Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pretty-Bright! Three Reflective Vests for Plain Clothed Cycling

all  images G. McLaughlin
I've never been an enthusiast of hi-viz gear for transportation cycling. When riding through well-lit, densely populated areas, personally I do not feel the need for it. But as my commutes began to take me through more remote places, the idea of wearing a little reflective something became more appealing. While there's no shortage of hi-viz cycling clothing out there, some bicycle commuters feel that much of it is unattractive and ill-fitting. To address this, a number of companies now aim to make reflective gear that's as effective as it is fashionable. I have tried products from three of them over the past months: the Lightning Vest by Dargelos, the Vesp by Vespertine, and the Capelet by Day Glow Doris. All of these are handmade by small, independent manufacturers and aimed mainly at women. Here are my thoughts on their utility and looks.

Dargelos Lightning Vest: Daylight
The Dargelos Lightning Vest fascinated me from the moment I saw it, because it is such an ingeniously simple concept. This garment is basically a hand-knotted net of 3M reflective ribbon, providing all-over reflection for your entire torso, while also being extremely lightweight and compact. And because the netting is spaced fairly wide, pockets remain accessible. Available in two sizes, the Lightning Vest is drapy in cut and roomy enough to fit over a jacket or coat. Prior to trying it, I wondered whether this might make it prone to snagging on parts of the bike, but I have not experienced that so far - the netting stays close to the body. 

Dargelos Lightning Vest: Daylight
One thing I do find a little awkward about the Lightning Vest in use, is figuring out the head and arm openings. It's not complicated, but it does take some care - particularly to not get my hair caught in the netting.

Dargelos Lightning Vest: Daylight
Judging the Lightning Vest as an article of wearable, fashionable clothing, I have to say that I like it. The silver netting is light and ethereal-looking, and the cut is unexpectedly flattering. It certainly is unusual, but to my eye it looks nice.

Dargelos Lightning Vest: Flash
And as far as reflective properties, my favourite aspect of this garment is the amount of coverage it provides. 

Dargelos Lightning Vest: Flash
With my entire torso covered in reflective netting, I am equally visible from the front, rear and sides. Made in NYC, USA, the Dargelos Lightning Vest is priced at $138. 

Day Glow Doris Capelet: Daylight
The 50's Capelet by Day Glow Doris is a vintage "Dior-inspired" vest that comes in hi-viz colours (yellow, green, pink and red) with reflective trim and buttons. The rounded collar, 3/4 bell sleeves, floral ribbon trim and retro cut give it a soft, feminine look that makes for an interesting contrast with the neon and hi-viz colour scheme. 

Day Glow Doris Capelet: Daylight
Roomy in cut and easy to put on, the capelet closes via a hidden velcro strip in the front (the reflective buttons are decorative), which also makes it possible to adjust fit. Though designed to be worn over a jacket, this capelet is available in one size only (S/M). Made of a lightweight polyester fabric, it is bulkier than the other vests featured here, but can still can be scrunched up to fit into a (deep) pocket.

Day Glow Doris Capelet: Daylight
As far as its fashion appeal, the Day Glow Doris Capelet is clearly targeted at those who go for the funky retro look. I am not sure the '50s styling is my cup of tea exactly, but I can appreciate the design and do find the cut flattering. And as far as neon goes, I also like the particular shade of red/orange the manufacturer chose: It is not a typical "construction zone orange," but more like the colour of a wild poppy rendered in neon. 

Dayglo Doris Capelet: Flash
In the dark, the Day Glow Doris reflective features are limited to the reflective ribbon at the collar, sleeves, buttons and waist. In the front there are quite a few reflective bits. 

Dayglo Doris capelet: Flash
However, in the rear and from the sides the reflective areas can be less visible. For instance, if I wear my hair loose it will cover the collar, and if my arms are too far forward the strips along the sleeves will disappear. To be sure, this capelet is highly visible - but the reflective features are limited to the edges, rather than being its centerpiece. Made in the UK, the Day Glow Doris Capelet is priced at £49 (or $80 USD at current conversion rates).

