Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sweet Spot Skirts: A skirt to ride, run, or play in

From time to time, I run across (either accidentally or because someone directed me) something that I can't believe I'd never heard of or seen in all of my bicycle-related activities and searches. One random day, I was on the REI website (I may or may not have had some dividend dollars to squander) and came across Sweet Spot Skirts. Having not heard of the company (or at least not had awareness of it), I went on a hunt to see what I could find. I will preface by stating that I am not typically a person to work out in a skirt. Even though I have large thighs, legs, hips, rear, etc, I really could care less what anyone thinks about me wearing spandex (or some other stretchy facsimile). It's always seemed ridiculous to me to wear a skirt over something that works perfectly well on its own. My statement has often been, "Why would I spend extra money on something pretty just to sweat on it?" That said, a lot of bike wear is stretchy, but when it gives it also becomes more transparent. I have to admit, I have a few bike shorts/capri tights (Read: nearly all of them) that could do with some extra covering, particularly when bent to reach the handlebars. In addition, I have also been out for a run, only to return home and know that I need to quickly leave for errands without changing. It's always nice to just be able to throw a skirt over my running tights so I feel a bit more covered.
Image from Sweet Spot Skirts illustrating the cover provided
If you've read here for any length of time, you will also undoubtedly recall a few posts in which I have ranted about not being able to find appropriately sized bike gear (this remains an issue, but I think it's starting to improve). The majority of women's cycling gear is sized for women who fall below roughly a size US 8, possibly 10, and I have (on more than one occasion) read over size charts that claimed a 2XL in women's cycling apparel is a size 12. Disturbing, to say the least (both that a 12 could ever be considered a 2XL, and that this is the largest size being made by some manufacturers). 

The first thing I noted about Sweet Spot is that they have an entire range of sizes for women between a 0-26. Impressive, especially for a company that would typically cater to women of a smaller size. To be fair, not every selection comes in each size range, but they seem to have at least a few choices for those who need a larger size and they will do custom orders as well and deliver those within a two-week time span. Pretty exciting, I thought. 

Sizing/Fit
Their sizing breaks down as follows:
- Size 0-6
- Size 2-14
- Size 10-18
- Size 18-26

I was leery. How can something fit a woman who is a size 10 the same as it would fit someone who is a size 18, or someone who is a 2 vs a 14? This is not even taking into account all the different shapes that women come in. The idea just didn't seem logical. The secret seemed to be in their two-layered snap system around the waistline of the skirts. Still, it seemed that either one size of the spectrum would  be bagging in extra fabric, or one would be squeezed into something that doesn't really fit. I had to give it a try though, and figured that because the company offered returns, how could I not see what would happen?

My first hurdle was figuring out which size to buy. Since no actual measurements are provided, and knowing the way most cycling gear runs, I was tempted to go with the largest option; however, being an optimist (or perhaps simply just not thinking it through), I opted to try out the 10-18 range, and hoped for the best. 

When the skirt arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it fit and even had a bit of room to spare. Being closer to the higher end of the range, I was concerned that if the sizing was not true, there could be problems. The skirts are made to be worn at the hip (not the waist), which I believe helps keep the look flattering on a variety of shapes, but for those of us with larger hips (and in my case, legs too), it also can mean having to go up in size. I was surprised, but happy that the size range seemed to be true, but I couldn't help but question if it really would fit someone who is a size 10 just as well? Sure enough. It really does work for people on the lower end of sizing, and they have the option of going down a size range to avoid the extra fabric (and also to get the length just a big shorter).

Material
The skirts are made of cotton with two rows of 7 snaps to fasten the skirt. The makers recommend being able to fasten at least three snaps on each of the rows, which does not seem to be an issue when following the sizes stated. At first, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the material being cotton rather than something more capable of dealing with sweat, but honestly, if I'm wearing my already wicking shorts/tights/etc, this doesn't seem to be an issue. Plus, caring for the material is easy (cold wash, hang dry). The snaps also seem to be very secure (and they offer a lifetime guarantee on the snaps - which is very reassuring when using something for physical activities). As I've pointed out (and as the pics below will indicate), I'm bottom heavy and had some concerns about the potential of the snaps breaking open, but they have (thus far) remained securely fastened at all times and stay comfortable throughout my activities (e.g. no gouging into my abdomen or other body parts).
Functionality
The most concerning issue for me was whether or not I'd actually wear this skirt, and if it would work as intended. This is the point at which I set off to do experiments of my own. Noting the picture from Sweet Spot at the top of this post, I was concerned about getting the material caught on the nose of my saddle when dismounting and mounting. I've admitted numerous times that I am definitely a bit klutzy, so I don't need to add to this by putting something on my body to get caught. I took the skirt on an around-town ride on my city bike and was thrilled to discover that there was no catching on the nose of the saddle and there was plenty of freedom of movement for my legs to pedal with as much force (or not) as I chose.

