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Museum Chatter: Vintage Ski Wear Fashion Show

By Lloyd Musser

Museum Chatter: Vintage Ski Wear Fashion Show

The March Social History Happy Hour will be a vintage skiwear fashion show instead of the usual history lecture. Museum members Aric Wood and Erin Graham will model fashions from their collection of vintage skiwear from conservative 1930s through the raucous colorful 1980s. Join us for this special ski-focused event starting at 5:00 PM, Saturday, March 16th. Beer, wine and sodas will be available. $5.00 donation requested.

March is the time of the year when the snow sports industry turns their attention to the clothing and equipment of the sport. Trade shows are held this month in many large cities. This is when your local ski shops order the fashions and equipment they will offer next fall. It’s also the time when ski shops begin having end-of-season closeout sales on gear and clothing. March also marks the beginning of spring skiing – it’s the time to cast off the heavy parkas and storm pants, break out the colorful ski sweaters and lightweight windbreakers, and grab the sunscreen.

The Museum is celebrating spring skiing with a vintage ski sweater exhibit. The Museum’s collection of skiwear includes several dozen ski sweaters, including various ski-school uniform and ski-club sweaters. We have examples of vintage ski sweaters with classic designs by the Portland companies White Stag and Jantzen. The collection includes several one-of-a-kind unique hand-knitted sweaters; many items in the collection are of very fine quality and show little wear as they were only worn for skiing. A few sweaters in the collection fit the novelty category, including a bright red sweater with the Portland beer brand “Blitz” in large white letters. Blitz beer was popular locally in the 1950s-70s and the Company was a sponsor of ski events. Our vintage ski sweater exhibit, featuring the best of our collection, will be on display during the summer ski season at Timberline Lodge.

The Museum’s skiing and snowboarding clothing collection is primarily a reflection of local fashion trends, as everything in the collection was donated by local individuals. Clothing specifically designed for the sport did not appear on Mount Hood until 1939, when the National Olympic Trials were held at Timberline and Ski Bowl. Local skiing and ski jumping showed up in 1926 in Government Camp, the year ODOT started plowing the highway and the Summit Ski Area opened. Oregon skiers at that time skied in whatever clothing they had available: the home movies of the Oregon City Ski Club outing to Government Camp in 1927 shows skiers wearing everything from fur coats to wool dress suits complete with neckties, with some folks wearing the clothes they would wear every day on the farm.

The earliest sport-specific ski wear in the Museum collection are two-piece suits made by White Stag and Jantzen Woolen Mills of Portland in 1940. These ski suits are made of gaberdine in conservative colors like black, gray, and dark green. When skiing resumed after World War II, the economy was such that skiers turned to US Army surplus. The US Army 10th Mountain Division had developed good ski equipment and clothing during the war. After the war, you could buy skis, poles, boots, pants, and an anorak (hooded long pullover jacket) for about $30.00. Everything was either white or olive drab in color, but the price was good.
Several Mount Hood skiers wore the surplus US Army ski clothing well into the 1960s and 1970s.

The figure-fitting stretch ski pants and bright colors changed skiwear fashion forever in 1960. New synthetic materials made it possible to manufacture lightweight, warm, and colorful skiwear. The typical Mount Hood skier in the 1960s would be wearing black stretch pants, a turtleneck shirt with a wool sweater, and a bright blue, red or pastel parka. All rules about color combinations were broken in the 1980s when parkas, pants, and one-piece ski suits suddenly became all the rage. The popularity of snowboarding in the 1990s would create entirely new styles and colors for snow-sport clothing. The only thing certain about the future of the industry is that the design and colors of the clothing will change, and the Museum’s collection will continue to evolve.

Lloyd Musser is the volunteer curator at the Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum. The Museum is located at 88900 E. US 26, Government Camp, Oregon. Open every day 9-5. ph. 503-272-3301.

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