Tuesday, February 16th, 2010
[ Welcome Copenhagenize readers. If you like this post you might also want to check out I Almost Got Killed and others. I hope you'll stay and check out the blog. ]
Anyone who studies cities should also study fashion, in both the broad and narrow sense. So much of our perception of whether something is good or bad is shaped by contemporary fashion trends. The underlying reality may have nothing to do with it. Which things are good and which are bad are so often just matters of taste, tastes inevitably shaped by the zeitgeist of the moment. So much of that is about what is viewed as sexually attractive, or is intended to make consumers feel sexy and desirable themselves.
Consider the automobile. Bono, as part of an NYT op-ed on ten ideas for the next decade, said that we need to have “the return of the automobile as a sexual object.” Per Bono:
How is it that the country that made us all fall in love with the automobile has failed, with only a few exceptions, to produce a single family sedan with the style and humor and grace of the cars produced in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s? Put aside the question of whether those models were male (as in longer, lower and wider, Dr. Freud) or female (as in fender skirts, curvy belt lines and, of course, headlights). Either way, they all had sex appeal. (In Ireland in the ’70s, it was the E-Type Jag that made sense of puberty.) Today, however, we have the mundanity of our marriage to the minivan and the S.U.V. and long-term relationships with midsize cars that are, forgive me, a little heavy in the rear cargo hold.
This caused an alternative transportation blogger to take umbrage:
Bono’s creepy festishization of the automobile is part of the core psychological problem that has led to the country’s transportation, energy, and urban design mess. Despite the problems we’re currently suffering from too many people being in love with their automobiles – air pollution, suburban sprawl, skyrocketing gas prices and the outsourcing of our energy development to hostile foreign powers – Bono suggests that, in the coming decade, we need to love our cars more, we need to make them prettier, we need to want to spend more time in them and invest more money in them.
Perhaps this writer would have taken this more in stride if he’d known that it is actually bicycles today that are increasingly portrayed as objects sexual potency.
Riding bikes in the city, something that was rarely done not that long ago, is now hot. As part of that, the entire way bicycles are perceived and portrayed has changed in our society. This is probably best illustrated by the trend of associating sexy and stylish women with bicycling. An entire genre of photography and associated blogs has sprung up around this that I wanted to highlight in honor of New York Fashion Week.
Cycle Chic from Copenhagen
Cycle Chic from Copenhagen is possibly the definitive site in the genre. It posts photos of women (and some men too) out and about riding their bikes in Copenhagen and elsewhere, along with occasional photos of accessories, and some light commentary. Its tag line of “Streetstyle and Bike Advocacy in High Heels” says it all.
It is winter there, of course, so there are many winter themed shots at present:
This one appears to be from Bologna, however, hence the lack of winter:
Here’s one that the poster describes as possibly the most iconic in his collection:
Cycle Chic from Copenhagen has 5,681 subscribers, which blows away most urbanist blogs. Consider that Copenhagenize, a bike-focused, Streetsblog-like site that is widely linked here and in other urbanist circles only has 663 subscribers. It prompts a serious question: who is doing the better job of bicycle advocacy?
This site also has an astonishing blogroll of links to similar sites, by the way.
Chicks and Bikes
Another paradigmatic example is a site titled simply “Chicks and Bikes”. Every day the anonymous author publishes 4-5 posts of containing only pictures of women and bicycles. The posts don’t even have titles for the most part. The shots run the gamut from actual fashion advertisements to sports themes to vintage photos and more. But they lean towards the “hot and sexy” end of the spectrum. I’ll share a few of these here.
NB: I am not linking to the main page of this blog since it is occasionally not safe for work. That’s really unfortunate, especially since the handful of photos they post that are inappropriate add nothing to the site. I will link directly to some safe pages.
Here’s one that appears to be an image of a fashion shoot from a magazine:
The bike is clearly part of the overall fashion ensemble. It’s even color coordinated with the rest of the shoot (maybe too coordinated, frankly). Note the guy leaning against the wall staring straight at her.
Here’s one that is a bit racier – almost literally. This picture is reminiscent of the covers of hot rod type magazines in which a hot car is always paired with a hot woman. Where we used to see the pairing of cars and sex, we now see the pairing of bikes and sex. Is there any surer sign bicycling has arrived? Buy the bike and get the girls, or something like that.
Not all of them are staged shots. Some of them are, or are intended to be perceived as, “on the street” type photos. Here’s one of a happy winter woman biker who may have just gotten off the train with her bike:
There is no mistaking what the pictures in this post are trying to convey.
Now one might say that this is of purely prurient interest. But perhaps that’s the whole point. The alternative is to let cars have the field to themselves. And as we know, sex sells.
Among the things that the Sartorialist loves is the bicycle. He sometimes shoots his subjects riding them. He even conveniently has a bicycle tag on his posts for your viewing pleasure. The Sartorialist primarily shoots men, so if guys on bikes are your thing, he’s one to check out. Here’s a picture he took of a woman in Cologne.
Incidentally, the Sartorialist lived on my dorm floor my freshman year of college. I actually didn’t remember him and only connected the dots after another college friend reminded me. While Scott Schuman is certainly way bigger than me in the fame department, it is interesting to think about The Sartorialist and The Urbanophile sharing the same dorm floor. At least it is to me :). Scott and I were also both active posters on the Ask Andy About Clothes fashion forums when he was first starting out with his blog.
These three sites only scratch the surface of what is out there. I was frankly astonished to discover the quantity of sites in this genre, most of which appear to receive significant traffic. Clearly there has been a sea change in how bicycling is perceived out there in the world. The subject of attractive and stylish women, of course, is one that never goes out of fashion.
I’m not certain how to apply it, but there’s certainly a lesson in these sites about selling cities and aspects of them. Clearly this “girls on bikes” phenomenon is to a great extent organic, but we’ve got plenty of parts of urban life that could also use a makeover. I’m reminded of this ad that Richard Layman found:
How can we make buses (or many cities with image stigmas) sexy? Seems difficult, but I never would have thought it was possible with bicycles either. Remember what Gucci was like before Tom Ford took over, after all.
Back to the Sartorialist for a moment, the site Refinery 29 put out a humorous How to Get Shot by the Sartorialist guide. You can click the image below to enlarge: