Out and about with Claire McCardell

Do you live in the Chicago area? Will you be traveling to Chicago before January 9, 2010? If so, you’re in luck!

The FIDM Museum Claire McCardell dresses seen in today’s post are on exhibit in Chicago as part of the Learning Modern exhibition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Galleries. Learning Modern is part of a larger, Chicago-wide initiative called Living Modern Chicago. According to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s website, “the exhibition Learning Modern is the centerpiece of the two-year long
citywide program Living Modern Chicago, a series of courses, lectures,
tours, and installations exploring the legacy of the Bauhaus, organized by The
School of the Art Institute of Chicago in collaboration with the Mies van der
Rohe Society at IIT.”

The Learning Modern exhibition runs from September 26, 2009 until January 9, 2010. The exhibition is free and open to the public, so if you’re able to go, drop us a line!

Like Tina Leser and Bonnie Cashin, who we featured earlier this week, Claire McCardell (1905-1958) is considered a quintessentially American designer. McCardell’s easy-wearing, unconstructed silhouettes, washable fabrics and overall emphasis on comfort and practicality resulted in casually elegant garments intended to be worn in a variety of situations. One hallmark of McCardell garments is a waistline that can be adjusted to individual specifications. This was accomplished through the cinch-belt, which McCardell helped popularize, and by self-fabric sashes as seen on the red, atomic print dress below. What looks to be a separate wrap is actually attached at the back of the shoulders and could be worn as a belt or as a shoulder wrap. The configuration seen in these photos is based on an image of an almost identical dress in McCardell’s licensed paper doll book from the late 1940s.

Mccardell822271-4Day Dress
Claire McCardell for Townley
c. 1952
Gift of Shirley Dichek

Mccardell822271-5Detail of 82.227.1

The black wool dress below features another hallmark of McCardell’s design aesthetic: easy to reach, eclectic fasteners. McCardell reportedly disliked the fact that many dresses had hard-to-reach zippers. In her 1956 book What Shall I Wear?, McCardell wrote that “a woman may live alone and like it, but you may soon come to regret it if you wrench your arm trying to zip a back zipper into place.” 1 To avoid this problem, McCardell utilized hook-and-eye fasteners, buttons and clips in her garments, as seen in the detail shot below.

As any fan of Claire McCardell knows, her book What Shall I Wear? is very hard to find. Many university and research libraries have copies, but they are often kept in Special Collections and do not circulate. Used copies are sometimes available, but they cost much more than the average paperback. Well, for those of us (like all of us at the FIDM Museum!) who’ve been hoping to come across a copy of this book, it is about to be republished. Check your favorite bookstore or online source and get yourself a copy today!

Claire McCardell
Anonymous Gift

Mccardell98103-2Detail of 98.10.3

1 Quoted in Yohannan, Kohle and Nancy Wolf. Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism. Abrams Inc.: New York, 1998. 63.

One response to “Out and about with Claire McCardell

  1. cherry says:

    This is a vintage RARE 1940s Designer Claire McCardell Clothes by Townley dress this was sold at the high end department stores

    please view picture on my website I have the same dress

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