Light My Fire, Baby! Remembering Harley-Davidson Dressers

Lots of chromed accessories and lights made the Harley-Davidson dressers from the 1970s a sight to behold.

H-D dressers

White-on-white riding duds and a Harley with more lights than the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree go together for the full dresser ensemble, circa 1976.

Photo courtesy Dain Gingerelli

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Back in the day, owners of touring bikes customized to stand out from the hum-drum world of stock motorcycles called their long-distance haulers “dressers.”

The word was fitting, because touring bike owners “dressed” their big-rig two-wheelers with all sorts of gizmos and gadgets. Most Harley-Davidson dressers could be identified by their bundles of chromed bolt-on accessories, not to mention the endless strings of auxiliary running lamps and taillights often attached. Foxtail streamers, extended muffler tips and extra mirrors were optional (whitewall tires were all but mandatory), and some of the dressers from that era carried enough exterior illumination to light up Las Vegas, as these pics from the 1976 AMA Grand National flat track race in Oklahoma show. Clearly, the phrase black-out was not in the vocabulary.

Eventually, though, the dresser genre evolved into something else, becoming today’s “baggers.” That evolutionary process saw more than just a name change, however. Brightly painted sheet metal and acres of chrome gave way to the baggers’ gothic-like black-on-black styling themes, and the dressers’ rolling light shows made way for onboard audio systems that produce sound quality as good or better than some home entertainment centers.

Rider apparel styles have changed, too, during the past half-century. The dresser sect favored distinct road uniforms consisting of pants and shirts in white or of less subdued Easter-egg shades. As for today’s “baggeristas,” they choose from two basic apparel color options — black or sinister dark tones.

Should the mobile light shows found on dressers from those bygone days ever make a comeback, we can only imagine what illuminative displays await us. Considering the extraordinary candlepower that’s capable from today’s high-output LED bulbs, it would be nothing short of spectacular. Or perhaps ridiculous? — Dain Gingerelli