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Moment 18: The Chic American Look

American sportswear owes much to Claire McCardell, who favored a smart approach to style and worked chic, practical pieces into day and eveningwear.

The model Sabine wears a skirt and swimsuit by Claire McCardell

The model Sabine wears a skirt and swimsuit by Claire McCardell.

Photo By GENEVIEVE NAYLOR/CORBIS

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

Efficient, functional, affordable, stylish: the catchwords for great American sportswear. Its development owes much to designer Claire McCardell, who rejected all things complicated and constricting in favor of a more straightforward approach to dressing. Along the way, McCardell hit upon pieces such as loose-sleeved shiftdresses, pleated trousers, even wool bathing suits—all utterly practical yet evoking a smart sense of style. In 1940, WWD wrote of McCardell: “Her idea of a really clever fashion creator is one who isn’t too advanced or too extreme—though she herself constantly leaps a year or so ahead of the design trend.” With her career going full force as World War II began, McCardell shrewdly used the rationing of fabrics to her advantage, working cotton and twill into both day and eveningwear. Indeed, to exploit the decline in French fashion in the face of the war, the all-American Lord & Taylor placed McCardell’s designs front and center in its marketing campaigns. The strategy worked: Versatile clothes such as McCardell’s 1942 Popover dress (it could be worn as a beach cover-up or cocktail dress) were in demand, and the chic American Look was born.