Just Like Riding a Bike: Vintage Style I

This is the first part of a four-part series on vintage style. In part two, Trisha will discuss her vintage style and share some of the best places to find vintage items online. Part three will provide tips for buying vintage bicycles and the pros and cons of ownership. Finally, part four will profile a founder of a vintage shop who gets around the city on her vintage trike.

Why are we devoting a series to vintage style on a bicycle blog?  Vintage style and bicycling have a lot in common!  They are both sustainable, budget conscious, individual and fun. It’s no wonder so many bicyclists—including Trisha and me—gravitate toward vintage and thrifted fashion.

Thrifted Vintage Dress

vintage dress

(We’re using vintage to refer to items that date from at least the 1980’s or earlier, while thrifted refers to anything purchased pre-owned.)

Sustainable. While the most environmentally-friendly consumer stance is not to buy anything, thrifting used products is the next best thing. By thrifting, you keep products out of landfills and avoid contributing to new manufacturing. Another benefit is that a lot of vintage clothing was made in the U.S. or other countries where the standard for workers is high. Even if the item was made in China, you are not contributing to the original market demand.

Budget Conscious. Transportation cyclists save a lot of money on gas, parking, gym memberships, and transit cards.  Buying from thrift and vintage stores is equally perfect for the budget conscious.  Certainly, there are many expensive and exquisite vintage items for purchase, but for the most part fabulous dresses, shoes, shirts, chairs, dishes, hats, earrings—anything—can be purchased for $1-$30. The prices are low not because the products are cheaply made with overseas labor, but simply because they are pre-owned.

Individual. Cyclists are not interested in following the herd without question. Going back to the subject of the bike commuter stereotype, we are perceived as “fringe” and a lot of us are, at least a little. This individualism applies to our style, as well. Vintage and thrifted clothing is more about personal style than about what the biggest clothing manufacturers are currently shilling. That’s not to say vintage fashion cannot be of-the-moment: often the best place to score the latest era-inspired look is from the original source.

Fun. Somewhere along the way, cyclists decided that sitting in a metal box in a line of unmoving traffic or cramming on a subway like cattle was not fun. Riding in the fresh air with the wind in your face and adrenaline pumping through your veins—now that’s fun! Digging through racks and piles of clothing in search of unique treasures is many times more fun than wandering the garish aisles of a big-box store to grab one of 100 identical shirts or clicking through Amazon like a zombie. Where’s the challenge and ultimate reward in that?

9-14 vintage

vintage dress, vintage pearls from my mom

Convinced of the benefits of vintage shopping? Yard sales and stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army are great sources for clothes and accessories if you’re in the mood for a full-out expedition. I prefer thrift stores where the selections are already edited, so there is still a hunt, but the experience is more cozy.

Chicago has a lot of thrift stores and I am not an authority on them (yet!), but here are my favorites:

All of the dresses pictured are vintage and purchased for under $20 from local thrift stores.

vintage handstitched dress, vintage shoes

vintage handstitched dress, vintage shoes

There is a big vintage style blog world out there and, as with bike blogs, they are an excellent resource for inspiration and information.  Here is a list of my favorites.  I’ve noticed that quite a few of them are also cyclists!

Painfully Hip – These two women display “fashion-forward finds for the weak of wallet.” Their outfits are on the funky, creative side and they’re known for their thrift store road trips. Bicyclist? Yes!

Strawberry Koi Vintage – Vintage style, straight up. She looks like she could have stepped out of an old movie. She also has a bunch of super helpful video tutorials for vintage hairstyles. Bicyclist? Not that I’ve seen.

academichic – These three PhD-seeking women use lots of thrifted pieces to create thoroughly modern professional outfits. They tag all items in their wardrobes, so you can see that the shirt is “Gap, thrifted,” for example, giving you great ideas of how inconspicuously thrifted finds can blend with an outfit. Bicyclist? Yes!

Adored Austin – From Austin, Texas (not Jane Austin) her outfits are modern with a vintage flair. Bicyclist? Yes!

Clothed Much – She says she uses the blog to be more creative with the few clothes she has. It works, because her outfits always look varied and stylish! She mixes a lot of modern thrifted items with clothes from affordable retailers such as Forever 21 and Wet Seal. Bicyclist? Yes!

