Fifty years of skiing fashion, 1913-1963
My favorite looks from the golden age of American sportswear
Up front I’m going to tell you that I don’t ski. I barely like going outside in the cold, snowy winter, unless it’s a weekend trip to Big Bear or Mammoth where I can do some light snowshoeing and return to mulled wine at Tamarack Lodge. But I do love winter clothes, and because it’s January and it’s cold, I thought it would be fun to ease back into writing by looking at ski fashions from a completely arbitrary date range: 1913 to 1963. We’re going to start with Abercrombie & Fitch and end with Pucci, traveling from pants through skirts and back to pants again.
In the teens (and really into the 1930s) skiing was almost exclusively a European sport. You had to be rich enough to travel to the Alps and afford an instructor, and as with anything that rich white people enjoy, the fashion—and being seen in it—became as important as the equipment or skill. Early on though, the sportswoman was seen in form-fitting trousers and clothes befitting the weather: “The skiing costume,” wrote Vogue in 1913, “proves once again that fashion, like convention, is purely a matter of climate.” In other words, I think, it’s smartest to dress well for the activity and the weather.
For decades though, the fashion powers that be tried to make skiing skirts a thing. Even as it acknowledged the utility of this smart outfit, they tried to claim on the next page that the correct costume for skiing was a skirt, buttoned to the knee, worn over dark riding tights. They did not provide any real-life photographic evidence of this; in fact, the trend throughout all of this is that the people actually photographed skiing bear little resemblance in terms of dress to the illustrations and styled editorial photographs of what skiers should wear.
Again, note the difference between the fun illustration and the actual skiers.
Begin the next era of ski fashion! We start to see more haute couture ski wear in illustration and editorial, and fewer shots of people actually skiing.
The best ski outfits were Norwegian or from Paris couturiers.
In 1932, the United States hosted the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York, and many of the facilities had to be built from scratch. Skiing in America was becoming popular already, but the Olympics that year really helped propel the sport to the industry it would become in the next few decades, with ski resorts popping up all over the US and Canada.
I love this era for creative ski fashion, as now we’re getting into American designers’ influence, fusing practicality + fashion:
What do you do with your jacket when you get hot? You wear it like a backpack. Tying it around your waist is so 1913.
Around this time, by preferred genre of ski fashion is really taking hold: the après-ski look.
If you’ve followed me on IG for a while, you may know that 1946 is my favorite year for fashion, and ski fashion does not disappoint. The looks are futuristic, almost severe, with new angles and motifs that balance military and avant garde.
At this point and onward with the New Look influence, waists become even more defined. Fabrics become even more feminine. Animal prints make appearances.
In the 1950s, a new thing happens to skiing: young people and people who aren’t St. Moritz-wealthy start enjoying the sport. They’re still predominantly white, because skiing is still so closely associated with aspirational European culture and it is still expensive and exclusionary, but it slowly stops being the sole domain of older rich white people. We start seeing more skiing fashions in Seventeen magazine and fewer in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar:
And then it explodes with color and style.
As promised, we’re ending with Pucci - for White Stag, which we’ll take a deeper look at next time.
Mulled wine, anyone?