Willoughby: Ski fashion of the 1930s — more practical than pretty
If you are shopping for a new ski outfit as a present for Christmas, you are not likely to find the White Stag outfit in the accompanying photo in local stores nor anything remotely resembling it. Skiwear’s first priority in the 1930s was practical, to keep you dry.
The White Stag brand had an interesting origin. The Portland company’s predecessor was a manufacturer of clothing and tents for lumberjacks and outdoor workers. The owners, the Hirsch brothers, for the first few decades of the 1900s, focused on products that withstood Pacific Northwest rain.
A son of one of the partners, Harold, attended Dartmouth College in the 1920s, where he became enthralled with skiing. He returned home in 1929 with the idea of using the family business to make clothing for skiing and began marketing it under the White Stag brand name in1931. The brand name was a literal translation from German of two of the company partners, Hirsch and Weis.
You could have bought the outfit advertised above in Aspen in 1939 because it was offered by Mike’s, an abbreviated name for Mike Magnifico’s Sport Shop. Magnifico entered into the retail market in the early 1930s, focusing on shoes and shoe repair. By the mid-1930s, it had morphed into a men’s shop with clothing. He also added fishing equipment.
Magnifico was one of the founding members of the Aspen Ski Club taking to the sport like most of the younger generation in Aspen at the time. In 1937 he was the first to offer “everything for winter sports” including ski equipment featuring Groswold skis made in Denver. Adding ski clothing he also expanded to sell women’s clothing.
It was a natural transition because skiers needed ski boots, but more importantly, boot repair as skiing was hard on those early leather ski boots.
He added White Stag to his line of clothing in 1939 and changed the name of his store to Mike’s Ski Shack. The main feature of the line was ski pants and jackets made of gabardine, material more impervious to melting snow.
If you were Christmas shopping at Mike’s in 1940 you could score with gabardine and poplin White Stag jackets and pant combinations all for $16.99 ($26 in today’s dollars) for men and $14.90 for women’s. More notable than the price, is the difference between men’s and women’s prices. Sometime since then, women’s outfits surpassed men’s in price. Maybe in 1940 the price differential was due to men’s being larger and therefore requiring more material.
Years later Magnifico sold his ski shop, the first in Aspen, to Sandy Sabatini and applied his Aspen retailacumen opening a liquor store with his wife Maggie across the alley from his old store on Mill Street where his ski shop had been. By then there were many competing ski shops.
Keeping up with fashion trends, especially for women, is a complicated business, one with more risk than selling Coors Beer. White Stag, nearly a century old, is still in business but in 2003 became one of Walmart ’s brands.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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