Thursday, September 16, 2010

What We Wear Is What We Say

I normally don't think much about fashion, but William Gibson's brilliant novel Zero History has got me thinking about the functions of clothing and how it influences our experiences. When asked in a WIRED interview if he had ever wanted to wear a uniform, Gibson notes:
“When was I last out of one?” Gibson wrote. “The extent to which we are all of us usually in uniform brings to mind [Brian] Eno’s definition of culture: Everything we do that we don’t really need to. Pajama bottoms beneath a raincoat? Out of uniform. Jeans with one leg cut off? Out of uniform. Contracultural apparel disturbs us. Countercultures are intensely cultural. Bohemias have dress codes as rigid as those of merchant banks. We all read uniforms, constantly, whether we’re aware of it or not.
People who ride bicycles generally wear clothes and those clothes, for better or worse, are read constantly. Our clothes make statements and if you chose not to wear clothes you're really making a statement. Even when we think we're not making a statement ("I dress for function, not fashion") we're stating something. The people behind Momentum Magazine think a lot about fashion because they understand something of the power of fashion in our lives. "Normal" looking clothes can make cycling appear normal, fun clothes highlight fun, and so on.

My family and friends can attest to the fact that I'm not exactly the guy people look to for fashion advice. My main criteria for clothing selection has to do with how many pockets an item has and how well the fabric hides grease stains. My clothes project a certain Red Green aesthetic ("if the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy") and strangers have been know to pick me out of a crowd when they are looking for someone who might be carrying a metric allen wrench.

On the Tour Divide this past summer, my local college jerseys (courtesy of Adrenaline Promotions) proved to be great conversation starters and I think the real cowboys in Wyoming (the ones who drive pickup trucks) were more inclined to think kindly of a biker in a Wyoming Cowboys jersey than if I'd been wearing the latest Euro-team kit. On my 2002 tour to Minnesota I crossed paths with a couple who credited their USA garb with making their trip much safer and more pleasant. There's probably some truth in their belief that even the worst bike-hating driver would think twice before honking at, buzzing by, or running down Old Glory.

This is probably about as much as I'll post on fashion, but there are many sites devoted entirely to what people wear while riding. A couple of interesting bike fashion sites are Velocouture and Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA
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