In 1926 Claire McCardell enrolled at Parsons School of Design in New York. As part of her course, she studied in Paris for a year before graduating in 1928.
McCardell worked various odd jobs before securing an assistant’s position to Robert Turk, an independent designer. When Turk was appointed as a designer at Townley Frocks in 1931, McCardell went with him.
The following year Turk died in a boating accident leaving McCardell to finish the autumn/winter collection. The line was successful and McCardell was promoted to designer at Townley. She began to create her revolutionary ‘American Look’. Advocating a youthful and fresh style of dressing, McCardell began to make easy to wear, simple clothes.
In 1934 McCardell designed a collection of separates featuring five interchangeable pieces, an idea decades ahead of its time. Two years later she created spaghetti string ties on dresses. This was followed by McCardell designing Townley’s first bathing suit in 1937.
In 1938 Townley Frocks closed resulting in McCardell going to work for Hattie Carnegie. The following year McCardell won First Prize at the New York World’s Fair for costume design.
McCardell left Carnegie in 1940 and joined Win-Sum for several months before returning to Townley Frocks, which had been reopened as Adolph Klein. McCardell remained with Townley where she continued to design. In 1942 she designed the blue denim pop-over, the following year the Diaper bathing suit, pedal pushers in 1944 and calico beach kilts in 1945. The barrel bathing suit was designed the following year, the pleated dress in 1948 and the bandana neckline in 1949.
In 1952 McCardell became a partner in Townley. The following year she featured in a twenty year retrospective at the Frank Perls Gallery in Beverly Hills.
McCardell was featured in Life magazine in 1955. Her designs were seen in fabrics by Picasso, Chagall, Miro and Duffy. That same year she was the third fashion designer to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine.
McCardell was acknowledged numerous times throughout her career and was continually receiving prestigious awards. She died in 1958 and, shortly afterwards, was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame.
Claire McCardell is credited with creating the casual American style of dressing. She ignored Parisian couture and after 1940 McCardell refused to even visit the Paris collections for fear of them influencing her designs. Inspired by a love of sport and believing that clothes should be utilitarian, McCardell produced comfort first, casual apparel. Her designs understood the female body and revolutionised casual wear.
Claire McCardell Biography