Biker clothes to get your motor running

Once limited to jackets, fashion crossover revs into chain-linked trend

April 06, 2003|By Jean Patteson | Jean Patteson,Special to the Sun

Those macho easy riders in their leathers and tattoos, roaring up the highway on their monster motorcycles, bound for who-knows-what adventures, have a way of making us mainstreamers feel so tame and mundane.

But take heart. Even the most mild-mannered minivan drivers may own clothes, shoes or accessories inspired by biker gear -- and not even realize it.

Motorcyclists have given us much more than the iconic black leather jacket. A window-shopping trip through any mall will uncover typical biker elements, such as chains and rivets, on everything from jeans to business suits to lingerie.

The motorcycle jacket was the first biker fashion to cross over into the mainstream, and still is the most recognizable.

It started with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, says Anne Deli, owner of Harley-Davidson in Orlando, Fla. When the heartthrob actor wore a motorcycle jacket in that movie, he set a trend that still is hot today.

The classic motorcycle jacket is far more about function than fashion, Deli explains.

Tough and practical, it is designed to protect the rider against wind, rain and road burn. To accommodate a rider's hunched-over position, the arms are longer than a regular jacket's, the back is cut lower than the front, and the two-way zipper up the front can be opened from the bottom or top.

The jacket also may have pleats at the back hemline that can be unzipped for greater comfort, cooling vents under the arms, and armor (protective padding) built into the sleeves and body.

Fashion versions of the jacket tend to be lighter and smaller than the real thing, and often feature whatever detailing is in vogue -- embroidery, glitz, even ruffles.

Everything about biker gear -- zippers, rivets, buckles, laces -- is bigger and bolder than it really needs to be, says Deli, who teams her leather-and-spandex biker jeans with high-heeled Chanel boots and a Gucci T-shirt, all in black.

"Biker clothing is statement clothing, especially Harley-Davidson clothing. It's about individualism and freedom -- the American dream," she says.

No wonder it has permeated American design, slowly but steadily, during the last 60 years. Today, biker influence can be seen in surf and skateboard shops, in girly boutiques and in couture showrooms.

Biker jackets are a feature of the fall 2003 collections of top American designers Ralph Lauren (teamed with satin diva gowns) and Calvin Klein (with narrow stretch pants).

The chains that bikers use to link their wallets to their belt loops are a key crossover element. Similar chains -- but doubled in weight and tripled in number -- now adorn the jeans of pop music and extreme sports fans. And smaller versions of these chains decorate trendy boots, belts, handbags and miniskirts.

Rivets, grommets and studs, all typical of biker gear, are as much part of the goth look as black lipstick. And the bandannas that bikers wear under (or instead of) helmets, have morphed into popular hip-hop headgear.

The heavy-duty zippers found on biker jackets have been turned into decorative elements on women's career suits. And the lacings that fasten biker chaps are currently popular on everything from jeans and skirts to swimsuits and nightgowns.

And there's more. Hefty belt buckles, chunky-soled boots, sleeveless T-shirts, and flame and eagle motifs, once the hallmark of the motorcyclist, have become the trend du jour of the mall rat.

Italian designer Roberto Cavalli has even taken biker tattoos, which typically feature hearts, roses and jungle beasts, and printed them on to his high-priced jackets and jeans.

Fashion is never a one-way street, however. While biker looks are riding into Main Street, the reverse is true: Designer trends are showing up in motorcycle shops.

Browse through the displays at Harley-Davidson in Orlando, for example, and you'll see such mall standards as baby T-shirts, bustiers and spaghetti-strap camisoles in the women's section, as well as garments decorated with 1960s-inspired motifs such as hearts, flowers and butterflies -- on fabrics ranging from silk and rayon to washable suede.

And in the men's department you'll find button-down dress shirts and casual polo shirts, Hawaiian shirts and hooded velour sweatshirts.

There still are differences, though. Biker-chick bustiers tend to be fashioned from leather and detailed with chrome. And biker-dude Hawaiian shirts feature not palm trees and pineapples, but eagles and motorcycles.

Jean Patteson is a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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