Jessica's Costume History Page
Historical Background for Claire McCardell
Claire McCardell was one of America’s leading fashion designers in the forties and fifties. This dress is designed by her for McCall’s Printed Patterns. She was well known for her use of wrap-around sashes and clean lines. This particular garment was made late in her career, only a year before her death in 1958. McCardell took a special interest in what we now call “sportswear”. She used various techniques to ensure practicality as well as finesse in her designs. She is probably best remembered for her “Cloister Dress”, a picture of which can be seen at http://www.patternsoftime.com/patterns/Folkwear/fw_505.gif
McCardell’s prime was in an era when women were expected to keep house and rear babies for their husbands. Housewives looked to her to keep them fashionable without limiting their much needed freedom of movement. (i.e. corset, hoop, bustle eras.) She also introduced the large, top-stitched pockets, the pockets being useful for any number of things while cooking and cleaning, and the top-stitching eliminated any unsightly bulges at the hips. She was the epitome of women’s fashion at that time. No business suits for the wives, no crinoline skirted formals for the mother. The former would be blatant rebellion to society, and the latter would be sheer vanity. She walked the sociological tight-rope between the two, on the one hand making clothes that were not restricting to women working at home, on the other making them physically attractive and appealing as well. An excellent example of this if this Townley Frocks dress, found on e-bay. (photo credit courtesy of seller, “Gropius”.) The pleated empire waist, and gathered skirt keep the dress uninhibiting, while the classic lines and simplicity of it’s design give it quite an air of suavity.
Claire McCardell was fashion’s escape for hard working housewives. She allowed them to look and feel their best while maintaining their ability to do what they did their best. She looked down upon the French fashions requiring women to wear full skirts with multi-layered petticoats. She took her own way on the road of fashion, but the best part is that fashion followed, making her one of the most highly respected designers of the second half of the twentieth century.