women wearing unisex clothing in the1940s
From the archives rugged ladies Shopping From the Past

Heritage Clothing Collections for Women?

From the Montgomery Ward 1949-1950 catalog
Aside from a few collections and reports to the contrary, the heritage clothing revival has yet to make its way to the female consumer.

Sometimes I think I’m the only woman admiring all the beautiful vintage inspired sportswear featured on blogs like A Continuous Lean and h(y) r collective, etc.

Given my austerity program, however, it’s for the best that I distract myself by watching the items Reference Library didn’t win on ebay.

Last Spring 2008, Filson launched their collection for women (a nice effort save for the cotton and “peach poplin” blend fabrics). Barbour, Carhartt, Beretta and John Partridge all now market outdoor (albeit, activity specific) clothing to women. But beyond this short list (plus a few others, of course), most heritage brands assume an all male audience for their products. Red Wing, a company known for offering shoes and boots in a wide range of sizes, starts sizing for their “Lifestyle Heritage Range” range at 7. Although Red Wing sells smaller sizes to the Japanese market, no plans have been made to bring them to the US (I have the email exchange to support this claim).

Cycling brands like Rapha, Swobo and the Showers Pass, all known for non-mainstream design, reserve their new vintage/”old school” outerwear collections for men only. For examples, see Rapha’s tweed softshell or Showerspass Portland jacket. On the Swobo site, the pulldown menu for men offers wool and waxed cotton jackets. Women may purchase traditional cycling jerseys and uninspired, cotton shorts.

Is there truly no demand from women for items on the other side of the pull down menu? Does market research say women really prefer light blue and salmon to navy, grey, shadow plaid and forest green? Perhaps so.

All I’m asking for is modern access to the teenage sportswear department of 1949 Montgomery Ward cataog. Those three pages contain everything I need, if ordered in multiples, to get me through to my first retirement check: pinwale corduroy and gabardine shirts, glen plaid slacks, denim dungaries, new wool turtleneck pullovers, a nice pea coat and/or a donegal wool “abbreviated storm jacket.” Loafers and jophur boots, as you might have noted, appear to be the default footwear styles.

You’ll note that these items do not default to the easy “feminizing” of overt/excessive pleating princess seams, hourglass paneling and the terrible color selection of many modern heritage lines resized/restyled for women (see dress shirt offerings from Filson and Barbour for examples of this offense).

[insert Mad Men here]

What I don’t understand is why the heritage brands doesn’t parallel the climbing/outdoor/backpacking clothing industry. If you ignore some of the more loathsome color offerings for women, you can buy a nearly indentically styled fleece jacket or gore-tex jackets from LL Bean, Patagonia or REI. In fact, the women’s fleece Retro-x vest I purchased from Patagonia–in a nice mushrooom brown–looks better than the version sold for gents.

Given how trends shake out, reverberation style, I anticipate some nods to the heritage movement in the mainstream Gap and Jcrew collections for women in the next year. Any speculation how they might play out on a literal level? At minimum, these companies’ price points might be closer to an appropriate sum for this type of everyday clothing. What I anticipate is the trace, trendspotting appearance of heritage styling in high fashion like alpine climbing boots with red laces on runway models.

Ginger Rogers and friends in 1937 (from Ginger Roger: My Story)

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