The Coveted – High fashion, independent designs and vintage clothes all come together here for one big, beautiful party. Bicyclist? Yes!

A Cat of Impossible Color – Another straight up vintage style lady, with the most prim yet fun outfits. I love reading about her experiences writing and publishing her novel. Bicyclist? Not that I’ve seen.

The Cherry Blossom Girl – The prettiest pictures and outfits on the blogosphere! Lots of vintage style, although it’s her Chloe shoe collection that I love best. Bicyclist? Yes!

Now we want to hear from all of you.  Do you wear thrifted and vintage clothes?  If so, what are your reasons and do you associate it with your love for bicycling?  How and where do you like to shop?

Audrey Hepburn Bicycle Audrey Hepburn Bicycle 3

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48 thoughts on “Just Like Riding a Bike: Vintage Style I

  1. 2whls3spds says:

    I am vintage and so are most of my bikes ;-)

    I took a quick look at my wardrobe and most of what I wear is vintage…sad part is I purchased it new :-P


  2. Sox says:

    Today’s fashions don’t fit my Marilyn Monroe figure. Older fashions were built for curvy girls.
    I sew most of my clothes for that reason, and some pattern companies are now revamping some of their vintage styles. (I’m working on a new old Simplicity right now). And, yipee, the Costume Museum of Canada, located only a few kilometers from where I live, is opening its pattern library so you can go and trace any of their old patterns. Be still my beating heart!

    • Trisha says:

      Ooh. I have been wanting to sew something for about, oh, a year now…unfortunately have done nothing more than hem a few pairs of pants. Maybe this winter I’ll actually give it a shot.

  3. Sox says:

    And oddly enough, the dress I am working on looks very similar to the one at the bottom left of your post.

  4. pomocomo says:

    Hey! This is a really great series. I like how you set up the benefits of vintage/thrifted. I’ve been “shopping” in my father’s closet for most of my life, and it’s still my favorite “store” when I visit home.

  5. Elaine says:

    Thank you so much for posting my blog :). I used to ride my bike a lot last summer but this year, I haven’t because the heat was too much for me. But now that it’s getting cooler, I do plan on riding more to and from work/school!!

  6. You look great in those clothes, especially the gray dress in the 2nd photo. The hairstyle in the last photo is a very flattering style for your face; straight out of a 1960s Scandinavian movie set.

    I wear vintage clothes if they are from one of my relatives, close friends, or my own clothes from a previous decade. I also like to cut up my older clothes and reconstruct them into new pieces. I used to do more of that when I had more free time and a more “modelesque” figure. Wearing vintage clothing from strangers gives me the creeps though, because when I was younger my mother instilled the idea in me that the person may have been sick or dying in those clothes. She never allowed me to shop in second hand clothing shops, and I guess over time the superstition got stuck in my mind as well. Totally illogical, I know!

    • Forgot to mention how this relates to my bicycle preferences. Well, as you know I love vintage bicycles and now own three: two Raleigh 3-speeds and one Motobecane mixte roadbike. I love them for the style and the feeling of historical connectedness. Thankfully, the 2nd-hand clothing superstition does not generalise to vintage bicycles (or to antique furniture), so I’m okay in that department!

    • dottie says:

      LOL. That is a creepy thought!

      • My husband is really difficult to find clothes for- he wears a 39 extra long jacket and 30-35 pants! We have to special order all of his suits and dress shirts. One day we were in the Junior League Shop in SF and there was a ton of stuff that fit James perfectly. Suits, shirts, shoes- all hand made in England, super high end stuff. It was obvious someone had died and that this was there wardrobe. We were OK with it and for the first time in years, James was able to buy work clothes off the rack : )

  7. Catherine says:

    I would but vintage and even vintage inspired clothes are not made for the, er, heavier set among us :(. Cycling is certainly helping in the waistline department, but even as a very fit and trim-for-my-frame high school athlete, it was a lucky day when a size 10 fit. “Disappointing” does not begin to cover the feelings surrounding concentration of cute clothes for the “8 and under” set.

