How Amelia Earhart Financed Flying With Fashion

Photo: Courtesy of The Henry Ford.
Amelia Earhart's incredible feats in the amateur stages of American aviation are likely the first things about the early 20th century icon that come to mind. And for good reason: She set a 14,000-foot world altitude record for female pilots, became the 16th woman in the world to be issued a pilot's license, and, most notably, was the first woman to fly (as a passenger) across the Atlantic ocean in 1928.

But in honor of Amelia Earhart Day (yes, that's today) and her historical display of female badassery, we're spotlighting one of her less notable wins. According to The Henry Ford Museum's blog, Earhart financed her passion for flying with fashion.

It all started when Amelia and her publisher husband, George Putnam, hosted fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli for dinner in 1933. The two chatted about functional fashion for "active living" — very fittingly, as Earhart had already designed a flying suit for female aviators. Soon afterward, Amelia Earhart Fashions was born. Earhart and her husband made the clothes in their suite at the Seymour Hotel in New York. The 25-piece collection, stamped with Earhart's signature on the tag, debuted at Macy's before making its way to about 30 other department stores and boutiques.
Photo: Courtesy of The Henry Ford.
Advertisement
While the couple produced the line from the comfort of their very own quarters, Earhart accepted interviews with the press (encouraged by Putnam), where she told reporters her aim was to create "beautiful, affordable clothing for women at prices that didn't reach 'new altitudes,'" and designs that were "characteristic of aviation, a parachute cord or tie or belt, a ball-bearing belt buckle, wing bolts and nuts for buttons." Sounds chic, doesn't it?

Though inspired by Earhart's idea of "matching separates," where a woman could buy different pieces in different sizes to match her figure, the garments were not uniquely her designs. They were mostly inspired by the modern sportswear everyone was already wearing — thanks in part to Vogue — just with Amelia's activewear vision. The assortment included versatile pieces like a tweed coat with a washable zip-in lining, trench coats, raincoats in silk with propeller-inspired buttons, and blouses that featured longer shirttails so they wouldn't come untucked. Items ranged from $30 to $55, and those who couldn't afford those prices could still try her designs by using sewing patterns in Woman's Home Companion magazine. We've got to get our hands on those cutouts.
Photo: Courtesy of The Henry Ford.
Sadly enough, the line didn't catch on, and it soon became obsolete. The blog cites the Great Depression and Earhart's aviator duties taking priority as probable causes for the brand's demise. But that didn't deter the industry from recognizing her position in fashion. The pilot was named one of the 10 best-dressed women in America by the Fashion Designers of America in 1934. And though most of the clothes seem to have disappeared, at least one blouse remains.

The blouse, belonging to Willa Wright Nicodemus, a brokerage firm office clerk, flaunts some of Earhart's aforementioned signature design aesthetics. More of her designs pictured below show just how effortless the aviatrix's style was. We can't help but wonder if we'll stumble across one of the long-lost Amelia Earhart Fashion creations the next time we find ourselves elbow-deep in a thrift store rack. Guess it's time to start digging.
Photo: Courtesy of The Henry Ford.
More images from the online exhibit can be found here.
Advertisement