Vespertine Vesp: Daylight
The Vespertine Vesp is a mini-vest with a deep v-neck cut and a ribbon-tie front, that is a lighter-weight, more versatile alternative to the manufacturer's line of reflective dresses and jackets. 

Vespertine Vesp: Daylight
Available in sizes XS-XL, the Vesp is shown here is the silver lamé fabric, and is also made in several neon colours (yellow, green, orange and pink). It is adjustable to fit over a jacket (go up a size for thick overcoats). 

Vespertine Vesp: Daylight
While the Vesp does not exactly look like everyday wear to my eye, the delicate tailoring and the use of diagonal lines make it surprisingly flattering and as unobtrusive as a silver lamé article of clothing can be. It also impressed me by being much lighter and more collapsible than it looks - I can easily scrunch it up to fit into the tiniest of pockets.

Vespertine Vesp: Flash
In the dark, the Vesp's arrangement of reflective 3M ribbon make a sort of butterfly shape in the front,

Vespertine Vesp: Flash
And a large, prominent "X" in the rear that covers much of the torso, supplemented by another thin reflective strip at the waist-line hem. The edges of the X extend to the sides, where the reflective ribbon is also quite prominent. Made in NYC, USA, the Vespertine Vesp is priced at $68 for the neon versions and $84 for the silver lamé.

Overall I find all three of the vests described here easy to wear, reasonably attractive, and effective in their high visibility features. For riding in the daytime in overcast conditions, the Day Glow Doris provides the best visibility with its swathes of neon fabric. For riding at night, the prominent X of the Vespertine Vesp seems to be the most eye-catching from the back, while the all-over netting of the Dargelos Lightning Vest provides the most thorough reflective coverage. 

For women seeking fashionable hi-viz wear, either of these products could fit the bill. And if you like the concept but find the price too high - why not whip out the needle and thread, and get creative with the 3M ribbon? Although what I'd like to do is find some 3M yarn and do some hi-viz knitting... 

35 comments:

  1. In my case trying to look stylish in scotchlite is a battle I gave up long ago so for night time rides the building site tabard comes on. The shoulders stick out so I look a bit Alexis Carrington in it but it'll flash back a car headlight from half a mile.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I bought a great coat from Water Off a Duck's Back (http://www.wateroffaducksback.co.uk/) and lust after a cape from Dashing Tweeds (http://www.dashingtweeds.co.uk/). But I, too, have been thinking about a DIY with reflective yarn. Here are a few places that sell it: www.kreinik.com, http://www.handweavers.co.uk/shop/iridescent_yarns.html, and http://fiberrhythm.com/FRCDshop/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=80.
    I think that the vest might be easiest to replicate. Good luck with it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. While you were on hiatus I really missed your reviews like this...informed and informative, with enough of an opinion to help judge a product, but not self-indulgent. And then there's the simple but artful photos. "Lovely" is an apt title. Thank you for your site.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "And a large, prominent "X" in the rear that covers much of the torso"

    umm, moving target :0

    Anon Sch

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The whole X thing is debatable for that very reason, but is fairly standard in hi-viz wear. What's interesting to me is that the Vespertine garment -which at first glance appears whimsical and all fashion over function - adheres to traditional hi-viz design.

      Delete
  5. Very nice modelling job. While the cost of safety should never enter into the picture (I do have one of those horridly expensive Mustang inflatable PFDs that I wear any time I'm on the water) $138 does seem a wee bit much for that first one. Even though it is rather cool.
    Now if we could only get folks to stop texting or talking on the phone as they barrel along, about to wipe you from the face of the earth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pricepoint is always going to be an issue with handmade garments produced locally and in small batches. As someone who sews and knits, and has done it for $ in the past, when I look at the Dargelos vest and consider how many hours it took to make it plus the cost of materials, the price is actually reasonable. Of course that still doesn't make it any easier to swallow for a consumer.

