Today, it’s not unusual for a celebrity to launch a clothing line. Everyone from Michael Strahan to Rachael Ray has designed or approved apparel, including numerous high profile athletes.
They owe a debt of gratitude to pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart, who was one of the first major figures to dabble in fashion design.
Fashion at 40,000 feet
As the first woman to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic, Earhart has had a spectacular career as a pilot. But these results aren’t necessarily accompanied by financial benefits. For this, Earhart turned to what was then a new business venture: a branded fashion offering.
Earhart had received advice on the business from fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. While that has undoubtedly helped, his true inspiration may have come from first hand experience. As a young pilot, Earhart was dismayed to discover that the flight suits were designed specifically for men, which meant they didn’t fit his build. The need for sensible “active” clothing, regardless of gender, was apparently something that had stuck with her.
Earhart later teamed up with husband / manager George Charles Putnam to pursue the venture, reportedly working with a sewing machine and a single assistant to create a sportswear line that he dubbed Amelia Earhart Fashions. She also took on the task of modeling the clothes herself.
“I felt there was a real need for sporty things in the mid-price range,” he said The Boston Globe in 1934. “… I tried to make my clothes suitable for those who have little to spend and who want simple, beautiful and not extreme things”.
Amelia Earhart Fashions takes off
In 1933, shoppers at department stores like Macy’s and Marshall Field’s could choose from a variety of dresses, skirts, tops and more, all with Earhart’s signature on the label. Some were even made of parachute silk with buttons in the shape of propellers, a clear nod to Earhart’s true passion.
“I had a great time adapting a lot of airplane gadgets to my clothes,” he said.
What made the line even more unique for the time was that women could buy “separate”: rather than a full dress, they could mix and match clothing. It was a departure from the common feminine styles of the time and one that would become more widely accepted as time went on.
While Earhart anticipated an enduring trend, Amelia Earhart Fashions would not be leading the charge. During the Great Depression, disposable income was low. Although Earhart had a talking point in interviews that the price of clothing would not reach “new heights” – clothes sold for around $ 30, or just over $ 625 in dollars today – it was more than the market. could bear. The line didn’t last and Earhart focused on his flying skills.
In 1935, Earhart set more records, including becoming the first person to fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland, Los Angeles to Mexico City, and Mexico City to Newark. Famously, she essentially disappeared on July 2, 1937, just weeks after her 40th birthday, with theories about her fate ranging from crashing in the Pacific to being captured by Japanese forces.
It’s amazing how much Earhart has been able to accomplish in her short life. And while his aviation career gets the most attention, it’s clear he had his sights set on achieving so much more.
Curiously, the clothing line was missing the one piece of clothing Earhart was best known for: a leather bomber jacket.