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Skiing in style

Liz Tregenza

 

Friday 7th February sees the start of the 22nd Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and this seemed to be the perfect excuse to write about the history of ski fashion. Whilst the history of skiing stretches back to around 5000BC, it was not until the 19th century that skiing was established as a competitive sport. The first recorded skiing competition being held in 1843 in Tromsø, Norway.  Skiing was one of the sports contested at the very first winter Olympics held in Chamonix, France in 1924.  The growth in popularity of skiing as a competitive sport was mirrored in its popularity as a social activity with the ski slopes of Europe and America quickly became new sites for fashionable display amongst the elite. One observer commented in the 1920s that skiing had been, ‘taken up by those with nothing in particular to do, and who like to see their pictures in the paper and themselves in interesting costumes.’ [1]

The increasing recreational popularity of skiing led to a need for fashionable ski clothing, no longer were ski clothes required simply to keep skiers warm and dry. In America this meant that specific European ski clothes began to be imported, in a similar way to how the sport itself has been.[2]The major department stores sent representatives to Europe – Saks and B. Altman for example began advertising that they were selling the best of European ski style. [3]

Women’s ski suit with breeches, c.1922, gabardine lined with satin, Museum no. T.241&A-1989. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Women’s ski suit with breeches, c.1922, gabardine lined with satin, Museum no. T.241&A-1989. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

During the 1920s specific clothing for skiing was only just beginning to develop, and both men and women would wear typical winter clothing rather than specific skiing attire.[4] For men the standard outfit (similar to the golf course) consisted of knickers or plus fours, toques, heavy cardigans, turtle necks, shawl collar sweaters and Norfolk jackets.  It was not uncommon in the 1920s for women to wear skirts to ski in, but this was incredibly inhibitive, with only the most adept skiers able to master skiing in a skirt. These difficulties led to the development of special costumes for skiing that had pleated legs to resemble a skirt but were actually bifurcated.[5]  It was only towards the end of the decade that trousers for female skiers became acceptable wear, particularly after the first winter Olympics in 1924. Increasingly women wore looks on the slopes that borrowed heavily from menswear. Ski and golf fashions for women showed striking commonalities. On the slopes women were by the late 1920s seen wearing a type of Norwegian ski pants, knickers and plus fours.[6]

Burberry, Ski suit, c.1929, wool, woven cloth and knitted yarn, Museum no. T.308&A to F-1978. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Burberry, Ski suit, c.1929, wool, woven cloth and knitted yarn, Museum no. T.308&A to F-1978. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The first American winter Olympics was held in 1932 at Lake Placid. These games bought skiing to a wider public consciousness across the United States. For both men and women the typical look in the 1930s was a double-breasted jacket, worn with Norwegian style trousers that were gathered at the ankle using lastex yarn or a knitted cuff. [7] The invention of lastex in the early 1930s; a yarn made from nylon, rayon, cotton and/or silk proved revolutionary, and allowed skiers to keep wrists and ankles dry.[8] Despite this revolution however, most ski garments in the 1930s were still made from heavy, natural fabrics. Basic skiwear tended to be made from wool and lined with flannel, whilst the best ski suits were made from tweed and lined with angora felt.[9]

During the 1940s the silhouette of ski suits for both men and women became decidedly slimmer with wool garberdine[10] becoming one of the main fabrics to be used for skiwear.   The garberdine suits came in a variety of colours, often with a reversible jacket – one side to match the ski pants, and one side to contrast with them.  Often the main body of these suits would be sombre in colour with brighter accents. [11]

This slimmer look was particularly true of ski pants, which tended to have zipped lower legs to allow for greater movement. During the 1930s these pants had begun to get slimmer with stirrups introduced to hold them on the feet, but by the 1950s these ski pants were greatly improved by the incorporation of elastic or lastex to aid movement for the skiers. One of the biggest revolutions was thanks to Munich based skiwear manufacturer Bogner, who in 1953 introduced stretchy ski pants with stirrups. [12] Technological developments in the post-war period also stretched to ski jackets, with natural fibres increasingly replaced by synthetics. Austrian skiwear producer Claus Obermeyer was one innovator creating a quilted parka with insulating layers and an outer shell made from nylon. [13]  Not only were these new parka jackets warmer, but it also enabled better movement for skiers as it meant they had to wear less layers.

