By popular demand: Gary Poppins v. Lance Armstrong

My post last Friday was intended to make a point about the Mary (Gary) Poppins effect, not about what I was wearing.  I used a tale about the comments I got on my outfit on Friday to make a point, not to show off my fashion sense, so I purposely did not include a self-aggrandizing portrait.  After numerous demands to see the offending fashion mash-up, I agreed to post a photo. Obliged to please my regular readers, I share with you the outfit that garnered all the commentary (both good and bad). Perhaps I am a bit scandalous, but I really don’t see what all the fuss was all about:

Top to bottom: Estate sale purchased vintage gray check flat cap, Urban Outfitters red gingham tie, vintage cardigan, pink dress shirt from Marshalls, Express "Photographer" gray flat front pant, Steve Madden boots, '36 Raleigh Sport.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m old enough to be flattered any time someone notices me beyond asking me to move out-of-the-way, but comments like “Ya know, red doesn’t go with pink” are not what I am looking for.  Why do people feel entitled to say something like that?  Unsolicited advice is a form of verbal violence. I don’t walk around my office talking about other people’s outfits.  In fact, I try to avoid thinking about what most people are wearing and the statement that their clothes make.  I prefer to let others do their thing and ask only that people allow me to do the same.

Fashion is personal.  Some people care about it; others don’t.  In the big picture, it really doesn’t matter all that much, but I think fashion adds interest to an urban landscape. I enjoy people watching, not because I like to critique, but because diversity is captivating. Why does Lady Gaga dress as she does?  Why did David Bowie adopt so many characters? Does pleasant design have inherent value? 

In light of the greater problems in the world, the answer to all those questions is once again personal.  That said my answer is that anything that helps to make our world more interesting has value.  Why do we repair our historic buildings like Milwaukee’s City Hall rather than knock them down and put up a pole building for half the cost?  Because having architecturally significant structures in our urban landscape adds value to our lives.  Why do we appreciate beauty in any form?  Because beauty, whether it be in the form of Lake Michigan at sunset, a well designed building or an attractively dressed person, adds a fleeting bit of interest to our daily lives.

From the standpoint of bicycle advocacy, the cyclechic movement holds great promise.  People are drawn to beauty as moths are drawn to a light. If we can shift the current image of a person riding a bicycle from a person in yellow lycra clothing racing along on a carbon/titanium race bike, to an attractive man or woman riding comfortable two-wheeled transport, we may get more people to try it.  Nothing wrong with wearing lycra or racing, but if we want people to think about riding their bikes to the movies for a date, we need a different image.

When you hear “car” you don’t think “Richard Petty,” but you might think “commute to work.”  When you hear “bicycle” people think “Lance Armstrong riding in the Tour de France,” when we need them to think commute to work, bike to movies, grandma shopping.  Cars are marketed with moms driving kids to school and super models going out to the clubs at night.  Bikes should be marketed the same way.  Lance has been good for the sport of cycling in the US and helped Trek sell a lot of bikes, but mostly racing bikes.  What if Michelob Ultra commercials featured Lance in a hipster outfit riding Trek Soho  to his friend’s BBQ to have a beer instead of training in lycra on his Madone and then just “being” at the BBQ in a hipster outfit? That features a different page in the Trek catalogue, but it might sell more Trek bikes in the end.

Lifestyle marketing basics demand coolness by association.  If we can make riding a bicycle seem cool, sexy, and healthy we may get more people to try it.  In fact, advertisers have begun using bicycles to sell clothing and other products through lifestyle advertising.  “Want a beer?  Try a Michelob Ultra, Lance Armstrong and his beautiful friends drink it. “

Fashion houses have embraced bicycling to sell their clothes as part of lifestyle advertising campaigns.

