The Evolution of Ski Style: Then & Now

Ski fashion has evolved over the last century from practical clothing in its early beginnings to the fashionable and functional gear of today. The development of new materials and technology, as well as cultural shifts, have played a pivotal role in the fashion trends found on the slopes over the last several decades. As the 2023 ski season in the Vail Valley comes to an end, it’s important to understand where it all began. 

Early Origins of Skiing

The origins of skiing can be traced back to ancient times when Scandinavians used simple wooden skis for transportation, hunting, and military purposes. Clothing for Nordic skiing was primarily focused on protection from the harsh winter environment. Skiers donned animal skins and furs as well as long, loose wool garments.

Skiing was primarily enjoyed by wealthy families in the 19th century. In the early years, skiers commonly wore long, heavy wool skirts and jackets in muted colors. These outfits were designed for warmth, layering numerous pieces of bulky clothing to combat the winter weather.

1920’s & 1930’s

Recreational skiing became more popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s as ski resorts were established in Europe and North America. Clothes for skiing in the early 1920s were based on practicality, which included warm wool layers. Women would wear thick, chunky sweaters and full-length skirts while men wore heavy trousers with knee-high socks. After the first Winter Olympics was held in 1924, European designers produced more fashionable ski attire, including two-piece suits. 

In the 1930’s, the influence of European fashion made its mark on the slopes. Clothing became more fitted to allow greater mobility. Ski suits were still made of heavy wool and lined in thick flannel, but silhouettes became more streamlined. Ski jackets, which resembled blazers, became shorter and more fitted, and ski pants replaced ankle-length skirts. In the mid-1930’s, American designer Eddie Bauer introduced the first goose-down jacket, which was warm and lightweight. Slimmer designs and warmer coats allowed skiers to move more freely and stay out longer on the slopes. 

1940’s & 1950’s

Skiing fashion took a giant leap forward in the post-World War II era due to the popularity of couture clothes and significant advancements in materials and technology. 

Ski style became fashionable and chic, which included sleek and streamlined looks that were also functional and warm. Emilio Pucci, a famous Italian designer, produced the first one-piece ski suit, which was colorful and form-fitting. This trendy chalet-ready look ended up in Harper’s Bazaar, launching ski style into the public eye.

In the 1940s, synthetic materials, such as nylon and polyester, were introduced. These materials offered improvements in waterproofing and insulation, creating ski clothing that was more functional and comfortable. In 1947, Klaus Obermeyer, a German ski instructor from Aspen, was an early innovator of modern ski clothing. His insights as a ski instructor led him to produce staple garments such as turtlenecks, nylon wind-shirts, and mirrored sunglasses. 

Recreational skiing exploded in popularity in the 1950’s due to cheaper modes of travel, faster and more durable skis with plastic base surfaces, and warmer clothing that could withstand the winter conditions. Polyester was first released in the early 1950’s - a warm, yet slim layering piece. Ski outfits became more tailored and stylish, with an emphasis on form-fitting designs that allowed skiers to show off their athletic physiques. 

Après ski, a French term which translates to “after ski” was coined in the 1950’s as well. With this trend, skiers looked for stylish yet technical clothing that could be worn both on and off the hill. Bogner, a couture brand, designed the first stretchy pants for a feminine look that was comfortable for skiing and trendy for the après scene.

1960’s & 1970’s

The first plastic ski boot was introduced in 1962 by Bob Lange. The hard-sided boot allowed for more aggressive skiing and bolder outfit choices. In the 1960’s, ski fashion was inspired by the glamorous and mod looks of the runway. The invention of spandex in the 1960’s gave rise to even more slim-fitting onesies, and even bell-bottom ski pants and ski jackets with oversized collars were trending. Couture designers like Christian Dior and other household names produced ski wear that was fashionable from the slopes to the street. Neon colors, psychedelic prints, and retro designs were prominent reflections of the vibrant fashion trends of that time.

By the 1970’s, ski style had completely taken off. Mountain gear became a cross between fun and functional, continuing in popularity today. Fleece fabric was introduced for more effective layering. Skiers in the 1970’s embraced bright colors, leg warmers, puffy coats, moon boots, and faux fur. Several modern day brands based in Canada, including Sorel and Canada Goose, were considered innovators for integrating ski and street style at the time.

1980’s & 1990’s

Ski style became increasingly focused on functionality moving into the 1980’s and 1990’s with modern fabrics and technologies that allowed skiers to stay warm and dry. Gore-Tex, Thinsulate, Polartec and other high-performance materials were invented in the 1980’s to provide functionality and protection from the harsh winter elements. These fabrics are still popular amongst modern day skiers.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the onesie became a popular staple for both men and women. Bib overalls were also introduced for the first time - a style that has made a comeback in the present day. At their initial time of popularity, both styles were practical and lightweight with the decade’s newly developed fabric technology. Bold neon colors, animal prints, and abstract designs dominated the scene. It was also common for skiers to coordinate their headbands to their ensembles, much like skiers today who match their goggles and helmets to their equipment. 

Snowboarding arrived on the scene in the 1990’s, thanks to Jake Burton, and evolved the world of fashion in snow sports even further with baggier garments for greater ease of movement. 

Modern Day Style

Since the 2000’s, skiing has embraced a blend of modern and retro influences. Outerwear is often waterproof and warm, with vents, zippers, and plenty of pockets. Skiers now wear moisture-wicking technical fabrics and helmets are a standard practice due to heavily increased safety regulations. Winter fashion is popular in resort communities and varies due to the diversity of brands now available in both local and global markets. A few styles dominate the slopes today:

Technical skiers prefer functional skiwear that is practical and weatherproof, donning reputable brands like Patagonia and North Face. These companies value high quality and strive to modernize styles as they evolve.

Modern chic skiers gravitate towards luxury brands that focus on fashion over function. Brands such as Moncler and Prada have a modern take on the style of the 60’s and 70’s with shiny jackets, tight pants, and fur collars. 

The relaxed style of the snowboarding community is still present today. Oversized tops and loose-fitting pants in muted tones are popular looks for park rats.

Vail’s Closing Day

Closing weekend at Vail Mountain is an “end of season” celebration. It's tradition each year for locals to dress up in costumes to commemorate the end of an epic winter. While anything goes, retro ski gear is always a popular option. Choose your favorite era, but make sure to dress warmly for the top of the mountain. The official closing time is 4pm, and “4 at 4” is a tradition where skiers gather at the top of Chair 4 to celebrate the closing, though crowds usually show up well before that time as some of the upper lifts shut down earlier. The “BYOB” rule applies for all, so it's always recommended to bring food and beverages in a backpack that can fit into a 5-gallon bucket. 

Where to Stay

Close to the adventure, yet away from it all, The Inn at Riverwalk is the perfect place for travelers looking to embrace the spirit of the mountains in both the on and off season and live like the locals in a town that thrives year-round. The Inn is located in the heart of Edwards, with shops and restaurants right outside the front door and the Eagle River peacefully rambling along the greenbelt behind. Bright, modern rooms have all the amenities you need for a comfortable and utterly relaxing stay. Enjoying your mountain getaway? Stay longer and save when you book more than one consecutive night.