After World War II, there were fewer than 50,000 skiers in the United States. By the end of the 1960s, that number had grown to more than 4 million. Many factors influenced that growth: better skis, safer bindings, improved ski lifts, a baby boom and a thriving economy, for example.
But what do Warren Miller or ski historian Seth Masia say made the biggest difference? They have both gone on the record with the answer: stretch pants. Simply put: stretch pants made skiing sexy. In 1951, Maria Bogner began experimenting with the new stretch material trying to produce pants that fit properly. A year later, the Bogner catalog included the new stretch pants modeled by such ski personalities as Stein Eriksen. By 1955, the pants were available in 42 colors and a wide range of sizes.
A Ski Fashion Collection
Sandra Heath of Stowe was a model for Bogner during the 1950s and ’60s and travelled around the world appearing in fashion shows and ski movies. She went on to collect the best of that period’s skiwear and later produced fashion shows called “Vintage Visions.” Sandra Heath’s collection forms the nucleus for the current “Slope Style: Fashion on Snow” exhibit, showing at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum in Stowe through October. The exhibit highlights the role Vermont and Vermonters have played in ski and snowboard fashions from 1930 to the present. One of the first skiwear manufacturers in the United States was B.F. Moore & Co. in Newport, Vt. Founded in 1830, the company built a reputation for producing durable work and outdoor clothing. It started the Slalom Ski Wear brand in 1931, providing function and fashion at a moderate price.In 1972, Bogner chose Newport to start its United States subsidiary, Bogner of America, probably because of B.F. Moore’s skilled workforce there. The facility closed in 2005, but Bogner of America is still headquartered in Vermont.
Nosedive Annie, Vermont’s first fashionista
“Slope Style” also tells the story of Ann Cooke, “Nose Dive Annie.” Born Ann Bonfoey in 1910, Ann did not have a typical childhood for women of the era. Her father was a pilot and made sure Ann learned how to fly by age 12. Ann was athletically talented, excelling at any sport she tried. Her tennis ability got her all the way to Wimbledon. In 1928, she married James Cooke and by the mid-1930s they had moved to Burlington, Vermont. Ann quickly got hooked on skiing before there were lifts and when you had to earn your turns. During the winter she would make daily trips to Stowe where she would skin up and ski down. She had a particular fascination with the Nose Dive trail. Her rapid ascents and descents drew the attention of the regulars on the mountain. It was none other than Stowe’s Roland Palmedo who gave Ann Cooke the nickname “Nose Dive Annie.” Palmedo went on to found the Mount Mansfield Lift Co., which would build the first chairlift on Mount Mansfield. The first official rider on the original single chair in December 1940 was Ann Cooke.
By the time World War II started, Ann was a divorced, single mother. She had been designing and making her own ski clothes so she began to make skiwear for sale. Harper’s Bazaar magazine featured her designs in a cover story and suddenly Ann Cooke Ski Clothesof Stowe was a success. Ann could not keep up with the demand on her own so she negotiated with New York retail giant Lord & Taylor to take over production and distribution of her designs. Ann also helped support herself and her family during the war by using her flying skills to train war pilots. In 1947, Ann married Vernon Taylor, Jr. and gave up her ski clothing business to be a wife and mother. She would stay involved in fashion, though, modelling for some of the world’s most famous designers. In 1967, Harper’s Bazaar selected her as one of the “One Hundred Great Beauties of the World.”
Speed racer CB Vaughn creates “The Lacoste” of skiwear
Not all Vermonters saw skiwear in the high fashion sense of Bogner and Ann Cooke. Enter Charles Bird Vaughan, better known as C. B. Vaughan. Vaughan grew up in Manchester, Vt., where his parents ran an inn. He loved to ski and he loved to ski fast. After racing for Vermont Academy, C.B. earned a scholarship to St. Lawrence University where he would become captain of the ski team and a member of the United States Ski Team. While skiing collegiately, C.B. would meet another college ski racer who liked to go fast, Dick Dorworth. Together they trained for the 1963 world speed skiing competition held in Portillo, Chile. Both men would set a new record of 106.5 miles-per-hour.
By 1969, C.B.’s racing career was on the wane, but he wanted to stay in the ski business. He saw an opportunity in skiwear. In his own words: “Skiing was very chi-chi, and chic was not appealing to me. I was interested in bringing hard-core, traditional, classic, functional skiwear into the marketplace. I couldn’t accept that just because I was a kid from Vermont, I couldn’t do it.’’ Vaughan’s first product was the “Super Pant,” which was an insulated warm-up that zipped on over stretch pants. Racers loved them and the general skier population followed suit. Vaughan and his then-wife Roxanne designed the pants and drove around Vermont selling them out of their car.
Later, came an entire line, including his classic high-collared jackets. Initially Vaughan had other companies make the clothes, but when they began to steal his ideas, Vaughan decided to manufacture the clothing himself. The first CB Sports plant was located in an old mill in Bennington and at its peak CB Sports had four plants in Vermont and New York and employed about 500 people. In 1982, People magazine wrote: “The CB logo has become the lift-line equivalent of the Lacoste alligator.” Manchester became a hotbed for skiwear entrepreneurs and provided a wonderful convergence of creativitiy.
Jake Burton Carpenter & The Manchester Gang
In 1979, Manchester Center’s Tom and Anne Smith founded Overdrive Sportswear Ltd. In 1980, local Poppy Gall started a knit sweater and hat company called Mountain Ladies and Ewe, which popularized ear flaps on knit hats.Gall would later go on to co-found the Isis brand of women’s skiwear that combined serious mountaineering function with flattering fit. She now designs the Darn Tough line for Cabot Hosiery, the Northfield company that makes socks so tough they come with a guarantee.
Jake Burton Carpenter, also originally of Manchester, was a driving force behind the new sport of snowboarding. Snowboarding came with its own sense of fashion so Jake looked to the locals to provide the first snowboarding wear under the Burton name. CB Sports provided the jackets, Overdrive made the first Burton pants, and Poppy Gall provided hats. Today, with a retail outlet at its headquarters in Burlington, Burton has gone on to be a major player in sportswear. According to Snowsports Industries of America data, Burton was third in dollar sales of skiwear behind Spyder and North Face in 2014.
Thanks to the heritage, dozens of other national skiwear brands now call Vermont home, including Ibex, maker of wool outdoor apparel, Turtle Fur, Skida hats, and many more. These are some of the stories captured in “Slope Style: Fashion on Snow,” at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum in Stowe. Plan a visit during foliage season to help get stoked for winter. Retro VT columnist Greg Morrill is the author of Retro-Ski, A Nostalgic Look Back at Skiing and writes for The Stowe Reporter. Follow his blog at retro-skiing.com