Today was rough. Well, let’s be real: the last many months have been rough for me. I’m stuck in a job that doesn’t want me and I feel professionally useless. But today I was told off in a humiliating way that I was surprisingly unprepared for, and I’m left feeling on one hand like I’m a wasted resource, and on the other so broken in my confidence that I feel like I have nothing to offer. Intellectually I know and hope that this isn’t the case; I hope that someone sees value in my brain and my eye enough to offer me some money in exchange for them. What does this have to do with Claire McCardell? Not much, except that this dress that I’m wearing today is like a hug. I felt sad and scared going to work this morning, and I wanted to wear the softest, most comfortable garment I own. For some people this would mean an old sweatshirt. For me, it means a full-length gown in the softest wool possible, designed by Claire McCardell for Townley.
For a long time, I assumed that McCardell was a California designer. I saw so many examples of her work on the beach, or 1940s playsuits shot by Louise Dahl-Wolfe that were SO California that I assumed she had to be from Los Angeles.
Photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe for Harper’s Bazaar, 1946
So when I learned she was firmly a New York designer, I was surprised, I guess because I associate her so much with resort wear. But yeah, turns out she was educated and lived and worked in New York her whole career. There are plenty of good biographies of her on the internet, so I won’t go into too much detail here, except to say that the fact she eschewed absorbing the Paris collections helped her pioneer American design through World War II. She created and perfected the wrap dress, utilized unconventional fastening materials, like hooks (seen above) and belts rather than zippers, and expertly used draping and gathering to accentuate the body.
Navy wool dress, Claire McCardell clothes by Townley, $38 on ebay
Sidenote – I paid about $40 for this dress, because it had been dyed. The label is the same navy blue as the dress. But it’s still a soft hug and exactly what I needed today.