Monday, September 17, 2012

Bike to Work: Anatomy of an Outfit

To continue with our topic from other posts regarding how to bike to work without the post-ride shine and what to wear, I can post some material about me and how I dress or what kind of bike I take to work, but this blog is also for women, therefore I have obtained permission from one of my hero riders to post one of her interesting reads and here you have it:

I’ve recently received several questions regarding cycling to work and what to wear. One reader also asked about the use of helmets: “I worry about having crazy lines on my head, hair out of shape… any tips or ideas on how to bike to work and not look like it once you walk in the building?”.
Since it’s back to school time (which, for us academics, is the same as back to work time), I thought it would be most appropriate to address these questions now. So here are some tips and suggestions based on my experience of biking to work in my professional clothes and while wearing a helmet. This is mostly geared towards my female readers out there since I’m speaking from my experience, which is rather limited and gender biased. I’d love to hear from the male readers out there who bike to work in their professional clothes… what are your go-to pieces or well-perfected strategies?
(Note: Whether you wear a helmet or not is your decision and should be influenced by the context of the situation. I wear one on all my commutes in my current town because of the lack of bike infrastructure and the often careless interactions between drivers and cyclists on the road. I’m neither advocating for or against helmet use, it is and should be a matter of personal choice.)
Cycling to work - anatomy of an outfit
Warm Weather Bike To Work Outfits:
1. Pattern – In hot weather, I opt for patterned garments that do a nice job of masking sweat stains.
2. Pencil skirts – I wear a lot of skirts and dresses for my professional get-ups and pencil skirts make for surprisingly good bike garments. However, they have to be made of a giving and slightly elasticized material so that there is a slight stretch to the fabric (otherwise they may be a no-go). I prefer these over fuller skirts because they stay in place better and do not blow ‘open’ while pedaling.
3. Heels – the beauty of cycling is that I can wear all of my shoes no matter how impractical for walking because it’s usually pretty easy to bike in them. The only ones I tend to avoid are ones with a very smooth and slippery sole which can sometimes slip off the pedal while cycling.
4. Low bun – a simple and chic ‘professional’ hairdo is the low bun at the nape of your neck. I love this look because it’s easy and quick and works well with a helmet. The helmet stays above the bun and even helps keep the top of your hair smooth and frizz-free (if you’re me, frizz is a constant enemy!) on your ride to work.
5. Bike basket – it really helps to have some kind of bike carrying system to allow you to cart your work bags not on your body. Nothing gives you major back sweat stain like a backpack on a hot day. A front basket, a rear rack, panniers…all of these will ensure that you arrive a little less sweaty and a little less wrinkly at your destination.
bike to work - anatomy of an outfit
6. Dark colors – if you’re not wearing pattern, look for darker colors to hide sweat stains on warm weather days. I also sometimes layer a wicking tank top underneath my blouse or button-down to help absorb sweat before it stains my top layer.
7. Knee length skirts or dresses - because none of my bikes have skirt guards on them, I save my longer skirts or dresses for non-cycling occasions. With fuller skirts, I love ones that are made of heavier material as they tend to blow ‘open’ less as well. This particular skirt’s hemline is trimmed with beading, which functions as a perfect weight for keeping the hem down while cycling. (With time, you come to realize what makes a great cycling item and start unintentionally filling your closet with them.)
8. Flats – as stated above, almost any shoe will do!
9. Braid – Another helmet friendly hairdo option.

perfect helmet hairdos helmet hairdo
On Helmets and Hair:
1. Braids – by far my favorite ‘helmet’ hairdo. The low braid, the ‘Dutch’ braid that wraps around, ‘Heidi’ braids that are bobby pinned in place… all of these take my messy bedhead hair and tame it into a manageable and helmet friendly hairdo. I’ve perused the Internet for inspiration and instructions and taught myself a few quick braid styles that are easy to reconcile with wearing a helmet to work.
2. Helmet - I have a Nutcase helmet (pictured above) that worked well enough but was always a little loose. I recently purchased a Giro helmet that I love because it adjusts to become tighter or looser as needed. I prefer it to the Nutcase because it allows me to adjust it for whatever hairstyle I’m sporting (‘Heidi’ braids need more room than a low ponytail) and it also allows for hat wearing in the colder months.

Winter Cycling - Anantomy of an outfit
Cold Weather Bike To Work Outfits:
1. Layers – my cold weather ‘bike to work’ outfits only differ from my warm weather ones in that I add layers. Layers are great because they allow you to adjust your temperature as your cycling or as the weather changes.
2. Boots – again, any shoes will do. In the colder months, I live in boots. In the dead of winter, I wore these faux fur lined boots along with wool socks (Smartwool are my favorite!) to keep my toes warm even in below freezing temperatures.
3. Skirts – even in the winter, I prefer skirts over pants for work outfits and will opt for tights as a way to keep warm. Sweater tights, insulated tights, or two pairs worn layered have kept me much warmer than a pair of pants might.
4. Bike Basket – although sweating is less of an issue on colder days, I still prefer to carry my work tote in a basket rather than on my back because of all the bulk that comes with winter layers. This way, it’s one less thing that I’ve got on.
5. Braids – fit nicely under a hat and equally nicely under a helmet.

Winter cycling- anatomy of an outfit
6. Helmet – this is my ‘sporty’ Giro helmet that I wore before getting my ‘stylish‘ Giro helmet. I wore this all winter rather than my Nutcase because the adjuster knob in the back allowed me to loosen it to fit over my hat.
7. Down coat – nothing beats a knee-length down coat as a top layer if you bike commute in a cold climate. I biked around town in below freezing temperatures this way.
8. Gloves – I layered two pairs on really cold days.
9. Boots – these leather boots weren’t the warmest option so I’d layer two pairs of wool socks or cashmere socks inside of them. That usually kept my toes nice and toasty enough.
10. Hat – A must under your helmet on colder days. Works well with low braids, low ponytails, or any hairdo you’re willing to redo or touch up at your destination.
There are many bike bloggers out there who commute to work in all seasons and temperatures. I’ve picked up many tricks from them and am grateful for the advice they impart on their sites. They can be found at Girls and Bicycles, Portlandize (for a male perspective!), Let’s Go Ride a BikeLovely Bicycle, and The Julie Blog, just to name a few. These bloggers have inspired me in particular because none lives in a predominantly warm or favorable climate and they continue cycling despite snow or rain year round.
Do you bike to work in your professional clothes? If so, what are some your tried and tested go-to items? How do you make your work wear cycling friendly?

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