Designer SoPo models fashion on fishing waders

By Adrian Perron
Photographed by Jason Frank
Excerpt from our April 2022 issue

In the late 1980s, when interest rates on commercial production loans became too high to generate a reliable income, Valerie Beggs quit working as a freelance fashion designer and started doing construction. Before the first job of her three-month stint on a shingling crew, she sewed herself a pair of wool overalls to wear. These dungarees – straight-legged and gray, with a front zipper and thin black straps that cross over the shoulders – have caught the eye of some past customers. So in 1989 Beggs began selling them, launching its Woodland Waders women’s line, which also included shirts, jackets, cardigans and vests. “You can’t escape what you’re supposed to do,” she says.

During its heyday, the line was featured in lifestyle magazines and was worn by Carly Simon, who commissioned a pair of plaid overalls from Beggs in the late ’90s, Beggs says. Then, in 2000, Woodland Waders went dormant when Beggs signed on to design women’s activewear for luxury clothing company Woolrich, followed by a stint with an outdoor apparel manufacturer in Pennsylvania. When she moved to Maine full-time and settled in South Portland in 2018 – after nearly 70 years of visiting her family’s multi-generational camp in Harpswell – she felt inspired to return to practical, comfortable and suitable clothing for the outdoors.

More than three decades after Woodland Waders debuted, they’re back. Beggs updated the designs and added new ones, for sale only on Portland Trading Co. (83 market street; 207-370-0714). This month, her spring collection comes out, featuring wool dungarees and dresses – both inspired by fisherman waders – as well as shirts inspired by sailor blouses, fishtail t-shirts recycled from old men’s union suits, and more. “There’s this big Maine story that’s a style motivator for me,” Beggs, now 72, says. “There’s Fly Rod Crosby, who designed a skirt she could wade through the waterways with, and the lobsters wearing dungarees, and the layers we wear here to keep us warm, like wraps and shawls. I design things that are integral to those lifestyles. I invent for the human body.


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