Claire McCardell Fashion Designs

 Claire McCardell Fashion Designs: let’s look closely at the art!

Today we’ll look closely at the constructions of Claire Mccardell fashion designs to deepen our understanding of garment construction and bias cuts made visible through stripes and plaids. (for more understanding of these principles, I invited you to Patternmaking Demystified (plus draping) online intensive.)

She’s also one of the 26 featured biographies in my book The Language of Fashion Design. For other “museum visits”: see Agatha Ruiz de la Prada page, Seydou Keita post  and Tamara de Lempicka post)

Claire McCardell (1905–1958) was an American fashion designer in the arena of ready-to-wear clothing in the 20th century. From the 1930s to the 1950s, she was known for designing functional, affordable, and stylish women’s sportswear within the constraints of mass-production, and is today acknowledged as the creator of the “American Look“, a democratic and casual approach to fashion that rejected the formality of French couture. (CREDIT: I took that from Wikipedia’s description).

claire mccardell fashion designs

Yes, folks, thanks to the resources available today, I am able to quickly pull together an impromptu “museum visit” for you .

Also, You can get a “live” walk-through these images with yours truly in this video.

As a starry-eyed Junior Year Parsons School of Design Fashion student in 1993, my draping professor (remember the inimitable Maria Laveris, anyone? MASTER craftswoman!!) took us into the then-basement costume archive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see some of the Claire McCardell fashion design garments you see here, and many others. We observed her garments off of the mannequin, examining their construction inside and out with white gloves.

Here, you will only see their “outsides”.
I’m posting this gallery in honor of my online course’s “stripes and plaids” assignment:

Claire Mccardell fashion designs made awesome use of yarn-dyed weave patterns-and the glory of it is that stripes and plaids will always expose the grain of the fabric in the garment.

In stripe or plaid woven fabric, we can see exactly where the bias is (and remember that bias fabric is elastic, like a lattice and that straight grain is firm and doesn’t give), and see exactly where the straight grain runs, and see the creative ways that she worked with the construction using these woven patterns (you’ll see below).

She also often used sleeves cut in-one with the garments (kimono, dolman).  Many pieces were easier to fit arms and bust, and easier to make than set-in sleeves, and often belted.

Stripes and Plaids can really help you understand how garments are put together because they show the grainline or the direction of the threads in the cloth…. Check out my Pinterest board devoted to this topic here.

At the bottom of this page, I also include solid colored garments with exquisite construction that aren’t striped or plaid. MCCardell’s gathered bodices with piped edges or carefully pleating, for example.  Even some of her knit swimwear is in there…thick, but cute!  Her swimsuits broke new ground and many of her clothing designs were daring for their time . Check out My pinterest board devoted to vintage swimwear, here.
Pore over the images on this page, “take what you like, and leave the rest……” whether obvious or not, the simplicity of her vision and craft can be totally taken for granted: Claire McCardell fashion designs are timeless, relevant, practical, elegant, and artistic. She is our proudest representation of American design. Influenced by Madame Gres and Vionnet with the innovation of the bias cut, but totally American in her sporty and practical wartime approach to femininity.

If you read the notes and then analyze the garment with the notes, you will learn so much!

I hope I’m not the only one who gets goose-bumps looking at these!
Much Love,

Plaids, Stripes, Dots, and Prints: Claire McCardell fashion design.

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs

This jumpsuit and jacket above are  cut entirely on bias, lending a soft shape and unrestricted comfort due to the bias’ elasticity. She also takes advantage of placing the plaid decoratively. Waist is fitted, but there is soft gathered fullness for the bust.  The jacket sleeve is cut in one with the jacket, no armhole seam

.claire mccardell fashion designs Claire McCardell polka dot dress

Above, Pleated polka dotted skirt into a slightly bias bodice, French Darts, and no armhole seam…kimono sleeve. Sweet how the buttons play on the polka dot.

claire mccardell fashion designs Claire Mccardell dress with bias-cut peplum

Above is a straight grain bodice, gathered bias peplum for visual interest, pleated straight grain skirt with VERY  clever bias panel inserts for bust fullness.

claire mccardell fashion designs Claire McCardell dress with bias-cut bodice midriff, and circle skirt

Notice the fluidity of a bias cut plaid skirt. Usually gathered or pleated skirts are cut on the straight grain, and the visual and the drape are different when rotated to true bias. Strips of straight grain “squares” are placed above and below the bias midriff, and an “L” shaped cut of plaid creates the neckline. Again, gathers above and below the bias bust area give soft fullness.

claire mccardell fashion designs Claire McCardell

This paid ensemble above is entirely on bias, gathered into bias waistband, but look at the amazing neckline, using the plaid itself and its straight-grain edges!!!!! This photo is featured in my book.

claire mccardell fashion designs Claire McCardell romper / beachwear/ playsuit/ swimsuit

The playful poufy romper above features spaghetti ties, airy fullness, and straight grain construction using gathers at neck and hem. Claire McCardell fashion designs speak to a wide range of ages, which is awesome!