      Delete
  6. Did you look at www.georgiaindubln.com offerings ? I know you can only review stuff sent to you etc. I have no connection with them myself but since they are sort of local. Another one is www.retro-reflectives.com for more conventional but unusual patterns. Reflectve stuff is much better than pure hi-viz for nighttime riding even in cities. As you say it goes much better with conventional clothing, especially if it has a stylish look.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have recently taken to buying reflective piping and sewing it onto hems and trims of existing coats and jackets -- one does have to have a sewing machine to make this work, but it's $2.99 for a packet of reflective piping at the local fabric store.

    ReplyDelete
  8. To stand out in the dark, is crucial. Sadly, there are still many cyclists who don't get this. I use strong lights both at front and rear of my bike. And also ankle and wrist light bands. Here in Madrid, where there's not much bike culture, some people might laugh at me, that much lighting makes me look like a Xmas tree on wheels... but I don't care. I put safety over looks. Usually, when there's an accident car vs bike, first thing drivers say is " I didn't see you!"

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is what I did: http://bobbinsbikesandblades.com/wordpress/buttons/

    I used the beautiful Lumatwill from Dashing Tweeds. Drapes wonderfully, easy to sew and I'm very pleased with it.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Those are appalling. The mesh thing would make people do a double take and then laugh. The silver Vesp looks exactly like what a teenager would whip up in about 15 minutes for a Star Trek Halloween costume.

    And that orange thing looks more "Salem inspired" than anything else.

    Why not just give in and get one of those orange and yellow safety vests that workies wear? At least it's not trying and failing to look good, that's the worst way to roll.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hard to argue about looks. The mesh vest is actually my favourite, and I get compliments on it from others - including non-cyclists. The other two are not really my style, but to each their own.

      Delete
  11. I got tired of spending silly amounts on reflective garb that's marketed to cyclists. Instead, I buy reflective vests that are made for construction workers; Class 3 gear is much more reflective than anything I've seen in bike shops. (Wikipedia says, "Class 3 should be worn when working within 1.2 metres of a Highway with traffic moving in excess of 50 km/h," and I certainly bike that close to 50 km/h / 30 mph traffic for at least part of every ride.)

    A construction vest is much less expensive than fancy cycling gear (about $20), I can wear it over anything (sport coat, t-shirt), and the ones I get from SafetyDepot.com have front zippers and lots of pockets. When I arrive at my destination, I stuff it into my helmet. My favorite is the one with half sleeves--when I raise my arm to signal a turn, drivers can see the signal. I ride a lot in cold weather, so I get mine a size larger than usual so I can comfortably wear it over a coat or a heavy sweater.

    Stylish? No, but I'd rather be alive than have the ambulance driver say, "What a stylish corpse." ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most of the ones I have were free to me. The earliest I can remember wearing was a railway safety vest back in the late 80s. Back then they were really the only workers who wore that sort of thing. I even remember somebody remarked it looked like a boob tube (80s speak). It was bright orange with one broad reflecttive strip.

      Later on I used to wear a Sam Browne belt for nighttime only. Most of recent free ones came from a tram operator promoting cycle safety and a load of them from our Road Saftey Authority (RoI) order from their website and couriered out. From time to time discount store have very cheap ones that don't lat very long but are good as backup.

      Delete
  12. I am using a Wowow reflective cross belt made of elastic stripes with 3M reflective material on them, and I am very happy with it (it is a Belgian product, but seems to be available widly, at least in the EU - I am from Germany, but I chose an Italian website because it provides the best picture-/text-combination: http://www.serstore.com/online-store/accessories/wowbelt/ ;-) ).
    The Wowow cross belt is not as fashionable and as lightweight as the products reviewed here, it shurely consumes more space when not in use, and the center buckle indeed is a bit bulky. But overall it is well made, inexpensive, durable, mashine washable, it does not have this 'road construction worker appeal' to it, and most of all has a high degree of visibility in the dark, showing the big 'X' to the rear which I also would consider as most prominent reflective sign. The length of the belts can easily be adjusted as needed; as I like to ride with my wool jacket open sometimes, I found out that it is not necessary to close the belt buckle, it works anyway and shows no tendency to slip.

    Matthias

    ReplyDelete
  13. Yowza! The Dargelos Lightning Vest got pricey! I bought it a few years ago for around $80. I wouldn't buy it again, even at the lower price. It is such a pain to get on and off, and while it didn't seem like such a big deal when I first got it, over the years it has slowly driven me mad.

