Hoodies, Ballet Flats and Claire McCardell?

Hoodies, Ballet Flats and Claire McCardell?

Claire McCardell was an American fashion designer whose simple, practical and innovative design influences can still be seen in American fashion today. 

Claire spent the first half of her career having her unique designs ignored by the industry. Most of American fashion was inspired by and copied by the designs coming out of Paris, France. Claire, however, was a practical woman who appreciated simple designs, wash-and-wear fabrics and clothing that was not cumbersome to her outdoors lifestyle. Her inspiration came from art, streetwear and men’s fashion. She was a problem solver and is quoted as having said, “I’ve always designed things I needed myself. It just turns out that other people need them too.” Examples of these are her woolen hooded pullover (so her ears wouldn’t get cold when she skied) and her mix-and-match day/evening separates (to simplify packing for long trips). The industry wouldn’t be ready for mix-and-match separates for another 20 years. 

Claire used unusual notions like eyelets, hooks, spaghetti straps and ties like those used on her 1940s popover dress. When there was a shortage of leather during WWII she worked with dance shoe maker Capezio to put hard rubber soles on ballet slippers creating what we know today as the ballet flat. (I don’t know about you but I have at least three pairs of these in my closet)

Claire McCardell was a woman who knew what she wanted and didn’t let anyone keep her from getting it. After the success of her Monastic dress she negotiated with the new owners of Townley Frocks to have her name on the designs, making her one of the first American designers to have her own line. 

Every once in a while someone comes along who breaks the mould; who sees the world differently; who makes us rethink everything we thought we knew about a subject. Claire McCardell was just such a person. So the next time you slip on a pair of ballet flats; pull on a hoodie; or throw on a blazer over that little black dress; remember it was Claire McCardell, who made that dream your reality. 


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