Unlike motorcycle helmets, bicycle helmets have historically had zero cool factor on city streets.
But that may be changing, with designers evolving out from traditional vented racing-style helmets to styles more associated with skateboarders.
“I like to call it ‘chic cycling,’ where a man or woman dons an edgy helmet to express their personal style,” said Jessica Kaplan, an editor for activewear at Stylesight, a trend-forecasting company.
Along with metallic finishes and innovative shapes like those resembling hats or equestrian helmets, she said, “I’m seeing directional prints like polka dots, leopard and tartan that are essentially mimicking runway and streetwear trends.”
As more pedestrians take to the pedals, it was perhaps inevitable that the helmet evolve from hair-flattening safety necessity to accessory.
“We are definitely seeing more interest in helmets since bike share started,” said Julie Hirschfeld, the creator and owner of Adeline Adeline, the bike and bike accessories boutique in TriBeCa, mentioning Nutcase and Bern as best-selling brands.
In addition, “There are a few helmet brands like Sawako Furuno, Sahn and Yakkay that have pushed that skate-style helmet into something that fits in a more urban environment,” Hirschfeld said. “Generally when people are riding to work they don’t want to show up and look like they’re on their way to the gym.”
Alison Lucien, the owner of Eleanor’s Stylish Bicycle Accessories for Ladies, an online boutique with occasional pop-up shops, mentioned a leopard print Sawako Furuno ($185) as a best-seller. “We’re always on the lookout for styles that someone might consider an accent piece or a more standard fashion accessory,” Lucien said. “Similar to a handbag or shoes, you don’t necessarily have to wear the same helmet every day.”
And black and cognac faux-crocodile helmets also by Sawako Furuno have been especially popular among customers at Cloak & Dagger, a fashion boutique with locations in the East Village and downtown Brooklyn. “It’s always been a good seller for us, but since the bike-share program was introduced, we’ve been selling a lot more,” said Brookelynn Starnes-Statland, the owner, who prefers the leopard on her commute between Brooklyn and the two stores. “I don’t even care if it bums out my hair,” she said. “It’s worth it.”
In Europe, two Swedish women, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, have teamed with the air-bag maker Alva Sweden to create the Hövding Invisible Helmet. Deflated, it looks like a collar on a jacket. Inflated (as it will be, in theory, if a cabby cuts you off and there’s a collision), it looks like a futuristic headpiece in a Bjork music video. The helmets come with a lightweight USB charger so riders can easily charge the helmet using laptops at the nearest coffee shop.
But at around $600, the Hövding joins the Gucci bicycle helmet ($960) in being a luxury item; not only is the price high, but you aren’t supposed to wear it on a skateboard, scooter or skates.
Less expensive options include a FEED collaboration with Target in navy, paisley and red ($35) or helmet covers that range from sun bonnets to fur-lined trapper hats. And inevitably in this era of bespoke everything, brands like Belle and Yakkay are offering personalized color, covers or even hand-painted designs for around $100.
Or you can choose to wear a helmet that’s purely utilitarian and focus on preserving the hairdo underneath, perhaps with one of the “helmet turbans” available for $62 at Eleanor’s, which promise to shield it from the gear’s mold while you ride. “Some of our most popular blog content has been about hairstyles to wear under a helmet,” Lucien said. “We also hosted a helmet-friendly braid bar on Bike to Work Day, which was a huge hit. All of this supports the idea that more people are shifting to a commuting mind-set; riding their bikes as transportation rather than as a separate activity.”
And though some might scoff at the idea of making helmets de rigueur, one must remember that more options leave fewer reasons for cyclists to go unprotected. A New York City report published this year says that 176 cyclists and pedestrians were killed after being struck by vehicles in 2012, up from 158 in 2011. The city offers free fittings and helmets in some neighborhoods, as well as resources and information about bike helmet laws, fittings and other safety guidelines on its Department of Transportation website.
Now these need not be boring. “The trend of fashionable bike helmets is only beginning,” Kaplan said. “There is vast potential for various brands to market helmets as a key accessory.” Perhaps a day will arrive when shoppers will be frozen on the floor at Henri Bendel because they can’t choose between the clutch they’ll wear to the party, or the helmet they’ll wear while riding to the party.