Among their collections, both created chic, simple little black dresses. Both used jersey at a time when it was not the staple fabric it is today, both appropriated clothes for sport as everyday wear, and both knew the value of a good pocket. What’s more, both freed women from restrictive undergarments. One was luxe, one was mass. One flourished in the years before WWII in Paris, the other got her break as the United States was isolated from European fashion houses during the WWII and blossomed in the prosperous Post-War years in America.
If Coco Chanel is widely recognized for having revolutionized womenswear, American Claire McCardell is that revolution’s second act, essentially inventing the category of sportswear for women.
When the American woman was cut off from her usual fashion source in Europe during WWII, MaCardell and others had a chance to shine, defining an American Look. Claire McCardell created clothes for women that were easy and stylish in their clean lines and simplicity. She designed unfussy clothes made for an active life, many of which were firsts. She’s known for loose dresses shaped to fit the wearer’s body with drawstrings or wrap-sashed waists, wrap dresses, playsuits. She was the first to do mix-and-match separates, pedal-pushers, tent dresses, and looks in denim. Her baby doll empire gathered black jersey dress would look fresh today, as would her goddess-y evening dresses.
It’s safe to say that you would not be dressing as you will this spring were it not for McCardell’s vision of fashion for an American woman who was strong, independent, playful and practical. You who will be wearing flats this spring can also thank McCardell for the first wave of popularity of ballet slippers during the ’40s and ’50s.