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Cycling in heels: seeking a more stylish mode of transportation

MinnPost photo by Christy DeSmith

Anna Lee attracts so much attention when she’s riding her bicycle. As she pedaled her light-blue Kona along Lake Calhoun Sunday, her long, flowing black skirt blew aside to reveal the blood-red crinoline she wore underneath. Lee wore her dark red hair in pigtails and took care to reapply lipstick on multiple occasions. 

“Look — that lady’s bicycling in heels,” said a middle-aged guy as he watched Lee pedal  in ruby-red pumps.

For the occasion of the Ruby3 Fashion Bike Ride — part of the annual Fall Fashion Weekend, it was an event designed to promote Lee’s line of fashionable bike gear — 20  other women and one man arrived in all manner of bike-appropriate spiffs. One woman wore a flouncy, shin-length, white cotton dress that was, as she said, “soaked” by the end of the ride. Others wore simple skirts and Shimano cycling shoes. Katherine Gerdes, the local clothing designer best known as an alumna of the “Project Runway” reality TV show, showed up in a drawstring skirt and vintage Adidas sneaks.

“I’ve never biked in a skirt before, so I thought I’d try it,” said Gerdes.

From everyone, a double take
We rode about 15 miles — from RobotLove, near the Uptown neighborhood, to Minnehaha Park and back again — and we attracted a double take from every rider, jogger and walker encountered along the way. 

For much of the way, Lee led the pack. After all, she is the founder of MNfashion, a nonprofit organization committed to helping local clothing designers build their businesses, as well as the organization’s affiliated events — Voltage and Minnesota Fashion Weekend. Lee is also a well-known apparel and hat designer. During the past few years, as she has become increasingly passionate about urban cycling and bike commuting, she has resolved to help women address the problems of dressing for daily bicycling — essentially, she wants to ride comfortably without looking frumpy. And if she does dress up, she doesn’t want an onlooker to get an eyeful of her unmentionables.

“I’m all about creative challenges,” said Lee. “So I asked myself: How can I maintain a fashionable appearance while biking?”

In result, Lee recently unveiled a line of practical fashions for riding, such as fitted bloomers made from technical fibers (a la CoolMax), stylish safety vests and even a “skirt stay,” something that resembles a garter-belt. For now, these bike-friendly creations are available locally at the Design Collective, but Lee hopes to sell them in bike shops, too.

Practical challenges of commuting
As we pedaled along Lake Harriet and Minnehaha Parkway, the conversation often turned to the practical challenges of dressing for bicycle commuting. In fact, a careful observer learned about another stylish option: the hip T-shirts and funky jerseys made by the award-winning local designers at Twin Six. I admired another woman’s pink, flowered bicycle helmet by Nutcase.
Once we arrived at Minnehaha Falls, the surviving dozen ordered food from the Sea Salt Eatery and sat on the park’s shaded patio  — the idyllic setting for those wanting to enjoy the last sliver of summer. Again, conversation turned to the practicalities of cycling; one woman suggested all present wear wooden jewelry when they ride because it’s far more comfortable against a cyclist’s dewy skin. To this, Lee shared her own views on mashing up fashion and bicycling. “When people see me bike in heels, it’s less about the actual heels than it is about the visibility,” she said. “It’s all part of my lifestyle — there is no disconnect. I just bike!”

For a peek at some of Anna Lee’s inspirations, visit one of her favorite websites:

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