In this age of limitless resources, it truly benefits fashion historians to think outside of the fashion plate. While the digital archives of any women’s fashion publication are the foundation of accurate fashion research, there are some surprising alternative sources out there. Take, for instance, the SI Vault, Sports Illustrated‘s fully accessible and user friendly online archive of every issue since the magazine’s inception in 1954. It might not come as much of a shock that the magazine is teeming with menswear visuals, but it actually used to pay quite a bit of attention to women’s fashion–the kind that takes up more real estate on the body than a thong bikini. In its earlier years the magazine went to lengths to make the point that sports influenced fashion and that the two were natural companions. Regular features highlighted the style of spectators and sportsmen alike, but the magazine also put fashion designers into the kind of serious competition previously reserved for football players and boxers. In 1956 Sports Illustrated sponsored the first Sportswear Designers Award “in recognition of the tremendous job the new American Couture has done to make women at play lovelier and more sensibly dressed than their 19th century forebearers would have thought possible.” That year Rudi Gernreich and Claire McCardell were voted the inaugural winners of the award by a group of 200 retailers gathered and polled by SI. The connection between sports and the increase in the ease of movement and freedom for women in American fashion was truly a large part of the genesis of the “American Look” that emerged during WWII and came to represent a new identity–and commercial dominance–in the global world of fashion. When the US emerged as a world leader in fashion, suddenly sportswear was as American as apple pie and baseball. Mining the SI Vault we learn that Claire McCardell and Rudi Gernreich were as key to the American spirit as Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle.