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Amelia Earhart soared in style, too

In 'Amelia,' amid the aviation successes, Earhart is also shown developing her own fashion sense.

September 13, 2009|Susan King

Amelia Earhart was the pioneering female aviator who became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo and the first woman to win the Distinguished Flying Cross. During her flight around the world in 1937, she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while trying to reach Howland Island. Her disappearance remains one of the biggest mysteries of the 20th century.

Perhaps on a lesser scale of import but no less interest, Earhart was also a fashion innovator who made headlines for her comfortable flying gear -- men's tailored pants, leather jackets and scarfs. She even had a clothing line in the 1930s, and her influence on fashion can still be felt today.

Director Mira Nair's ("Salaam Bombay," "The Namesake") new biopic about the aviator, "Amelia," stars Hilary Swank and opens Oct. 23.

The India-born Nair says she loved Earhart's style. "She created whatever suited her," the director says. "And sold it as well. But more than anything, it came from comfort into style versus style for its own sake. She had this thing about scarves and color -- rather than complete color, dashes of color. When she got the president's medal, she wore a teal velvet skirt and ivory satin blouse with real orchids on the lapel."

Costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone ("Capote") says Nair "comes with such love and passion and color to a project. She provoked us to look for color. There was plenty of color during the era. It was just documented in black-and-white."

The costume design also reflects Earhart's transformation from plain-Jane social worker in the 1920s to fashion plate.

"She got much more aware of what she wore when she became a public figure," Nair says. "We see that progression from her being a simpler person to someone who really uses her clothing to make herself."

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susan.king@latimes.com

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