    And, since moving to DC, I now have to awkwardly maneuver my way through three sets of doors to get my building's bike parking. I find that the vest catches and gets tangled in my bike bell, brakes, handlebars, etc., and takes way more time.

    I also find that it leaves some sort of flaky residue on clothing. You can't see it with a naked eye, but it shows up in flash photography.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's interesting, and I wonder whether the version you have is somehow different from current production. I've been wearing the Dargelos vest the longest and have not noticed the residue.

      As far as tangling, I assume you mean while you're walking the bike and holding it close to your body? I can see how that could happen, though in practice I have not actually managed to catch it on things. Putting the vest on does take longer though.

      Delete
  14. You're looking skinny. That's unusual for Ireland. They're always feeding you up. Breakfast, dinner, tea and supper. Four meals a day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's mostly an illusion from being in the center of a wide angle lens. But I do always lose a little weight in Ireland, regardless of how much I eat.

      Delete
  15. Coincidentally I've been looking at reflective stuff for the Mrs.; the above examples don't do it for us in warm climes/day use.

    Truly day glo in various brighter light conditions with reflective piping and true venting is the best combo of practicality and usefulness for the greatest variety of conditions imo.

    Ugly = EVeryone notices.

    ReplyDelete
  16. is it just me (or life in emotionally repressed England), or would the lighting vest be an interesting way to get noticed at a bondage party?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thanks for sharing this. Many people feel kind of ashamed wearing a vest. I know a construction site vest doesn't look very stylish... With these nice garments you present hopefully cyclists will feel more encouraged to use them and stand out in the dark.
    That can save your life people!

    ReplyDelete
  18. These are too much for me....Thankfully the prices make it a no brainer.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I have a Nathan similar to this: http://www.nathansports.com/visibility/reflective-gear/nightfall-vest

    Easy on and easy off. The mesh is cool on hot days. Sized to pull over a jacket in the cold.

    Definitely not attractive. But it wads up small enough I can cram it in a bike bad or even my pocket when I get off the bike and mingle with non-cycling people.

    ReplyDelete
  20. (Sorry, for some reason it wouldn't let me reply to your previous reply to my comment.)

    But, the flaking didn't happen right away. The first time I noticed it was in family photos at Thanksgiving last year - a little over a year after I bought it.

    And yes, the tangling happens when I'm leaning in over my bike, trying to simultaneously hold the door to my building open and hold onto my bike. Getting tangled in my bike was never an issue when I lived in Ann Arbor and could safely store my bike outside.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Looking good. Would be nice if men had a few more options, too! Let me know if you see anything!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Like several others here, I generally favor a hi-viz professional construction vest, which I sometimes wear during the day in winter. IIRC, got my current one for about $12 on ebay. Last year I zipped by a small pack of teenagers walking on the road, startling at least one, who exclaimed, "Oh snap!" Watching me recede down the road, another teen, who had obviously seen me cycling about town before: "It's cool. That's crossing guard guy."

    I think it was John Travolta in "Getting Shorty" who made a soccer mom van all the rage with Hollywood elites. I'm with the person above who suggests just rocking the most effective, least costly solution--in my opinion, that's true style (as opposed to fashion.)

    ReplyDelete
  23. A second here for Wowows range of products. While their clothing range is conventional compared to the less industrial styles you're showcasing here, we swear by their reflective spoke tubes which turn wheels into incredible illuminated discs of light. Combined with schwalbe reflective sidewalls its an amazing light display that no one can fail to notice.

    As a driver too, I despair at rounding a bend on a pitch black country road to find a cyclist with nothing at all but a cheap and feeble (and invariably ill-aimed and half spent) rear LED. In my opinion retro-reflective, hi-viz, what ever you want to call it is far more effective for getting noticed than cheap light sets.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Your wish is Schachenmayr Lumio's command! Knit On:
    http://www.knittersreview.com/article_yarn.asp?article=/review/product/130912_a.asp
    Love Mary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm pretty cool. Acrylic but could be worth experimenting with.

      Delete