Sky Fashion: Amelia Earhart's Clothing Line
By Jake Rossen
Today it’s not unusual for a celebrity to launch a clothing line. Everyone from Michael Strahan to Rachael Ray has designed or endorsed apparel, including a number of high-profile athletes.
They owe some debt of gratitude to pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart, who was one of the first notable figures to dabble in fashion design.
Fashion at 40,000 feet
As the first woman to fly both solo and nonstop across the Atlantic, Earhart had a spectacular career as a pilot. But those achievements didn’t necessarily come with financial benefits. For that, Earhart turned to what was then a novel business venture—a branded fashion offering.
Earhart had gotten advice on the business from fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. While that undoubtedly helped, her true inspiration may have come from first-hand experience. As a young pilot, Earhart was dismayed to find that flight suits were designed specifically for men, which meant they didn't fit her frame. A need for sensible “active” clothing no matter one’s sex was something that apparently stuck with her.
Earhart later partnered with husband/manager George Charles Putnam to pursue the venture, reportedly working with a sewing machine and a single assistant to craft a line of activewear she dubbed Amelia Earhart Fashions. She even took up the task of modeling the clothes herself.
"I felt there was a real need for sport things in the medium price range," she told The Boston Globe in 1934. "... I've tried to make my clothes suited to those who have only a limited amount to spend, and who want simple, good-looking things that are not extreme."
Amelia Earhart Fashions takes off
In 1933, shoppers at department stores like Macy's and Marshall Field’s could choose between a variety of dresses, skirts, tops, and more, all of them carrying Earhart’s signature on the tag. Some were even made of parachute silk with buttons shaped like propellers, a clear nod to Earhart’s true passion.
"I've had a grand time adapting a lot of airplane gadgets to my clothes," she said.
What made the line even more unique for the era was that women could purchase “separates”: Rather than a complete dress, they could mix and match apparel. It was a departure from common women’s styles of the era and one that would only grow more widely accepted as time went on.
While Earhart anticipated an enduring trend, Amelia Earhart Fashions wouldn’t be leading the charge. Amidst the Great Depression, disposable income was scarce. Though Earhart had a talking point in interviews that the price of the clothing wouldn’t reach "new altitudes"—dresses sold for around $30, or just over $625 in today’s dollars—it was more than the market could bear. The line didn’t last, and Earhart focused on her 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 vanished on July 2, 1937, just a few weeks shy of her fortieth birthday, with theories on her fate ranging from crashing into the Pacific to being captured by Japanese forces.
It’s amazing how much Earhart was able to accomplish in her short life. And while her aviation career gets most of the attention, it’s clear she had her sights set on achieving a lot more.
Curiously, the clothing line lacked the one piece of apparel Earhart was best known for: A leather bomber jacket.