    • I’m with you, Catherine. I am 6 feet tall and wear a 12 on a good day (size 11 shoes no matter how the day is). There were no 6 foot tall woman in 1960. I see so many lovely things in vintage stores that wouldn’t go around my thigh! My solution- I am going to Amsterdam next year and shopping until I stop breathing- the average size of woman there is close to me : )

  8. Catherine says:

    “the concentration” that would be.

  9. Anu says:

    I buy my clothes in Sydney’s op-shops (its the same as a thrift shop). Interestingly the suburb’s demographic is reflected in the op shop’s contents. Right now I live in a suburb with many Southern Europeans and you get a mix of local stuff and European labels.

    I second Lovely Bicycle! – that grey dress is super sweet on you.

    re cycling and vintage for some reason my favourite kind of remains the vintage bike man on the Sartorialist site.

    Note that possibly related posts includes “ménage a trios”. Time to recreate the Jules et Jim cycling scene!

    • Trisha says:

      Dottie and I actually saw Jules et Jim in the theater together and loved it. The cycling scene probably helped inspire me to dig my bike out, now that you mention it. I smell a Friday video post, if YouTube comes through.

  10. Anu says:

    Look forward to the Friday post!

  11. cyclemaniac says:

    My parents were not rich (‘middle-class’?) and they frown on snobbery. So when we (my siblings and I) were young our clothes, shoes (as long as they were still useable) were ‘handed down’ from one to another often. This ‘lifestyle’ has led us to be ‘simple people’.
    Now that I’m an adult, I’m ‘free’ from ‘ what-others- may-say!’ mentality.

    I wear what I feel comfortable with especially ‘vintage’ and ‘handed down’ clothes.
    I also bought ‘clothes with minor ‘manufacturing defects’ when I was in the East .. These were clothes , like jeans, manufactured in the East for American and other European companies. I have bought many of these ‘factory rejects’ … of course with without their would-be-well-known and exorbitantly priced labels.
    In fact I’ve ‘added more “defects” ‘ to some of these ‘rejects’ to produce for myself a dozen or more ripped jeans etc. (I’m still getting some of these rejects and “unlabelled factory excess” – via my friends out there).

    I’m still accepting ‘vintage’ clothes and clothes my friends or relatives who have grown a little bit too much sidewards to fit into them. I would get someone to make minor adjustments to them for my use.

    I’m not ‘consciously’ trying to ‘economize’ or to save money each time I got hold of such clothes – it’s just that I love those clothes that I have accepted/bought cheaply.

    In this, I’m psychologically/mentally/emotionally freed from and unshackled by opinions (of others) and snobbery (personal or otherwise).

    A true blue cyclist is usually as free as a bird and is unshackled to take the direction(s) he (/she) desires to go.

    When I ride a bike I just wear whatever clothes that would make me feel comfortable – as long as they are decent and don’t make riding difficult or dangerous for me.

    I’m anxiously looking forward to more of your posts.


    Smile … be happy .. have a good day! ;)

    • cyclemaniac says:

      Btw., you look stunning!;-)

    • dottie says:

      Interesting viewpoint! I like how you link your current feelings on the subject to your childhood. I’m sure I got a bit of my thrift store love from my mother. For a long time she volunteered at her church’s thrift store and brought lots of stuff home for me and my sisters. Don’t even get me started on outlet shopping – that is where I truly excel :)

  12. Sarah says:

    When I hit the teen years and fashion started to matter, my mom said she’d buy me anything I wanted from thrift stores, but I had to buy new clothes with my own money (this was mainly for financial reasons, as my parents were pretty low income). I resisted at first, but soon became addicted to our Friday afternoon thrift store outings. Now I buy almost all my clothes from thrift stores (not vintage so much, though) – I feel more willing to take risks on things if they are only a few dollars, and there is more variety! I try to buy other things used as well, from craigslist, garage sales, and thrift stores! It is related to bicycling for me – it is all part of living a more sustainable lifestyle.

    • dottie says:

      Yeah, as a young teen, I certainly was not interested in individualistic vintage fashion. I wanted nothing more than to blend into the background. I’m happy now that I was forced through my parents’ way of life to be a bit different :)

  13. Greyhound says:

    It comes as a bit of a shock when all “your” music is “classic” and clothes from high school are “vintage.” I guess having “vintage” clothes that were purchased new during the Reagan Administration makes one cheap.

