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:
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. ”
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.
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.