Sports clothes changed our lives because they changed our thinking about clothes. Perhaps they, more than anything else, made us independent women. In the days of dependent women – fainting women, delicate flowers, laced to breathless beauty – a girl couldn’t cross the street without help. Her mission in life was to look beautiful and seductive while the men took care of the world’s problems. Today women can share the problems (and possibly help with them) because of their new-found freedom.
– Claire McCardell (1905-1958), award-winning American fashion designer.
This quote was taken from an essay Ms. McCardell wrote for Sports Illustrated in 1955. What revolutionary thoughts! And in 1955 – we had such a long way to go.
Ms. McCardell was known in the 1930s through the 1950s for her innovative use of sports wear elements in women’s fashions. Like Chanel before her, Ms. McCardell broke barriers and designed clothing for women in which we could move, breathe, and live while still looking attractive. She was the first designer of her era to stop considering Paris fashions and focus on a new American look. This new style was more casual favoring every day fabrics such as denim, calico, and stretch jerseys in drapped and wrap styling. McCardell’s fashions did away with girdles, shoulder pads, and heavy construction. Comfort was key and she designed always with the idea of – “clothes should be useful.”
I agree with Ms. McCardell, however, I wonder what she would think of the way women dress today. We seem to have taken her ideas too far, in Uggs, flip-flops and yoga gear, completely sacrificing style for comfort and ease. I believe Ms. McCardell was striving for both.
I just finished reading Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism, by Kohle Yohannan and Nancy Nolf (Abrams, Inc., 1998). This was a really interesting read covering the designer’s early life and entire career from her schooling at Parsons to working for Hattie Carnegie to her early death in 1958. I particularly enjoyed all the fabulous photos included, which exemplifies how we can successfully combine comfort with style.