If the Slopes Could Talk: Ski Clothes Through the Decades
We’ve all done it.


Looked at old photo albums, scrapbooks, or even last year’s Instagram photos and wondered what the heck we were thinking. And no, we’re not talking about doing something crazy that would get us fired if the image somehow made it to our boss’ inbox. We’re talking about the ridiculous fashion statements that we made over the years (we’re looking at you, parachute pants and crimping irons).

Is there a better place to make a fashion statement than the ski slopes? We confess that there were times, quite possibly in the 1980s, when we thought that we looked fresh. Or dope. Or fly. Or rad. Or whatever they said back in the day. But whether we want to admit it or not, we might have looked ridiculous.

So are you ready to take a look at the crazy ski clothes through the decades?

The Early Days
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Before we talk ski fashion, let’s start with some history.

For centuries, skiing was merely a method of transportation. It wasn’t until 1924, the year of the first winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, that skiing really took off. Suddenly it was more than just functional. It was an actual sport. And during that same decade women ditched their heavy skirts on the slopes in favor of trousers.
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When the Great Depression hit, skiing’s popularity only grew stronger. In 1931, the Alpine Ski Club started what it called the “World Championships in Downhill and Slalom Racing.” Unfortunately the technology wasn’t up to the task just yet. At the time, skis weren’t developed for enough for quick turns, so “racing” looked a lot more like “falling.”

Still, the skiing community trudged on, despite the fact that people needed to climb up the mountain before they were able to enjoy the ride back down. But the invention of the ski lift changed everything. The rope tow started appearing on slopes across the world, and the first chair lift was invented in 1936. Once skiing became more accessible, new skiers joined in every season. Soon the concept of being “aerodynamic” entered the discussion, and the ski outfits slimmed down to meet the new need for speed.
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Or at least they tried to. Because, you know, sweater vests are totally aerodynamic.

The growing popularity of the sport meant skiers began to explore what the ski outfit could look like beyond merely being functional. The hot outfit of the era was a top and pants in contrasting colors, complete with newly-invented latex cuffs on the wrists and ankles to keep the snow out.

Then the war hit. Skiing proved to be handy when fighting in snowy countries like Finland and the Soviet Union (and was an especially important part of the 1939-1940 Winter War). At the same time, ski clothes started to become more streamlined due to fabric shortages. The usual ski fabric was wool gabardine, and suits were often designed to be reversible so skiers could mix it up a bit.

Not long after the war ended, nylon became the go-to fabric for ski clothes, which meant that wool wasn’t the only option for outerwear anymore. And yes, cold sheep everywhere rejoiced.

file_thumb-4No Longer a Fringe Hobby

Nylon heavily influenced the look of skiwear in the ‘50s. No longer was it all business all the time; stretchy nylon pants hugged the hips more naturally than wool, and looked great with a bright top.

Throughout this decade, skiers started to explore new colors and patterns (and hats, apparently).

But designers didn’t stop with nylon, as they started to experiment with polyester. Spandex entered the picture in 1959, which ended up as the aerodynamic solution skiers had been waiting for since the ‘30s.

With the chair lift and a host of new fabrics to make skiing more comfortable, ski resorts really blossomed. A holiday in the mountains became the hot thing for wealthy families, and resorts poured money into spreading the new love for ski getaways. Resorts developed into true vacation destinations, and the businesses were excited to share their new facilities with the growing ski community. For example, check out this video promoting the Edelweiss Ski Resort. It’s definitely not your standard 30-second TV spot.

 

The ‘60s were a kind of golden age for ski fashion. As the popular activity for the rich and famous, it became a way to show off the latest styles. The focus was on elegance, luxurious fabrics, and slim silhouettes.
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Fun fact: The first-ever snowboard was invented around this time. Well, kind of anyway. It was called the “Snurfer.” You know, as in “snow surfer.” And yes, you can still find them today.

Skiing Takes to the Streets

In the ‘70s we were introduced to the fleece midlayer, which you’ve probably worn on a ski trip or two. Once that happened, it wasn’t long before skiwear started to blend in with street wear. Is that person walking by on his way to the lodge or going on a date downtown? Who knows?
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It was also the decade where we made our big debut. In 1976, Gore received the first commercial order for GORE-TEX fabric. It was the first breathable, waterproof, windproof material on the market. The new technology made layering and staying warm easy, and jackets made with the fabric became the staple both on and off the mountains.

Unfortunately, two years later we had to recall millions of dollars worth of products when the seams didn’t hold up. It was a disaster, but we knew that we were on to something, so we went back to the drawing board and developed taped seams. Then we developed waterproof zippers and made quite a few other improvements to ensure that GORE-TEX products ended up as the reliable skiwear you know and love today.

The ‘70s were also about pushing the boundaries of what skiing could be. Freestyle flourished, driving the language and culture surrounding skiing to become as free-spirited as the new discipline. Skis evolved to meet the demands of half-pipes and moguls, and fashion was poised to grow as extreme as the new terrain.

Then came the ‘80s, and a few of our fashion regrets.
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file_thumb-8It was the decade of excess, where everything was bigger and brighter. Colors. Shoulder pads. Hair. You name it!

Like all fashion in the ‘80s, ski gear was all about big expression, and it started with blindingly bright colors. Ski fashion also blended with pop culture, which was highlighted when the magazine SKI featured a supermodel on its cover instead of an athlete.

Come the ‘90s, the peacocking died down a bit. It was also the time when snowboarding and its young, rebellious culture found it’s way to the big resorts.

And Here We Are Today

Fast forward to today and the sport has developed its own culture, clothes, and lifestyle. You have the pros. The carvaholics. The freeriders. The ski town kids. And athletes from every group continually push the limits of what the human body should be able to do on a pair of skis.

We’ve even seen mogul skiing, freestyle skiing, and women’s ski jumping find their way into the Olympics. And engineers develop new hardware to help make the sport even more exciting. We’re also trying to do our part to innovate and keep skiers warm and dry.

So now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite ski fashion from decades past? And maybe more importantly, what do you hope to see on the mountains again? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
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