At a later time, I tried it out on my road bike on a little 20-miler. For the most part, it was a klutz-free ride, except for one stop at a signal at which point I managed to actually get the bottom of the skirt caught on the rear of the saddle. It was a little scary because I wasn't prepared for it, but I survived without a fall. I'm still not entirely sure how this happened, nor if it would be a regular occurrence, but it was easily resolved by not leaning forward as I stopped and instead lifted myself up just a tad first before moving forward. This also may not be an issue for those who opt for the 2-14 size, as the length is just a bit shorter. It's worth mentioning that some of this could have to do with my height and the fact that I'm on a small bike that doesn't have a ton of room between the saddle and handlebars, so it's easy to get caught on things. If you're a more standard height, this may not come into play at all.

Extras
It's always nice when something unexpected is received in an article of clothing. I like my clothes to be able to do multiple-duty, as I don't always have time or the desire to change. One of the best "extras" with this skirt is that it is reversible, basically giving the wearer two skirts for the price of one. I've tried wearing mine both ways, and it looks great on either side and allows me to feel like I have an alternative if I'm not into the particular pattern on a given day.

The first time I wore the skirt in public I was on my way to an athletic event at which people were dressed in all different sorts of clothing. I had a small portion in the activity, but not enough to justify full-on workout gear, so I decided that I'd ride my bike to the event as I normally would and see how I felt just wearing it a bit more casually. Within the first 15 minutes I received half a dozen comments regarding the cuteness of the skirt, which definitely made it easy to wear. After the event, we all met up at a local bar and I didn't have time to change, but I have to say, I didn't feel as though I looked out of place, and again, I received comments from ladies passing through the bar about the skirt. I think these seem to be unique enough to cause people to stop and ask about them, but not so unique that one feels out of place in various casual situations.

Another great feature is that every skirt is made in the U.S.A. In fact, the owner of the company is located in the state of Washington and the business happens to be run by women. They also take the time and effort to support local charities, which is always a great thing in my book.

Price
I can be a very picky and yet still cheap person when it comes to clothing - particularly workout clothing that I know will never last as long as I'd prefer. I want quality, but I don't like to pay for it (which I think is true for many of us). I also prefer breathable clothing as much as possible, sticking to primarily wool and cotton when at all possible. Yes, often wool is more expensive, and I've just made my peace with buying a few things that will hopefully last longer than other items I could buy (which sometimes are nearly as much anyway).

Sweet Spot Skirts retail for between $69-99 (U.S. dollars), dependent on size range and length of skirt. I will admit, it's a tad on the steep side for a cotton wrap around skirt, but I have to say, the quality seems to be there. I'm particularly impressed with the snaps and what has thus far been decent durability/reliability. I'm not always easy on my clothes and these snaps appear to be something that will continue to hold up to my unintended abuse quite well. The price is also like getting two skirts in one, so when I think of it in those terms, the cost doesn't seem quite as painful to the pocketbook. Adding to that, the clothing is made in the U.S. by people being paid a livable wage. Because I have found that I seem to be living in a bygone area of prices for clothes, I've attempted to factor all of this into my purchase (and feelings regarding price) of this skirt.

Overall Thoughts
Although I haven't entirely changed my opinions on wearing skirts to work out, I can see the usefulness of this product and that there are times when it's nice to be able to cover up or not feel as though I have to change my clothing. I love that there are so many colorful (and not as colorful) options available because we all have different thoughts on what is appealing. It still seems that there is an inherent possibility of getting this skirt caught on the saddle of a bicycle, but this could be something avoidable for most. While I personally might wear it on a charity ride, I don't know that I would choose to don it for every training workout. I find I like its usefulness more as a cover up after a workout, but I have worn it far more than I expected thus far, so there is something to be said for this simple, yet comfortable and fun garment. Ultimately, I understand this skirt is aimed at those who like to feel a little more stylish or flirty when working out (and there's nothing wrong with that), and I know that it definitely has a market. Even for me, as someone who frequently protests such frivolity, I have to admit, it's a fun thing to wear during and after working out.