I’m selling cycling on Over the Bars.  I’m not sexy or famous, so I need to work the angles I have available to me, and interesting outfits help me get noticed in a positive way when I ride my bicycle around Milwaukee.  Writing this blog is sort of preaching to the choir. Everybody who reads this already gets it to some extent.  But while Josephine the Stock Broker is not reading my blog, she may see me riding my bike around Milwaukee, as will Jim the Iron Worker, Bobbie the Fire Fighter, and Frances the Teacher.  I am a rolling advertising opportunity whenever I pedal from point A to point B, and I want to take maximum advantage of that chance to positively influence viewers.

But you have to be very carefull how you wear it.

To that end, I dress well most of the time; obey all the laws; smile a lot; talk to people when I stop at red lights; and generally try to be a worthy ambassador for transportation related cycling. I hope that by doing that, I can encourage people who see me to think “Hey, if he can ride a bike in that outfit, I can ride my bike in blue jeans.”

And remember, red gingham does go with pink, as well as French blue and a spring green. To paraphrase my wife, pattern and color are your friends, don’t be afraid of them.

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About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in Advocacy, Bike clothing, commuting, Cyclechic and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to By popular demand: Gary Poppins v. Lance Armstrong

  1. d'Andre says:

    Great outfit and great post, Dave – you are right on target regarding the advertising. Signed, a member of the choir.

  2. Russell says:

    I am always baffled by those who consider themselves “serious cyclists” yet don’t have a bike that they can jump on without changing at least their shoes in order to ride to the local I Scream parlor.

  3. Dave Steele says:

    The other day I saw a guy downtown dressed in a navy blue Adidas track suit with yellow stripes, and sunglasses, rolling on a turquoise Kona. I smile everytime I see something like that. His style and my style are totally different, but it’s nice to see someone riding a bike who is not in lycra or dressed like a bike messenger. Bikes should represent freedom, and part of being free is expressing your own style.

    There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to dress on a bike. But there is money to be made by convincing people that they need special bike clothes. When I bought my Gary Fisher Monona, a bike designed and marketed as a city commuter bike, I noticed the owner’s manual told you to ride in bike-specific clothes.

    Imagine if when you bought a new car the owner’s manual told you to drive it in a NASCAR jumpsuit. If they could get away with it, the car industry would probably love to convince people to wear special “driving clothes,” since that’s more money spent by the consumer. But they can’t get away with it because cars are sold as freedom machines, and anything restricting that mystique of unlimited freedom is resisted. This is why the car industry will resist cell phone bans while driving ’till the bitter end, just as they resisted seatbelts back in Ralph Nader’s day.

  4. hopp says:

    you look mah-valous!

  5. Tory says:

    I hate to be a “Debbie Downer” on the issue, but I’m catching up on your blog after biking in a skirt on this amazing sunny day and I had quite an opposite experience. The comments I heard today weren’t made by people treating me better because I was wearing a cute skirt while on a bike; rather, many people tend to make inappropriate comments specifically because I *am* on a bike. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s the neighborhoods I bike in, or maybe it’s some other factor I’m completely overlooking. In any case, if I weren’t so stubborn and didn’t really want to ride my bike more often–skirt or no skirt–I’d shy away from it to avoid the cat calls.

    Any other lady bikers out there with similar experiences? Suggestions?

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Bummer Tory, I have not heard that before, but I can only imagine it is quite common. I think this may warrant a separate post to generate some feedback since not everyone reads the comments. I will put something up in the next day or so and ask for discussion from female readers. Thanks for the insight, and my apologies on behalf of the more mature members of my gender for the disappointing number of men who are jerks.

  6. Hi Tory,

    I don’t think you’re a Debbie Downer at all, everyone’s experience is different and everyone’s local culture is different.

    When I wear skirts on a bike in the summer, I get inappropriate comments from men sometimes, and I just ignore them. I don’t really have any other suggestions aside from ignoring it and continuing to do what you are doing. Part of the reason for the “OMG skirt on a bike!” reaction, is that cycling in a skirt is perceived as novel and unusual. If we normalise it, that should diminish.

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