Hiking Through History, Part III: Woods Clothing for Women

July 05, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Walk O The Range, 1917. Courtesy of the Appalachian Mountain Club Library & Archives.Walk O The Range, 1917.My muses for hiking like it's 1915. From the 'Walk O The Range, 1917' album. Courtesy of the Appalachian Mountain Club Library & Archives. “The question of clothes is given first place, not because of woman’s natural love for them, but because of their important bearing on her comfort and efficiency while in the woods.”

So begins the second chapter of Kathrene G. Pinkerton’s Woodcraft for Women, published by the Outing Publishing Company in 1916. Though we might today pooh-pooh the sentiment about a natural female love of style, it is hard to argue that sportswear manufacturers don’t feed off of this persistent stereotype when designing their brightly colored, ‘rugged yet flattering’ attire for women. I personally wouldn’t mind if a little less focus was put on color and cut in outdoor clothing for women. Then again, I can’t say I hate it when a new piece of outerwear also happens to look good on me.

For my upcoming hike in circa-1915 period costume, I’ll be foregoing the decision about neon green versus electric blue anyway, as my palette for garb will consist primarily of grey. Brown may also come into play, with perhaps a splash of white and/or beige. But where, had I been shopping in 1915, would my somber-hued garb come from? Pinkerton points out that sportsmens’ clothiers where you could buy an outfit made for the rigors of hunting were plentiful in many cities. Not much was made and sold for this type of woods travel for women. Instead, I would have needed to be inventive in seeking manufactures, in catalogs like the Annual Cloak and Suit Review, where goods were advertised based on their durability on the road, golf course, and horseback trip.

Pinkerton describes the essentials for a successful camping trip starting with shirts. She suggests a men's collared shirt or a middy (the classic “sailor suit” style blouse with a wide collar cut square at the back). A wool jacket with lots of pockets and a roomy cut around the armholes is recommended. For me, the jacket pocket should accommodate a sketchbook for my mountain art-making. She is also very fond of a good mackinaw coat for places where one is likely to get rained on, paired with a broad-brimmed hat. Below are knickerbockers. Riding trousers are acceptable as well since they hit below the knee and are not baggy the way knickers could be. Wool stockings would be pulled up to meet the bottom of the pant to ward off mosquitoes. A skirt completes the basic outfit and the author leaves it up to her readers whether or not  it is “intended for wear only when convention demands a skirt.” However, it was extremely important that the fabric of this piece of gear was smooth and densely woven. Snagged clothing, be is skirt, pants or a frivolously poofy sleeve are woman’s mortal enemies.

Strangely, the challenge of finding the right items for me has been the same as the author’s despite the hundred-year gap between us. In her day manufacturers were not making exactly what she wanted. They aren’t making it for me either. Today’s sportswear for women has come a long, long way from knickers. My hunt has led me to thrift stores, army surplus shops, costume-makers, and many random corners of the web. Part of the thrill of this project has been the challenge of outfitting myself. Perhaps it was the same for some of these pioneers making themselves able to travel in the wilderness as easily as their male counterparts. Fortunately there were a few who set their experiences and advice in print for those who might follow, no matter how many decades later.

Read Part IV of this adventure!

Read the previous entry, Part II.

My hikes in the White Mountains have led to many paintings in the last few years. You can see the results of that side of my trips in the Hinterlands gallery of my website. Some of the original paintings are available through my online shop. You can follow along on my next adventures via Facebook and Instagram. Happy Trails!


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