16 comments:

  1. Interesting to read your thoughts about working out in a skirt. I don't generally ride my bike in them, but I have developed a strange fondness for wearing them while running. Maybe for variety? Frivolity, as you say? I'm not exactly sure because I definitely don't feel more stylish in them. I was actually interested in checking out this skirt, as I like how it looks, but I am generally not a fan of cotton when it comes to running or riding.

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    1. Agreed. Cotton is an interesting choice for this piece of clothing, and I'm not sure it's what I would've chosen for the intended purpose. The manufacturer also makes a skirt specifically intended for running made out of a stretchy poly fabric (not entirely sure what they're using, but it appears to be a nylon or poly based fabric), so perhaps that would be more suitable?

      I really do completely understand that some people enjoy wearing skirts to work out, so when I say "frivolity" I don't mean it in a derogatory manner by any means, but merely as in that for myself it seems like an extra thing that is unnecessary, particularly because I already have the necessary piece (the padded shorts, tights, etc) that fulfill the purpose. I think this idea is really interesting, but I would certainly have to concur that cotton is not ideal. Perhaps down the line they will consider a more wicking fabric as they have selected (from the looks of it) for the running skirt)?

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    2. As confirmation, the running skirt fabric is made up of 80% nylon and 20% spandex blend.

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    3. Oh yes, as I read your post I did not see your use of frivolity as negative. Hmmmm I may check out the running skirt then. Thanks!

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    4. Good. I re-read what I typed after I read your comment and was hoping it wasn't received in a negative way. :O)

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  2. How cool that they actually come in larger sizes!

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    1. I thought so. I always appreciate when a company (especially a small one) makes the effort to produce things that a variety of people can wear.

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    2. Thank you! I am a pear shaped girl and wondered if a skirt would just attract more attention to my (snug) cycling bottoms. They do look very nice and the website has some other great offerings in shirts and accessories. I really appreciate your thorough reviews and insights into female cycling.

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    3. I completely understand that feeling of not knowing whether something will look appropriate over my bottom half, so I am glad this is a little bit helpful for you (and hopefully others). I think if anything, this actually is very flattering to those with more substance in the hips, thighs, rear portion of the body. I've had fun just wearing it around with tights, too. :O)

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  3. As someone who has just spend way too many hours online hunting for plus size tops and jerseys, I really appreciate posts like this about companies I haven't heard of yet. Thanks!

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    1. I'm glad it's helpful. I'm always grateful for new places to investigate as well. :O)

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  4. I like to run in a skirt with attached shorts because I like the extra coverage. Sizing is an issue even for small specialty manufacturers. At one race expo I saw a really nice well made running top which came in a "large". I didn't try it on because I didn't think I could get it over my head! Yes, it was that small. Thank you for the info on this company and bike clothes.

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    1. I have definitely been there. I recall my first run at buying cycling clothing online. I purchased an XL top, thinking that there was a good possibility it would fit. When it arrived, it looked like a baby's shirt. I couldn't help but laugh. I actually kept it for a number of years because it was a good reminder of the madness that is this industry's standards, but I finally gave it up because it seemed silly to keep it for no reason (as in, no way on earth it was ever going to fit me).

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  5. +1 for short skirts that just skim the bum and hips. These look really cute and, more importantly, well designed and well made. For what goes into them, it seems a fair price, though frankly I couldn't justify spending that much myself. I've been building up a collection of stretchy mini skirts -- a great option for those rides with a coffee or pub stop halfway around. I usually get them on Ebay. Sometimes the fibre content isn't quite right - too stretchy or not stretchy enough. But there are some great colours and patterns available, all under $10. I'll have to post up a photo...

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  6. P.S. I've got this one in several (plain) colours: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/321245169271?_trksid=p2055119.m1438.l2649&var=510179155875&ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT
    Just about perfect in terms of weight, stretchiness and length.
    As you say, GE, it's worth being aware of the risk of catching the hem on the saddle. I've adapted the way I settle on the saddle when starting off only slightly but it works and quickly becomes second nature.

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    1. Very cool, Rebecca! What I like about the cotton skirts is that it isn't as body skimming as stretchier materials would be (it disguises my tummy a bit more), but it's also what I dislike about it at the same time because it's easy (especially for me) to get it caught on the saddle. Sort of a two-sided coin. The woman who started this company started out pulling on stretchy skirts after workouts which is why she created the company, but I think a little bit of stretch in these could be nice, as well as the possibility of a more technical fabric. I don't know. I'm torn because I like that it doesn't exactly look like cycling apparel (makes it easy for cross over), but at the same time, I don't necessarily want to run around in sweat-dampened cotton either.

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