Claire McCardell Ensemble

Claire McCardelll is one of my favorite designers and this peice from the Costume Institute at the Met is one that I was able to examine thoroughly while I was a student at NYU. This gown is one of my favorites because of her interest in creating formal garments from informal materials (much like Chanel and the jersey revolution). McCardell believed that skiwear and evening gowns alike should be created with comfort and practicality in mind. She appreciated the usefulness of deep pockets, and generous armholes afforded in men’s clothing. She had a preference for emphasizing the waste, with either a cubmer bund or belt. Her favorite sleeve was cut on the bias and all in one with the bodice. Her favorite fabrics were of the heavy-duty kind, such as denim, chambray, mattress ticking, cotton seersucker, gingham and jersey. She is best remembered for her functional clean lines and helping to establish the “American look.”

Ensemble, Evening, late 1940s
Claire McCardell (American, 1905-1958), Designer; Townley Frocks (American), Manufacturer
wool; Length at CB (a): 16 1/4 in. (41.3 cm) Length at CF (c): 13 1/4 in. (33.7 cm)
Gift of Ms. Ann Campion, 1973 (1973.222a-c)

What may not be immediately evident is that jacket and skirt are of quilted wool in a daisy design with a bandeau top of black jersey.As was popular with McCardell, the sleeve is cut in one with the front piece/back piece at the top and bottom seams. The jacket also features piping at the sleeve edging, front closure, lower hem and collar and is lined with black jersey.

The closure is utilitarian, consisting of 8 gold hook and eye closures at the center front. This emphasis on the closure is typical of McCardell – she also emphasized closures in her well known pop over dresses and swimwear. One of the smallest details, is the slight mistake on the rounded collar where a seam goes off of the rolled hem. The bandeau top of black silk jersey is extremely precise in fit. In addition to bust darts, it is also rushed at the sides (and the rushing is less pronounced in the back). Interestingly there is also boning at the sides,along with a side zipper closure.

The skirt includes two very deep side pockets and is reminiscent of her interest in mensware. It is unlined and at the side seam you can see where the two peices of fabric were quilted together with batting sewn over some mesh fabric. The side zipper is black, and again shows McCardell’s interesting in emphasizing the metal parts of her clothing.

Many museums around the globe have examples of McCardell’s work in their collections. One example is the sketch collection held by Parson’s New School. Explore more of their collection here. In 1998, McCardell was the focus of an exhibition put on by the Museum at FIT. A review of that exhibit by the New York Times can be read here.

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  • Chaas April 14, 2011 01.13 am

    m82zmy I’m out of league here. Too much brain power on dsplaiy!


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