.claire mccardell fashion designs Claire McCardell bias cut kimono sleeve dress

Bias cuts, pleats, gathers, and wraps:

Entirely true bias dress with center front seam creating a “chevron” effect, sleeves cut in-one with bodice, shawl collar, and deep, layered inverted box pleating at center front.Many  Claire McCardell fashion designs feature a chevron effect.

.claire mccardell fashion designs Claire McCardell wrap dress

This wrap -top features bands/panels of “scrunched” strip, reminiscent of Madame Gres’ sculpted “Greek” gowns.  They gather into the armhole and release over the bodice. This fabric drapes heavily over the lower body tapering into fullness at the hem. Stripes carry movement. The wrapping theme comes up again and again.

claire mccardell fashion designs Claire McCardell

Here she actually uses a set-in sleeve! It’s ALMOST a raglan sleeve, if you look closely you can see how the cap of the sleeve invades the bodice farther than a typical sleeve. That’s why there is a seam in the shoulder portion of the sleeve to help shape it, which raglan sleeves often need.

claire mccardell fashion designs Claire McCardell "diaper" suit romper / swimsuit

Her famous “diaper” suit is like a dress that pulls up between the legs from behind and then ties around the waist for this effect. (Does that make sense?) Very cool!

claire mccardell fashion designs Claire McCardell

Above, a fitted bias bodice holds incredibly full gathered skirt with bias Center front, straight grain side seams. She really uses the grain of plaids like a painter :0). Another bias center front skirt with a straight -grain side seam, bias bodice and waistband. Cinched waist, very full hem!

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs
Her wildly famous “popover” dress was actually sold with an oven mitt during war times when domestic help was unaffordable for most!!!!

ABOVE, a set -in-sleeve…. pleats at center front waist, quilted huge patch pockets with decorative topstitching to match the ovenmit, (she does a lot of huge pockets thank you!). This is not a stripe or a plaid, but the grainline is still highly visible.

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs

Above, An entirely straight grain shirtdress with a set-in-sleeve, boldly belted (almost corseted) for fit.

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs

There is a lot going on here with all of these pieces!  Straight grain plaid skirts, bias chevron skirt at far right, set-in sleeves, matched stripes, straight grain and bias sashes, kimono short sleeves, straight and bias bodice shapes….

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs

To be honest, I have never “met “this dress, so I don’t know if the midriff panel is the same fabric pin-tucked horizontally for decoration (and texture) or if it is another fabric. Bias panel over bust gathers into the midriff, as does the straight grain skirt below. Spaghetti tie neckline.

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs

Ahh, bias gown, kimono sleeves (no separate sleeves seamed in) and the neckline is cut on the true grain for no stretch and perfect shape.

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs

Some of her colder weather looks, coats and capes.


Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs
Claire McCardell

These rompers have the most beautiful ruffled edge and silhouette! All it takes is a sash for a fitted look.

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs

The Chevron effect is created again, when Bias stripes are joined at center from seam, and inverted box pleat at waistline. Sleeve is again integrated in the bodice cut, not separate.

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs

Claire McCardell fashion designs:

practicality, functionality and elegance-from playful daywear to elegant evening wear designs:

Back view of dress, notice that the neckline follows the plaid’s grain and pattern to get its shape, notice the clean closure at back neck, and straight grain pleated skirt.

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs

Asymmetrical stripes drape diagonally across the bodice, at side bust to accommodate bust fullness, and there is no armhole, it’s a kimono sleeve cut in one.  Fitted dirndl skirt gathered into natural waist.

Claire McCardell claire mccardell fashion designs

Play on grain for pattern interest, the stripes going into the sleeve show that it is the same strip as the upper bodice uses. Fitting panels with vertical seams emphasize the shape of the body not only through the shape but the visual effect of the stripes.

 claire mccardell fashion designs Claire McCardell
Claire McCardell
Claire McCardell
ClaireMcCardell fashion designs
Clare McCardell Tailoring a Dress fashion designs

The master at work, Claire McCardell fashion designs. The piece above is boxy, but most of what we see here has a very feminine silhouette.


Watch the stripes, which way do they go on each panel of each garment??

Claire-McCardell fashion designs
Claire-McCardell-fashion designs

Interesting fabric blocking for playful asymmetry.

CLAIRE MCCARDELL fashion designs
claire mccardell c 50s
CLAIRE-MCCARDELL fashion designs

This fabric is quite sheer.

Claire McCardell fashion designs

Another bias draped boric creates a dartless bodice smooth at right and gathers at the right side seam and sleeve is in one cut again.

