women split their skirts into trousers, cut to the calf, and wore them with long jackets. Bloomers and other variations of pantaloons crafted for this purpose were the early ancestors of our favorite jeans and yoga pants.  

The connection with early feminist movements was notable. Susan B. Anthony remarked, “The stand she is taking in the matters of dress is no small indication that she has realized that she has an equal right with a man to control her own movements.” Yikes, that is awesome!

These first cyclists revolutionized clothing for women, which in turn allowed them greater mobility, independence, freedom and equality. Ironically, nearly a century and a quarter later clothing for our daily social and professional lives has evolved away for the bicycle, restricting our freedom to travel as we please on two wheels. Since freedom and independence are intertwined with cycling for the bike lover, by association we are constricted by what’s currently available. (Or we can choose to wear attire that makes us look like tropical fruit colored spandex sausages.)

There are a number of clothing lines for men to free them to be active in their daily lives on their bikes and otherwise, but very little for women. According to “Bikes Belong”, the 2010 Bicycle Leadership Conference Demographics Survey Report, just 1/3 of women said it’s “no problem” to find clothing and gear that fits their personal style. In a survey done in Seattle in 2012 (Anne Broache, 2012) women not riding on a daily basis cited fashion and equipment concerns including 44% who said that “It’s difficult to bring spare clothes” and 36% stated that “clothing/ grooming are a problem”.

It is time for something different. When something doesn’t exist it makes sense that we might wonder whether it is impossible. Can we create clothing that is feminine AND durable? Can we create clothing that is stylish AND bike friendly? How about clothing that doesn’t pollute the environment or fill up landfills. Will it fit REAL women who bike? Will it complement the biking woman’s lifestyle? Surely the answer to these questions is: Yes. Stay tuned. Help create for a more beautiful biking world! 

Citations:

Penn, Robert. It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Print.

Bikes Belong. Bicycle Leadership Conference Demographics Survey Report, 2010

Broache, Anne. Perspectives on Seattle Women’s Decisions to Bike for Transportation. 2012