Recently, I’ve started riding my bike to work. On average, this means the trip takes me five or so minutes longer than if I were catching the tram and walking, but also – conversely – means that I can get up half an hour later, as I no longer have to factor in waiting for public transport. While riding in the rain isn’t quite so fun, I’m by and large very pleased. I feel fitter, I enjoy the process of getting to work, and I am reliant on no public transport timetable.
It also means I have to choose my wardrobe in terms of what can be cycled in. The idea of purchasing lycra and changing in the office is, to me, ludicrous – I don’t ride exclusively on the road, I’m not a speed-demon and the trip isn’t long enough to justify the effort. Neither have I purchased one of those nifty backpacks, opting instead for the occasional baggie over the handlebars and a shoulder-bag that doesn’t get in the way. I listen to my iPod while I ride, and have been known to sing along to The Beatles, particularly on my way home. Sandals and heels fall off, so I wear closed-in shoes or boots. If a skirt or dress dangles, I tie the offending edges into a knot over my lap so they don’t get caught in the rear wheel. All of which, I’m sure, serves to make me the height of cool in nobody’s eyes – but the point is, I make it to work on time, intact, comfortable and, once my skirt is unknotted and my helmet off, well-dressed, sans the necessity of bringing any extra clothing.
More than once, my Long-Suffering Husband has made the point that my ability to do this is due largely to gender. In most office situations (he argues), women can wear just about anything, up to and including clothes that might otherwise be called casual, night-out-dressy, gothic or – in my case – mildly bohemian. Provided we “dial down the boobies” (to quote the single best line from The Kingdom) and don’t show too much high thigh, we can pretty much get away with anything. For men, however, it’s effectively a suit, tie very rarely optional, no matter what the weather. Men’s office-wear is uncreative and boring – and also, unsurprisingly, not too great to ride in, unless you’re into bicycle clips and a basket on the handlebars for your briefcase (says the LSH, although pants are certainly easier than dresses). In short, I have any number of work-friendly outfits to choose from, and am fancy-free to select for clothes I can pedal in.
Which is why (to come to a very circuitous point) I find myself rolling my eyes whenever I see office girls walking to work in sneakers, toting their actual shoes for the day – universally heels of some description – in an oversize backpack. Ladies, I have an announcement: if the shoes are too uncomfortable to walk in, do not buy them. We are under no obligation. No corporate job will enforces a female dress code so rigid that buying a pair of flats is out of the question. If flats don’t match your skirt, wear something else. And if wearing heels really is inescapable, then lash out and buy a pair you can stand to walk in. Even going barefoot makes more sense than dragging two pairs of shoes to work. Sneakers in this context look ridiculous, not only because they don’t match, but because they say, “here walks a person too conformist not to wear heels, but apparently too stupid to buy a pair that fit properly.”
For a suitably long walk, jog or cycle to work, a change of clothes is commonsense: you are not commuting so much as exercising, and the reason we have lycra, sneakers and tracksuits for the gym is because they are designed to give support and comfort during physical activity. But if all you’re doing is walking to and from the train, tram or bus, you should be able – as an intelligent, forward-thinking adult – to purchase footwear that doesn’t cause the same damage to your extremities as frostbite.