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Dear Frank : Strict Dress Code

Dear Frank dress code
Frank Strack
27 May 2015

Part of cycling's appeal is acting like the pros. But you can't wear what you like says Frank Strack.

Dear Frank

What are The Rules on the wearing of retro, vintage and team kit?

Patrick, by email

Dear Patrick

Retro and vintage amount to the same thing and, so long as they aren’t also team kit, there is no provision within The Rules that holds any jurisdiction over them aside from Rule #14 (Shorts should be black) and the golden rule that one should Look Fantastic At All Times.

When it comes to team kit, Rule #17 is about reverence: Team kit is for members of the team. This reverence is based on a respect for both the teams and the riders. Cycling teams are difficult to build and manage. Sponsors are painstakingly selected and recruited according to mutually agreeable goals set by the prospective sponsor and the team. Kits are designed based upon the size of each sponsor’s commitment towards that goal. Finally, riders are selected based on their ability to drive the team towards success. 

I don’t want to be Debbie Downer for you today, but I’m going to open the kimono. Cycling is not a moneymaking endeavour for most of the parties involved in the sport. This isn’t football or football (the American kind being the former). This isn’t baseball either, although we share equally when it comes to doping positives, despite the doping controls in cycling being four orders of magnitude higher. 

For all but the highest-profile riders, cycling is one of the lowest grossing sports while being recognised as the most physically difficult. To become a member of any team that has gained the publicity, notoriety, or in any other capacity has the exposure to encourage non-team members to covet their kit is an honour earned through hours of training and racing, at the expense of all other aspects of their lives.

Simply put, if you haven’t earned a place on the team, you haven’t earned the right to wear the colours. In the Velominati’s view, wearing team kit is a badge of honour that is reserved for those who have made the enormous sacrifice to earn a place amongst the team. That goes for modern pro teams, local teams for whom you have a chance to earn a place, and for teams from an earlier vintage where a guy with the name ‘Jacques’, ‘Eddy’, ‘Sean’, ‘Bernard’, ‘Laurent’, or ‘Greg’ beat you to it.

This is the basis of The Rules. Reverence. But as with all things in life, there is a great capacity for grey space between the black and white. This is where all interesting events occur. The judgement will always come down to how the act relates to the basis of The Rule.

The grey area is where reverence merges with reality, especially when it comes to vintage kit, which has a part to play in maintaining the aesthetic history of the sport. As Cyclists we welcome the future while we embrace the past. 

Every June 17th, I ride my steel frame with down tube shifters clad in black shorts and an authentic Molteni wool jersey to honour Eddy Merckx’s birthday. I hold no ambition to be a member of the Molteni team of the 60s or 70s, but I honour their sacrifice. So I wear the jersey on that date in order to express my solidarity with the team and its sacrifice, but on that day alone.

To answer the question as to whether wearing any team kit is appropriate, vintage or otherwise, you must ask yourself whether you wear it in an act of solidarity, in which case we are paying respects to the rider whom we hold in the highest regard. 

Frank Strack is the creator and curator of The Rules. For further illumination see velominati.com and find a copy of his book The Rules (Sceptre) in all good book shops. Email your questions to him at cyclist@dennis.co.uk

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