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Hiking and Camping Clothing

 Outside of organized camps, camping as recreation has from its beginnings in the 1870s, been primarily a family activity. So these activities took place out-of-doors, but in isolated locations with often only a woman's family. And it was also quite common for groups of women friends to camp together. Because of this, dress was very informal, and the rule about women always wearing skirts in public were relaxed.

Group of women campers, late 1910s

Camping increased in popularity through the last three decades of the 19th century, but it was the invention of the car that caused a sharp increase in camping. The car could take a group to the edge of the wilderness, and the party would hike to their camping spot. Or the car itself was often used as a kind of primitive RV, as they made tents that attached to the car. Stores like Abercrombie & Fitch opened to supply the popular sport. From Abercrombie & Fitch, campers could buy everything from the tent to fishing lures, to a compass to special hiking clothing.

From the 1910 A & F catalog: In late years there has been a tremendous increase in the number of women who have elected to share the sportman's pleasures and hardships, and their special needs too, have received at our hands the most careful consideration...

The range of clothing for women who shared the sportsman's pleasures was quite diverse, but they had one major thing in common, they were completely practical. All the skirts, whether for skating or hiking, were several inches to around a foot above the foot. And they offered a wide range of choice. For each style, a woman could choose her "bottom" piece, either a short skirt, a divided skirt, bloomers or knickerbockers (traditionally a male garment that was similar to bloomers, but were slimmer with less fabric.)

4 choices from the 1910 A & F catalog

The popularity of camping continued into the 1920s, and by the early 20s knickerbockers were being offered by more than just sports outfitters. By 1923 knickers suits were offered at department stores and through mail order catalogs. The 1923 Sears catalog featured a knickers suit on a page entitled "Correct togs for outing and sportswear." A popular brand of knickers was "The Fad of the Hour." Knickers clearly were not just for camping any more. Women were wearing them for other casual occasions.

1920s knicker suit

Early 1920s hiking party, Mt Pisgah, near Asheville, NC

For more vintage hiking and camping photos, see the Outing Gallery.

Abercrombie & Fitch Catalog, 1910

Aron, Cindy S.,
Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Sears, Roebuck Spring-Summer Catalog, 1923.

Warner, Patricia Campbell
When the Girls Came Out to Play. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006.

Copyright 2008 - 2010 Lizzie Adams Bramlett. All Rights Reserved.