By day, this plaid shirt looks like an ordinary button-down. As soon as it gets dark, the design reveals another side: Special retroreflective stripes shine under streetlights or headlights, making it ideally suited for bike commuting.
“It’s the same technology that they use in street signs,” says designer Steven B. Wheeler from Betabrand, the crowdfunded clothing company that produced the shirt. “It’s surprisingly bright, because it focuses all of the light directly back.”
The shirt is part of a collection called Bike to Work, which also includes things like secretly bike-friendly pants that reveal more reflective patches when you roll up the leg or pull a hidden patch out of a pocket.
“If you’re wearing something from our line, you’re taken care of in terms of nighttime safety,” says Wheeler. “You don’t have to think, oh shit, my reflector’s out of batteries, or I forgot my reflective ankle strap or whatever. You’re covered.”
Though all of the clothes have reflective patches, the plaid posed a special challenge. The retroreflective material, a thin film covered in nano-sized glass spheres, was sliced up into strips the size of yarn, making it even more fragile and hard to sew.
“We reverse engineered it,” says Wheeler, who had seen a previous employer make something similar and knew that it must be technically possible. “It took nine months of development. It was a labor of love.”
Because the reflective threads are so delicate, they could only be sewn in one direction on the shirt. But Wheeler says the overall plaid acts as the perfect disguise. “If it had been a solid, the subtle stripes would have looked weird,” he explains. “So I hid them in the plaid. When it’s in the plaid, you can’t tell that there’s anything special about it until you’re on your bike.”