Synopses & Reviews
The revolutionary fashion designer credited with pioneering the “The American Look,” Claire McCardell designed for the emerging active lifestyle of women in the 1940s and 50s. She was the originator of mix-and-match separates, pedal-pushers, bareback summer dresses, strapless swimsuits, and feminine denim fashion, and started the trend for ballet flats—a signature Audrey Hepburn look—as a wartime leather-rationing measure. McCardell’s fashions were taken up by working women and high society alike. The early episodes of Madmen are packed with fashion showing Claire McCardell’s influence. On vintage fashion blogs and in books like Slim Aarons’s Once Upon A Time, there are wonderful photographs from the period of clotheshorses Slim Keith, Babe Paley, and C.Z. Guest looking impossibly chic in McCardell fashions for their leisure-time activities. First published in 1955, What Shall I Wear? is a distillation of McCardell’s democratic fashion philosophy and a practical guide to looking effortlessly stylish, without enslavement to expensive and confining Parisian designs. A retro treat full of charming illustrations, instructions for sewing some of her classic designs, and still-solid advice including the designer’s “McCardellisms,” What Shall I Wear? is a tribute to the American spirit in fashion, carried on today by such designers as Marc Jacobs, Isaac Mizrahi, Anna Sui, and Michael Kors.
"Claire McCardell's clothes were timeless. She was the first designer to look not to Paris for inspiration but to the needs of the American woman."
"What I truly appreciate was her fabric sensibility, even with more constructed fabrics like denim. She made them all look so soft and drapey. The halters she did were so modern. The thing is, you look at some of the things she did, and you can't believe it was the '40s." Anna Sui
"Humble fabrics and rich designs--Pure Americana! Purely inspirational!McCardell broadened all of our visions and elevated the entire fashion industry to another level." Geoffrey Beene
"I identify so much with Claire McCardell . . . that I can't believe it." Isaac Mizrahi
"Her sportiness and chicness for me are definitely revolutionary." Guillaume Henry, Creative Director, Carven
She was the originator of mix-and-match separates, open-backed sundresses, and feminine denim fashion; she started the trend for ballet flats as a wartime leather-rationing measure. Spaghetti straps, brass hooks and eyes as fasteners, rivets, menswear details and fabrics: they were all started by McCardell. Her Monastic and Pop-over dresses achieved cult status, and her fashions were taken up by working women, the suburban set, and high society alike. First published in 1956, is a distillation of McCardell's democratic fashion philosophy and a chattily vivacious guide to looking effortlessly stylish. Mostly eschewing Paris, although she studied there and was influenced by Vionnet and Madame Gres, McCardell preferred an unadorned aesthetic; modern and minimalist, elegant and relaxed, even for evening, with wool jersey and tweed among her favorite fabrics. provides a glimpse into the sources of McCardell's inspiration--travel, sports, the American leisure lifestyle, and her own closet--and how she transformed them into fashion, all the while approaching design from her chosen vantage point of usefulness. A retro treat for designers and everyone who loves fashion--vintage and contemporary--and teeming with charming illustrations and still-solid advice for finding your own best look, creatively shopping on a budget, and building a real wardrobe that is chic and individual, is a tribute to the American spirit in fashion.
The revolutionary fashion designer credited with originating "The American Look," Claire McCardell designed for the emerging active lifestyle of women in the 1940s and '50s.
About the Author
Claire McCardell (1905-1958) pioneered a style of clothing both casual and chic. In 1990, Life magazine named her one of the 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century. She attended Parsons, learning to construct clothing by taking apart Vionnet samples. As head designer of Townley Frocks, she was one of the first American designers to have name recognition, as the company began to sell its fashions branded as "Claire McCardell Clothes by Townley." Her work is in museums across the country and has been the subject of retrospectives at the Smithsonian and the Fashion Institute of Technology.