Amelia Earhart's Clothing Line You've Probably Never Heard Of

Amelia Earhart is one of the most famous pilots of all time, the first woman to fly a plane across the Atlantic Ocean. Born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, she became interested in aviation after graduating from high school and volunteering as a nurse's aid with the Red Cross in Toronto, Canada, per Biography. She met several wounded World War I soldiers, including several pilots, and spent a lot of time watching the Royal Flying Corps practicing in a local air field. In 1920, she rode in a plane at an air show in Long Beach, California, and by the time the plane landed, Earhart was determined to learn how to fly herself. She worked a variety of jobs and saved her money to take flying lessons with Anita "Neta" Snook. She cropped her hair in the style of other female aviators and slept in what would become her trademark leather flying jacket to make it look less new and more broken-in. 

In 1921, Earhart bought a bright yellow, second-hand Kinner Airster biplane that she nicknamed "The Canary." A year later, she flew it to 14,000 feet and set a world altitude record for female pilots. In 1923, she became the 16th woman to receive a pilot's license from The Federation Aeronautique. Family money problems forced her to sell her first plane, but by 1927 she was a member of the Boston, Massachusetts chapter of the American Aeronautical Society and began writing newspaper articles about flying, becoming a local celebrity in the process.

Amelia Earhart designed clothes to make money

In 1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to take a transatlantic flight as a passenger; she wasn't able to do any of the piloting due to weather, per Biography, but said after the fact, "maybe someday I'll try it alone." The flight made her a celebrity and she was given the nickname "Lady Lindy" by the press, a take-off on pilot Charles Lindbergh's nickname "Lucky Lindy." On May 20, 1932, she followed through on her earlier proclamation and became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, making a 15-hour flight from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland to Culmore, Northern Ireland. The voyage made her an international idol and she won many awards and honors.

One of the lesser known outcomes of Amelia Earhart's celebrity was the development and production of a line of women's clothing. As reported by History, Earhart and her husband and manager, George Charles Putnam, were low on money after the famous flight, and as she had in the past, Earhart was ready to diversify in order to bring in much-needed funds. After a conversation with designer Elsa Schiaparelli regarding the need for clothes for women meant for "active living," Earhart began manufacturing a line of clothing in a suite at the Hotel Seymour in New York City with just one sewing machine, one mannequin, and the help of one seamstress. The line premiered in 1933 at R.H. Macy's and Co. with 25 outfits, including dresses, skirts, pants, and outerwear, that went on to be sold in 30 other United States department stores.

Earhart's fashion line revolutionized wearing separates

Per History, Amelia Earhart noticed the fashion influence of actresses Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn, who wore more sensible, functional clothes that allowed women the freedom to be active. She also marketed separates, which were a relatively new idea at the time, that offered an alternative to dresses and the opportunity to mix and match tops and bottoms. She also made women's shirts with longer shirttails than had been available in the past, noting, "I made up my mind that if the wearers of the shirts I designed for any reason took time out to stand on their heads, there would still be enough shirt to still stay tucked in!" 

Earhart seemingly considered personal branding, using parachute silk and material from airplane wings and including buttons shaped like airplane propellers. Unfortunately, the Great Depression meant that people had less money available for fashion and the clothing line was a complete flop, disappearing from stores just a few months after its premiere.

Earhart's legacy as a celebrity designer

In 2009, the Huffington Post called Earhart the first celebrity designer. It's a common modern practice for celebrities to license their name to clothing lines, and some of them participate in the actual designing of said clothes. In 1930s America, clothing labels primarily contained the names of manufacturers, while celebrity designers were common in Europe, where names like Chanel, Lanvin, and even Earhart's consultant Schiaparelli were household names. Despite the clothing line's lack of success, Earhart was a trend setter when it came to creating and marketing activewear for women, offering separates that allowed consumers a freedom dresses didn't allow, and introducing the United States to the idea of fashion designer as celebrity as well as celebrity as fashion designer.

Amelia Earhart went missing on July 2, 1937 during her attempt to be the first person to circumnavigate the earth around the equator, as reported by Biography. She was declared legally dead in 1939. Human bones that were discovered on Nikumaroro Island in 1940 were analyzed by anthropologist Richard Jantz in 2018. He declared, "This analysis reveals that Earhart is more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99% of individuals in a large reference sample."