I added this 1942 Empire catalog to my collection for several reasons. First, I have an Empire piece in my collection, and I wanted documentation for it. But I was also interested to see how women’s sports clothing, especially softball uniforms were marketed in the very earliest days of WWII. This was a full year before the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that we all know of from the movie A League of Their Own.
Before 1943, women were expected to play softball rather than baseball (something that for the most part is true today). As you can see from this page, the softball uniforms were very much like traditional baseball uniforms worn by boys and men. If you have seen A League of Their Own, you know that the women in that league did not wear traditional baseball uniforms. The Smithsonian has one of the women’s baseball uniforms that belonged to Betsy Jochum, a player for the South Bend Blue Sox. I want, no I need, one of these uniforms in my life.
Looking through this catalog, it’s interesting to see how subtly fashion appears in the clothing. Often sports clothing is not thought of as being fashionable at all, but fashion is reflected in even an object as mundane as basketball shorts. Remember the good old days when Tom Selleck wore his shorts very short on Magnum, P.I.? It was the same on basketball courts across the country. When shorts lengthened and became baggy in the 1990s, the change was also seen in basketball uniforms.
In addition to the active sportswear, Empire also offered school jackets for both men and women. By the 1940s the standard raglan sleeve “letter jacket” was already available for men, but they also had more stylish offerings for both men and women.
And because this catalog must have gone to press just as the USA was entering WWII, there were all sorts of military logoed items available. I’ve got to wonder if these were actually ordered by the military, or if they were available to just anyone.