Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Amelia Earhart's clothing line?

Growing up, I was an avid reader of biographies, and especially biographies of famous women in history. Even at the tender age of 7, it seems my life's passion was already settled. So when I saw a link to this tweet in my RSS feed last week, it caught my eye. I was certain I already knew most of the interesting facts about Amelia Earhart, and yet here was something I'd never heard of, much less dreamed of, about one of my favorite people.

Whoa. Wait a minute. What?

Obviously I had to do a bit of my own research on this new-to-me revelation. As it turns out, she launched the line in late 1933 as a way to bank on her personal publicity and fund her adventures.
Earhart demonstrated an entrepreneurial streak throughout her life, in part because she recognized that financial resources were necessary to maintain her flying career. Capitalizing on her popularity, Earhart began designing sportswear and lightweight luggage for women in the early 1930s. This product line was aimed at active women and featured shirts made of parachute silk.
(source: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery)
Amelia Earhart launched her clothing line, Amelia Earhart Fashions, in late 1933.  The clothing debuted at R.H. Macy & Co. in New York.  Among the 30 department stores that carried the clothing line in special Amelia Earhart boutique shops were Strawbridge & Clothier of Philadelphia, Marshall Field in Chicago, and The Emporium in San Francisco.  It included 25 outfits that were tailored to look good and wear well, to be sold at medium prices.  The brand’s label, sewn into each garment, featured Earhart’s signature in black with a thin red line streaking through it as it trailed behind a soaring red plane.
(source: The Henry Ford)
Maybe she intended to use this line to encourage women to pursue their own adventures, or to at least add a bit of fun and excitement to their wardrobes. This ad showing the use of Lastex to give her wool garments more freedom of movement make me think it was more the former than the latter.
Amelia's eponymous fashion line wasn’t just a way for her to license her famous name to other manufacturers; she was actively involved in the designing, pattern making and sample making of each of her pieces. Employing practical fabrics, she was the first designer to market "separates" so a woman did not have to buy an entire suit in one size. She noted that her special touches always included "something characteristic of aviation, a parachute cord or tie or belt, a ball bearing belt buckle, or wing bolts and nuts for buttons."
(source: Phoenix Project)
Sadly, it was not to be. The timing wasn't great, and eventually the project failed. The world was still in the grips of the Great Depression, and doing double duty as a world-famous aviatrix and a fashion maven was taking its toll on her. It's a shame she wasn't able to get her fashion line off the ground (pun intended). I would love to see what she would have been able to do over the next few years.
Though her clothing line had gone into a tailspin, in December 1934 the Fashion Designers of America named Amelia Earhart one of the ten best-dressed women in America. Amelia’s fashion sense, then, gained acclaim--even if her fashions did not. And the clothing? Little of it appears to have survived—just like the clues to her disappearance in the skies so long ago.
(source: The Henry Ford)
Amelia Earhart garment label. (source: The Henry Ford)

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