 Claire McCardell fashion designs
Claire McCardell fashion designs
Claire McCardell fashion designs

Pleating through bias plaid…… amazing effects!! Too bad the center front skirt button placket doesn’t match up at center front…at a close look, you can see the last button of the bodice is undone, that’s why…..(!)

Claire McCardell fashion designs

A totally straight grain garment defined by release tucks through the waist and tucked again into the shoulder.

Claire McCardell

Townley Frocks, the label she designed for.

Many of these Claire McCardell Fashion Designs translate perfectly into today!

Claire McCardell fashion designs
Claire McCardell fashion designs
Claire McCardell fashion designs

It’s amazing how the plaid is carefully controlled through the hip and releases into the pleated flow above.

Claire McCardell fashion designs
Claire McCardell fashion designs

One the left, just see that BIAS BODICE!!!!    Notice, at the right. how  is the first circle-skirt, full-on circular flare in plaid, in this entire exhibition. You can tell because the plaid “falls” towards the side seams, and because the flares are full at the hem and the waistline is smooth.

Claire McCardell fashion designs

Claire McCardell Fashion Designs inspire paper dolls.

Claire McCardell fashion designs

First bias skirt in this group that releases into flares after clinging through the hips, with her huge patch packets.  (You’ll see them if you look closely)  Also there is a surprising set-in sleeve.  The bias in the bodice is not true bias, but slight bias, and the collar has no stand.

Claire McCardell fashion designs

Here is circular flare in stripe, and in the side waist you can see careful rows of tucks lined up into a rigid construction.

Claire McCardell fashion designs

Notice how at back, the bodice stripes on the left are perpendicular to the stripes at the right.

Claire McCardell fashion designs

Simple, standard, straight grain shift, above, and …

NOT, below!!!

Claire McCardell fashion designs

Noitice how stripes react when gathered…..

Claire McCArdell fashion designs feature bias wrap bodices which fit softly, and bold exposure using the bias over the bust

., Claire McCardell fashion designs

Claire McCardell fashion designs

If you look above, you’ll see a circular skirt that is gathered, not smooth, when gathered into the waist.

CLAIRE MCCARDELL fashion designs

A McCardell dress on a more contemporary model.  Similar to the green Chevron shawl collar dress up seen above.

I love that the dresses below are designed precisely around the maxi striped fabrics, practically color-blocking the dresses.

Claire McCardell fashion designs


Claire McCardell fashion designs

Gathers secured by spaghetti tubing above,

and a fitted piece where all of the seams are hidden and emphasized by ribbon trim.

.Claire McCardell fashion designs

Sashes and ties emphasizing the figure.

Claire McCardell fashion designs

This is one of the pieces I saw at the Metropolitan Museum in my twenties. I sketched it…. I’ll have to post that here when I find it again!

Let’s focus on the fabrics for a minute:

Claire McCardell fashion designs

The stripe above shows the French dart in the bias stripe.

Claire McCardell fashion designs

So practical , this shirtdress…above.

The firm brown woven below feels like leather, doesn’t it?

Claire McCardell fashion designs


Claire McCardell fashion designs

Notice the sleekly, softly draped jersey knit  above,

and the crisp volume and bulk of the first woven fabric below!

Claire McCardell fashion designs

We saw these tucks used in the side

CLAIRE MCCARDELL fashion designs

Seriously, one of my favorite aspects of her Claire McCardell fashion designs is the avoidance of the set-in sleeve. Who needs it, really :0)?

Just imagine, how dress below would work just as well today as it did then!

Clair Mccardell fashion designs black dress with lace top

The sleeves look rigid  below, but it will drape softly around an arm.

Claire McCardell fashion designs
CLAIRE MCCARDELL fashion designs

Hey, it’s the first Tankini!  By Claire McCardell fashion designs a knitted jersey swimsuit in stripe- a two piecer!

Below, evenly spaced, crisp pleats in the waistline.

CLAIRE MCCARDELL fashion designs

Above, did you notice how the halter top is cut on the bias and draped into the neckline?  That’s how it drapes so nicely over the bust without darts. Also, see if you can notice how the bottom half of the garment is totally STRAIGHT grained in contrast.

CLAIRE MCCARDELL fashion designs

And to finish–A floral print!

CLAIRE MCCARDELL fashion designs

It’s so bold to see this dress color blocked. She didn’t color block that often!

To learn to design, model drawing,, technical design, and sketching and illustration, , using the skills and techniques I teach at Parsons, for your own unique fashion designs: info here.

2 thoughts on “Claire McCardell Fashion Designs”

  1. Sacha Chevalier

    This was a great article. McCardell’s designs make it look so effortless and un-fussy, which is what I love about them. Also, as a woman with a waist that is actually wider than my head, I appreciate that her looks aren’t exclusively for the size 6 and below crowd.

  2. Just beautiful, I love her style. Too bad no one does it like this anymore.

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