  14. Jon says:

    I noticed, the other day, that the only items I was wearing which were not from the trhift store were underwear, socks and shoes (I can’t bring myself to wear any of those, pre-owned).

    That led me to look around my house…With the exception of two folding chairs, two kitchen stools, and a book shelf, every stick of furniture in my 75 year-old house is pre-owned. And, it’s all of a higher quality than I could afford, if bought new.

    Out of 12 bikes, I have one “bought-new” frame, one complete bike bought from the store (my highwheeler reproduction, which I bought 15 years ago), and a lot of bike parts on their third or fourth frame.

    I think a lot of my “latest and greatest equipment only, please,” friends feel sorry for me. But, I’m pretty proud of my recycled cycles.

  15. Oh my! Thanks for the shout-out. I love vintage clothes and I love riding my bike! I wish I had a vintage bike or a road bike, but my little Schwin will have to do for now. Hubs and I didn’t get a chance to ride a ton this summer, but now that it’s cooler, we’ll be riding all the time!

  16. […] guru Tom Vanderbilt visits America’s biking haven. Let’s Go Ride A Bike presents a series on vintage fashion and cycling, for all you stylish riders. Reuters features a press release about the new DC Bike Station; the […]

  17. Lorenza says:

    Hi Dottie :) great post!!! I love everything you wrote in the post :D I think when one wants to live a little more sustainable then it encompasses a bit of everything ;) transport, lifestyle, shopping, and all :D

    I am learning to really appreciate the little things in life, the ones that usually don’t cost the earth!! and that make you very happy and grateful :D


  18. cratedigger66 says:

    Reusing is a way of life for me. I don’t think that I have bought anything “new” this year. Garage sales have filled my need for stereo equipment and old records, as well as provided tools for me to work on my 43 yr old car, all my old bikes and even older house and yard. The big box consumer mentality just is not part of my mental makeup.

    Great idea for your blog!

    • dottie says:

      That’s really great. My goal is to buy as much used stuff (or nothing) as I can. Sometimes I’m more successful than others, but it’s always in the back of my mind.

  19. Karen says:

    I purchased thrifted high heels in Phoenix this year at My Sister’s Closet. I’ve been meaning to check out Savers in Flagstaff (also in Phx). My friend Stephanie shops there and always looks great! Wonderful post.

  20. guerrilla giving says:

    most days i dress and ride utilitarian. But I absolutely love seeing vintage on the roads of Vancouver. It brings a smile in a way that few other sights does. When I do wear vintage it’s usually on my black 70’s raleigh tourist on a leisurely ride on the seawall. When I’m with my boys i always have to tell a white lie as to why I forgot my helmet. I’m all for helmets and always, ahem, usually wear one. But i just can’t stomach a helmet when wearing/riding vintage.

  21. Oh, my other problem with vintage and thrifting is that at 6’5″ I rarely find much at the shops. My wife on the other hand has ten bags to my one.

  22. MarkA says:

    Great posting – you ladies know how to look great on a bike. Anyone cycling in London (UK) looking for a similar aesthetic vibe should head to Beyond Retro, just off Brick Lane in Bethnal Green – I bike past every day on my way home and every day there are bright young things chaining their fixies up outside and itching to get inside to have a sniff around (it’s VAST btw) Should probably start shopping there myself haha, beats Target any day!

  23. […] Savvy: Vintage Style II Our vintage style series has finally returned! Now that Dottie has outlined the many excellent reasons cyclists are drawn to vintage style, it’s my turn to share some tips on secondhand […]

  24. […] Savvy: Vintage Style II Our vintage style series has finally returned! Now that Dottie has outlined the many excellent reasons cyclists are drawn to vintage style, it’s my turn to share some tips on secondhand […]

  25. I agree with the commenter about My Sister’s closet, but sad to say they have been closing Savers around here – just one left in my area now.

    • viagra says:

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  26. mredr81 says:

    What kinda of a bike is that? 

  27. […] another good way to shop – and cut down on waste – is to go for vintage style with secondhand savvy.} « « Previous: Sunday […]

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