Should You Wear Bike Shorts? Inside Fashion's Most Divisive Trend
After a surprise appearance on this season's catwalks, cycling shorts have hit the red carpet. But should you wear them? The Telegraph's fashion editors square up
THE ANTI-BIKE SHORTS ARGUMENT
As a fashion editor, I’m in the business of trying new trends — without them, I’d be out of a job. But not all catwalk trends are meant for public consumption: some are the extremes, the orange squash concentrate — you need to water them down for real life.
I’d assumed that cycling shorts — as seen on the catwalks at Chanel, Fendi, Prada, Jacquemus — was such a trend, but here’s the head-scratcher: somehow, they’ve transitioned from high fashion to high street.
To clarify, this is not an elevated fashion riff on cycling shorts in a looser fit or smarter fabric. These are fully elasticated, skin-tight cycling shorts that aren’t intended to be worn anywhere near a bike, even a static one.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the athleisure trend — as beloved by the body-beautiful from Los Angeles to Notting Hill — should lead to this. Yummy mummies have long worn their leggings far from the confines of the barre studio.
But, camel toe issue aside, leggings fulfil a similar purpose to skinny jeans. Cycling shorts — well, that’s a whole new ball game.
On their website, Zara’s 100 per cent polyamide neon green shorts are styled with a double-breasted black blazer, strappy kitten heel sandals and red lipstick. Glassons shows a plain black pair with a denim jacket, while Urban Outfitters' polka dot pair is styled with a puff sleeve shirt. While none are priced above $40 (small mercies), the styling suggestion is clear: wear them to the office! Dinner! For cocktails!
And why stop there? At the Cannes Film Festival last week, Chloe Sevigny wore a pinstriped suit — oversized blazer and matching cycling shorts — accessorised with black heeled pumps and an evening bag. The blazer addition is a popular one — model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and stylist and author Pernille Teisbaek both opted for blazers in neutral shades of taupe and cream, offsetting the sportiness of their shorts with sharp tailoring (and stilettos).
The oversized-skintight contrast also serves to highlight slim legs, which brings me to the gazelle in the room: looking at the pictures, you may notice a common thread amongst wearers. I certainly did — no one is larger than a size 10, and they all have thigh gaps.
The Kardashians, who have also co-opted the trend, do offer an alternative body-shape point of view, but their hourglass figures are no less sculpted and perfected in the gym. As someone who has on occasion worn a pair of Spanx cycling shorts under a dress, I can predict the results: when you push lumps and bumps away, they have to go somewhere, which in this case would mean above-knee and under-bra bulges.
I don’t have great legs — if you do, this trend will be kinder to you. But just because you could, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you should.
I’m quick to encourage friends to step out of their wardrobe comfort zones and experiment with new colours, shapes and prints, but I’d advise any friend to put down the Lycra.
There are lots of fabulous tailored shorts around this season — slim fit and A-line — in great colours and prints that will look elegant for work or weekend.
But cycling shorts? Wear them to the gym, but before you add a pair of heels, ask yourself: what would Hepburn do? Or Birkin, Kelly, or Kennedy? After all, gyms have changing rooms for a reason. Charlie Gowans-Eglinton
THE PRO-BIKE SHORTS ARGUMENT
When cycling shorts emerged as a major catwalk trend during last September’s fashion shows, I was in a minority of precisely one on The Telegraph fashion desk in actually being quite into the whole idea. “But what about thighs and knees?!” everyone around me cried while I marvelled at how surprisingly elegant a slick short looked with a boyish blazer.
As with so many trends, I don’t believe there’s an age barrier here but it’s more about the look of your legs. Whether you’re a size eight or 16, some are blessed with toned calves and decent knees, others are not. A good dollop of confidence goes a long way too.
Princess Diana leaving the Harbour Club gym in a sweatshirt and cycling shorts has become a millennial/Gen Z styling reference obsession. Those shorts were a symbol of her strength and sass — a complete departure from those frothy good-girl blouses of a decade before.
In this body positive era, that’s what cycle shorts represent now, too, but of course, there are certain ways of going about it.
Diana’s blend of loose-on-top and tight on the bottom is an excellent example to recreate and is especially helpful if the bottom-clinging part of this trend is problematic for you. Staud’s super-chic navy and cream shorts are very if-Diana-were-working-out-then-dashing-to-Le-Caprice-in-2019 and would look great with a long silk shirt to balance things out. If knee-baring isn’t for you, may I point you in the direction of ¾-length leggings, which still offer a suggestion of the look but with a little more coverage.
If all this Lycra chat has you breaking into a non-workout induced sweat, then there is good news for you yet. Shorts in general are very much in vogue and the ultra-roomy mum short passes muster just as happily as its skin-tight antithesis.
With this style, the goal is that you should be able to fit your thigh twice over in each leg — what bliss! Brands like Bassike have a bounty of options in all kinds of linens and cottons; you’re probably used to wearing this sort of thing for lunch over your swimming costume on holiday but now fashion hath decreed that it looks great with a blouse for work — I did this in the tie-dominated Telegraph offices last summer and it was fine! Bethan Holt
— The Daily Telegraph