Monday, December 21, 2009

Ski Fashion - 1949

If you watch the news, then you probably know that much of the Eastern Seaboard got buried under snow over the weekend. Here was the view out my back door yesterday morning. It was snowing at a fast clip of about 1" per hour with high winds and blizzard conditions.

It seems appropriate this morning to talk a bit about skiing, as I'm sure many folks who are on vacation this week will be heading to the hills. Skiing in America did not become a popular sport until after the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, when the American team performed dismally against foreign teams from Scandinavia.

In 1933, the country's first rope tow was installed at Woodstock, Vermont. Other ski areas quickly followed the T-Bars, J-Bars, and aerial trams. Before that, this was how you got up the mountain.

In 1933, Saks Fifth Avenue played a big role in garnering interest in the sport by installing an indoor ski slide and hiring European ski instructors to give lessons to beginners. Macy's followed suit the following year, and both stores promoted ski equipment, and more importantly, ski clothing.

Early manufacturers of ski fashion thought that, since one was out in the cold, heavy fleecy woolen fabrics would be the best to use. But snow tended to cake up and stick to the wool, and skiers weren't happy. Manufacturers paid attention and gradually turned to hard-finish water repellant fabrics like gabardine and poplin, with nylon coming into play in the late 1940s. Simple, functional styles were the result. Here are a few examples from 1949.

Left: Ernst Engel nylon jacket with a clever tunnel belt that attaches to the belt loops on the wool gabardine trousers. Each piece sold for $16.95 in 1949 (about $152 in today's dollar).
Right: Frederic J. Dormer jacket in Byrd Cloth (a heavy and dense cotton twill) with wool gabardine trousers. Jacket sold for $25.00 and trousers for $16.95 in 1949 (about $224 and $152 in today's dollar).

White Stag brushed wool coat for cross country skiing. Sold for $22.50 in 1949 (about $202 in today's dollar).

Bloomingdale's offered this beige poplin jacket with attached surplice wrapped vest from Switzerland. Sold for $35.00 in 1949 (about $314 in today's dollar).