The SoPo Designer Modeling Fashion on Fishing Waders

For her Woodland Waders line, Valerie Beggs takes inspiration from lobsterers, anglers, and her stint on a shingling crew.

SoPo designer Valerie Beggs modeling the dress from her Woodland Waders line
By Adrienne Perron
Photographed by Jason Frank
From our April 2022 issue

In the late 1980s, when interest rates for business production loans became too high to break into reliable income, Valerie Beggs quit working as an independent 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. Those overalls — straight-legged and gray, with a zipper down the front and thin black straps that crossed over the shoulders — caught the attention of some former customers. So in 1989, Beggs started selling them, debuting her 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.

In its heyday, the line was featured in lifestyle magazines and was worn by Carly Simon, who commissioned Beggs for a plaid pair of overalls in the late ’90s, Beggs says. Then, in 2000, Woodland Waders went dormant when Beggs signed on to design women’s sportswear for the luxury clothing company Woolrich, followed by a stint at a boutique-y outdoors-clothing maker 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 outdoor-friendly clothes.

More than three decades after Woodland Waders debuted, they’re back. Beggs updated designs and added new ones, for sale only at Portland Trading Co. (83 Market St.; 207-370-0714). This month, her spring collection drops, featuring wool wader overalls and dresses — both modeled on fisherman’s waders — plus shirts inspired by sailor middy blouses, fishtail T-shirts upcycled from old men’s union suits, and more. “There’s this great Maine history that is a style motivation for me,” the now-72-year-old Beggs says. “There’s Fly Rod Crosby, who designed a skirt she could wade into waterways with, and lobsterwomen wearing overalls, and the layers we wear for warmth here, like shawls and wraps. I design things that are integral to these lifestyles. I invent for the human body.”