Very few of us can recall a time where activewear did not mean running shoes, spandex, Gore-Tex, neons and bright colors. With the exception of vintage devotees we have almost entirely forgotten that for classic sportswear predating the development of synthetic fabrics and functionalism after World War II, style was the standard. Designers worked with natural fabrics and tailoring innovations that suited BOTH the aesthetic AND the performance needs of the wearer.
Equestrian attire offers a particularly apt example. For example, the hacking jacket was a jacket for the casual, everyday ride. A quote from the Gentlemen’s Gazette on the needs of the 18th century man that led to the development of this jacket highlights the uncanny similarities between the needs of the rider and the daily cyclist, “He would require the jacket to be hardy, allowing for a certain amount of freedom of movement, easy access to his pockets, protection from the elements, and most importantly a jacket that would still look good after his ride” (The irony is not lost on me that his female counterparts were barely able to navigate their way around furniture in their living room in their cumbersome corsets and hoops skirts).
What’s more, the aesthetic of the garment strove to complement the movement it was intended for. For example a hacking jacket was meant to complement and emphasize a person’s movement and silhouette while horseback riding.
Wool tweed was a favorite fabric for daily equestrian attire and other types of activewear including golfing, hunting, and eventually cycling. Before lycra, cutting edge water proofing and dirt resisting technologies, wool tweed was embraced for its natural water resistance and stretch, warm yet breathable and odor absorbing properties. A vigorous horseback ride in the damp climate in 18th century England posed analogous apparel challenges to the woman commuting on her bike in Seattle, Portland or San Francisco.
Classic sportswear is thus a fantastic source of inspiration for the modern woman cyclist and her quest to look stylish. A classic looking blazer, employing activewear’s timeless style and fabric technologies is a perfect antidote to the stagnant state of women’s cycling clothing. What’s more, the cycling motion has its own particular beauty that can serve to inspire designers to create complementary styles and fits. The end result: a classic looking, high functioning jacket that complements the movement and structure of the bicycle.