Vintage Influencer: Claire McCardell

Claire McCardell is the pioneer who revolutionized American ready-to-wear clothing and became the definition of the classic American look. Her designs were casual and developed around women’s comfort and lifestyle. McCardell’s career peaked in the forties and fully embodies the definition of American Fashion.

McCardell’s design philosophy was that clothes should be practical, comfortable, and feminine. She created clothes that were casual yet sophisticated and functional. The wartime rationing became a challenge for McCardell as she would find inventive ways to overcome the obstacles and still create new, trendy fashion. Shoes were rationed heavily to which she introduced the ballet flat in various materials and prints that would match her clothing designs.


 Experimentation with unconventional fabrics and innovative silhouettes became McCardell’s specialty. One of her very well known pieces is the diaper bathing suit, which fully embodies her design ideals.

McCardell’s designs for women came from her own needs as a woman. She designed more comfortable casual clothes because she had a need for them in her own life. She recognized that American travel was evolving with planes and automobiles so she designed clothes that traveled well. Accordingly, McCardell designed a six-piece interchangeable and coordinated wardrobe of separates, enabling traveling woman to produce many combinations from just a few garments.

Claire McCardell was highly influenced by Madeleine Vionnet, who invented the bias cut. McCardell’s designs became a simplified version of the intricate patterns of Vionnet, making them more affordable and easier to manufacture for ready-to-wear. McCardell never added any understructure or artificial padding. Her designs were light and easy to manage in. It was during this time that American Leisurewear was booming and there was a high demand. McCardell’s designs often had an adjustable component to them to accommodate different body types. Drawstring necklines and waistlines were a common feature that made women happy to wear because it was very clearly designed with them in mind.

Claire McCardell is one of the most underrated fashion designers of the 20th century. She was a pioneer for American ready-to-wear and redeveloped American fashion to what we know today.

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