16 January 2012

Spotlight: Claire McCardell

cotton dress, 1942

The other day I was prowling around The Met's Costume Institute online collections and building a ridiculous dream wardrobe pinterest board I discovered over and over that I was drawn to designer Claire McCardell's work.  While obviously fancy beaded evening gowns have their place, I'm much more interested in everyday fashions and cocktail attire which is what the shop focuses on.  Claire McCardell's brilliantly structured pieces certainly fit with my personal aesthetic so I set out to learn more about her work.

Claire McCardell mainly worked under the Townley Frocks label, a ready-to-wear brand that began in 1931.  After the Townley Frocks label closed in the late 1930s, McCardell briefly worked for Hattie Carnegie, but McCardell's designs did not find success with Carnegie's clients who were expecting something a bit more upscale.  Eventually, McCardell went back under the Townley Frocks name.  The line was picked up by Lord & Taylor as part of their American Look campaign and become one of their most successful lines.

cotton playsuit, 1944

The American Look was distinctly different from most designer fashions of the time which either came directly out of France or from American designers who were influenced by French fashion.  These fashions even can seem distinctly modern by today's standards.  She also incorporated simple fabrics such as wool, ticking, and mens shirting into her designs because she wanted to create items that suited the American approach to life, active and casual.  These casual elements and fabrics were not just limited to everyday wear, but also incorporated into evening clothes and bathing suits as well.

One of McCardell's signature designs was what is refered to as the "popover."  The first outfit here is an example of a popover.  The popover is designed for busy housewives and could be thrown on quickly and offer instant style.  They came with a coordinating oven mitt.  These dresses would have sold for just $6.95 and were widely popular.

cotton dress, 1953-1957

McCardell passed away in 1958 at the age of 53 from colon cancer.  Her influence, though, continues with designers such as Isaac Mizrahi and Anna Sui giving a nod to her in many of their collections.
"Celebrating Claire McCardell," New York Times, 1998.
"Label Resource Guide: Claire McCardell," Vintage Fashion Guild.


Teresa said...

I love Claire McCardell dresses!
I recently sold one from my collection which was a very hard thing to do.

Aimée - Vint Condition said...

Did you cry? I would have. Mostly I just want to steal that white dress and frolic around in it a bit. The MET could have it back later. ;)

Anonymous said...

I have a simple black cotton pique flare skirt with strings around the waist dress by Claire McCardell. Can't bring myself to wear it. I saw it in a Vogue magazine once.