In the last month or so I have become the proud owner of two pair of wool pants. This is unusual for me, because I hate pants shopping like teenagers hate braces. I like to keep my pants-buying activities relegated to A) special occasions or B) in response to sudden unexpected bouts of pantslessness. But recently I bought two pairs of wool pants for completely different reasons.
My motivations behind buying wool pants, and my delight in discovering new bonus features that these pants provide, have lead me to think a lot about how transportation influences and molds our clothing choices and habits. Since pretty much every one in America drives a car, transportation-specific clothing choices - even those that coincide with car travel - often go unnoticed.
I bought wool pants for three reasons: they are warm, they shed water, and they keep you warm even when they are soaked with water. Basically I bought them for when I have to ride my bicycle in the rain. My wool pants are great for this, but they have other features of which I was unaware until I started wearing them regularly. First, they are incredibly comfortable when riding my bicycle. The fabric doesn’t rub or chafe the inside of my thigh when I pedal, nor does it bunch up in the crotch or flap into the chain. That is really nice. And secondly, since the fabric is a charcoal-grey color, even after a full day's work in a greasy bike shop, the pants don’t look dirty. They look just, well, like normal wool pants.
And how much did I pay for these features, you ask? Did I follow some minimalist principles and save money while maximizing value? Or, to put it in fancy-shcmancy terms, did I forgo acquiring a liability in favor of enhancing my life with an asset? Yes, yes I did. The two pair of pants cost me less than $5 each. Wool pants are easy to buy used because, even though my local Goodwill arranges their pants by number of belt loops, because they have a different texture. I can walk down the store aisle at a normal pace, feel all the pants as I go by, and know without visual confirmation when I find what I am looking for.
There are some aisles of Goodwill clothing that I can skip all together. Fancy jackets, for example, or sweaters or polo shirts. My wardrobe is noticeably ebbing towards more cycling-specific clothing, just as some of the clothing that the general public now wears is actually car-specific. This article from the BBC talks about the decline of fancy hats coinciding with the rise in car culture, and you can say the same thing with coats. People used to wear huge overcoats in the winter to keep warm, but once cars became the norm, people found that their huge coat got in the way of getting in and out of cars, not to mention all of the bunching up it had to do when they sat down. And since the cars were heated anyway, there was no need for such a huge coat - just walk quickly from warm place to warm place.
Footwear is another issue. People can wear sandals everywhere only if they walk, use public transport, or drive a car with an automatic transmission. Operating a clutch pedal with sandals is a pain, as is riding a bicycle with them on. I don’t wear sandals much anymore because they don’t give a good platform for my feet to push down on when I pedal and because they are open-toed and hence kind of dangerous.
This gravitation towards cycling-spscific clothing does have its downsides, though. Wool pants should be dry-cleaned and are really hot in even mild weather. On hotter days my clothing gets soaked in sweat, requiring me to take a second shirt along at the very least. Deodorant needs to be kept in the backpack, along with perhaps some extra socks. Having to wear shoes all the time can be a pain. I can’t really wear fancy hats, either. All of that, however, is a small price to pay for the joy that bicycling gives me.
Riding a bicycle everywhere has allowed me to see clothing in a new way. Function tends to follow form in cycling, and comfort while riding is key. After all, transportation is a major part of our daily lives, and discomfort there will affect other spheres of social life. Stumbling upon new ways of seeing things is awesome, and as I continue to move at the speed of bike, hopefully discovering wool pants will just be the beginning.