This post was reblogged from the October 8, 2010, edition of On This Day in Fashion.
“Clothes should be useful.” “I like comfort.” “I do not like glitter.” These are just a few edicts from mid-20th century designer Claire McCardell, and if they sound severe, well, she meant them to. This is a woman who earned popularity with the unseemly sounding “Monastic” and “Popover” dresses and tie-over “Diaper” bathing suit, who eschewed embellishments (“I like buttons that button and bows that tie”) and used “common” fabrics like denim and sprigged cotton—even in eveningwear—so that everyone could afford her garments. Given the elitist eye attached to those who tend to green light who and what passes muster in the hallowed halls of fashion, it’s any wonder McCardell’s comparatively plain garments weren’t purposefully tucked away in a museum basement in hopes that Americans would forever forget their yen for comfort and function and develop a never-wavering taste for poorly made and rapidly changing trends. And they could have, had the Parsons Museum not launched a retrospective of McCardell’s work on this day in 1998, and the Museum at FIT hadn’t launched its own retrospective of her designs a month later. Forty years after her death, the fashion community found a newfound appreciation for the one-time Time magazine covergirl, gushingly crediting her as a chief contributor to the “American look,”
an antecessor of the New Look before Dior took credit for it, the “inventor” of sportswear and separates (hear that, Chanel?), and “Donna Karan before there was Donna Karan.” In The Wheels of Fashion, author Phyllis Lee Levin declares, “she practically divined what was later to be known as the beatnik look…the fitted top and full skirt worn with leotards and ballet slippers was her contrivance…the Left Bank just added the hanks of dark hair and the brooding look with which it was later associated.”
To read the full story, see pictures and learn classic McCardellisms, visit On This Day In Fashion.
Photo: © Genevieve Naylor/CORBIS.