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1950s knitting pattern for ski jumpers courtesy of Lauren Fraser 2ndlookvintage. Image © Lauren Fraser, 2014

By the late 1940s there were also new designers entering onto the skiwear design scene. Italian designer Emilio Pucci, who was famed for his printed garments from the 1940s onwards, began his design career in skiwear. Pucci had been a member of the 1934 Italian Olympic skiing team and in 1947  was photographed by Harpers Bazaar photographer Toni Frissel on the European ski slopes wearing a pair of ski pants of his own design. The magazine requested that Pucci create some winter clothes for women, which it published and were subsequently retailed through various New York stores including Lord and Taylor. This was to be the beginning of Emilio Pucci’s eponymous maison.[14]

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Bridget Stanford wearing her mother’s 1960s pink ski suit. The suit was neither warm, nor waterproof. Image © Bridget Stanford, 1980s. 

During the 1950s and 1960s skiwear continued to often be brightly coloured, ski outfits consisting generally of a brightly coloured quilted jacket and trousers. High fashion ski jackets for women were often accented with real or faux fur cuffs and collars.

Bridget Stanford wearing her mother’s 1960s pink ski suit. The suit was neither warm, nor waterproof.  Image © Bridget Stanford 1980s.

Bridget Stanford wearing her mother’s 1960s pink ski suit. The suit was neither warm, nor waterproof. Image © Bridget Stanford, 1980s.

By the 1970s skiwear was almost solely made from synthetics with increasing innovations in terms of both fabrics and finishes.  There also began to be a strong crossover in the clothes worn on the street to those worn for skiing. Quilted nylon ski jackets in brash colours and eccentric patterns and stirrup ski pants were worn on and off the slopes. [15]

Since the 1980s there have continued to be innovations in terms of the technology used to create skiwear. Skiwear today tends to be made from specialist materials such as Gor-tex which helps to draw sweat away from the skin and keep skiers warm, and thinsulate also used by skiers to stay warm. As technology has improved it has allowed skiwear to become much thinner, yet warmer.[16]

Thank you to Caroline Benn for providing the inspiration for this article, and to Bridget Stanford for kindly allowing me to use her wonderful photographs.

 

 


[1] John B. Allen. From skisport to skiing: one hundred years of an American sport, 1840-1940. Amherst: Univ Of Massachusetts Pr, 1996, p.157

[2] John B. Allen. From skisport to skiing, p.157

[3] By the late 1920s B. Altman offered a ‘smart ski costume’ by Patou. John B. Allen. From skisport to skiing, p.157

[4] John B. Allen. From skisport to skiing, p.156

[5] Mary Lynn Stewart. Dressing Modern Frenchwomen: Marketing Haute Couture, 1919-1939. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, p.177

[6]   Mary Lynn Stewart, Dressing modern Frenchwomen, p. 177

[7] The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through American History 1900 to the Present. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2008, p.218

[8] James Maynard, ‘ski clothing through the years’, Outdoors eagle, December 28th 2012 http://www.outdoorseagle.com/ski-clothing-through-the-years/# [Accessed 2nd February 2014]

[9] Anon, ‘A history of ski fashion’, Yodel magazine http://www.yodelmagazine.com/history-of-ski-fashion.html [Accessed 2nd February 2014]

[10] A tightly woven fabric traditionally made from worsted wool. James Maynard, ‘ski clothing through the years’

[11] Lizzie Bramlett, ‘A short history of ski clothing’, The vintage traveler, November 11th 2008, http://thevintagetraveler.wordpress.com/2008/11/17/a-short-history-of-ski-clothing/ [3rd February 2014]

[12] Lizzie Bramlett, ‘A short history of ski clothing’

[13] Lizzie Bramlett, ‘A short history of ski clothing’

[14] Anon, ‘Emilio Pucci’, Fashion model directory http://www.fashionmodeldirectory.com/designers/emilio-pucci/ [Accessed 3rd February 2014]

[15] Lizzie Bramlett, ‘A short history of ski clothing’

[16] James Maynard, ‘ski clothing through the years’

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Liz Tregenza – 

Liz is most likely to be found with her nose in a musty 1940s copy of British Vogue.  An avid fashion history specialist she is currently conducting research into the “Model House Group”. This interest in fashions of the past was nurtured whilst studying for a BA in fashion design at Leeds University.  Liz also collects vintage clothing and has appeared in a number of publications including Sunday Times Style and Homes & Antiques. She is currently writing her first book (due for release September 2014) whilst working as a museum assistant.

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© Liz Tregenza, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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