A fabled figure, Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo, and the intrepid aviatrix who said, “Adventure is worthwhile in itself”. As a champion of women’s rights, Earhart’s unshrinking nerve challenged the mild-mannered feminine ideal of the times, something she made clear on her wedding day when she handed her groom, George Palmer Putnam a reluctant letter explaining, ‘I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself now and then.’ That place was the cockpit.
Fondly known as ‘Lady Lindy’ in playful deference to Charles Lindbergh, who first broke the transatlantic record, Earhart flew by instinct. With her awkward beauty and the wits of her super-agent husband, the Kansas native was cast as a national heroine. Part of her allure was a streak of daring, a quality that undoubtedly played a part in her legendary disappearance over the Pacific in 1937. In death, she was remade as a martyr to her own saintly, somewhat obsessive pursuit of flying and fame, with some arguing that, like Icarus, her bravado had brought her too close to the sun.
With the freckled charm of an adolescent boy, Earhart was an unlikely style icon. Her artless uniform of well-worn trousers and leather jacket was virtually the same on the ground as in the air; but her utilitarianism and fearless attitude meant that the woman who wore a pilot’s jumpsuit with panache remains a benchmark for elegance today. As she dramatically rose to fame, she embraced a tailored image in keeping with her tomboy finesse, appearing in fashion spreads in Vogue, and at dinners at the White House. Earhart still looms large in popular culture, appearing in 90s adverts for Apple and Gap, and inspiring everything from poems by Patti Smith to designs by Jean Paul Gaultier.