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Feature Story

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Seven Boeing women workers on platform next to B-17 in factory

Boeing Photo

World War II-era Boeing employees wearing the uniform designs of Muriel King.

Fashion icon Rosie the Riveter

Muriel King spent two decades outfitting women renowned for their style, including Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, and Rosie the Riveter.

Yes, Rosie the Riveter.

Boeing employee in fusalage

Boeing Photo

World War II-era Boeing employees wearing the uniform designs of Muriel King.

While the Rosies of World War Two – women who staffed America’s factories while their husbands, brothers and fathers were deployed – aren’t remembered for their wardrobes, those at Boeing and other companies wore functional yet fashionable King designs that ended up in department store windows and the pages of Life Magazine.

A 2009 Fashion Institute of Technology news release about King cited the “clean lines, elegant simplicity, and exquisite quality” of her designs. Those are evident in the “Flying Fortress Fashions” she created for the women who built nearly 7,000 B-17 bombers at the Boeing factory. 

King, a Seattle native, developed coordinated overalls, pants, blouses, aprons and bandanas for the factory and a suit with interchangeable pants, skirt, jacket and blouse for the office. While the Boeing women chose blue as the uniform color, King modified that to gray-blue for a very practical reason. Gray-blue hid dust and stains better than the other shades of blue.

Boeing employee typing

Boeing Photo

World War II-era Boeing employees wearing the uniform designs of Muriel King.

The edging of the clothes also came about for a practical as well as stylish reason. While the rounded edges resembled the curve of an airplane wing they also reduced the tendency of the clothes to get caught in machinery, an important safety improvement that helped reduce workplace accidents.

There are parallels between King’s fashion approach and Boeing’s airplane design. King, an accomplished painter, provided her production teams with extremely detailed watercolor sketches from which they built her clothes. And she reportedly considered "beauty, economy, and usefulness” to be the most important elements of women’s clothing. Those terms have been applied to Boeing airplanes many times over the decades.

For all her accomplishments, painting was King’s first love. She devoted the last two decades of her life to that before she died in 1977.