1950s fashion, designers, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Thank Your Lucky Stars for Claire

I saw this meme over the holidays and had to laugh. It’s said that it’s a white-girl thing that every time someone admires a dress, the girl responds in kind “thanks, it’s got pockets.” Now I don’t know that it’s purely a white-girl thing, but women do love themselves a good garment with pockets. And do you know who you can thank for that?

Claire McCardell.

Ms. McCardell was known as the one who invented American sportswear, and for good reason. She was tall and athletic herself, the only sister in a family with three boys, and she wanted comfortable clothes she could move in. She ended up as a founding board member of Sports Illustrated. I doubt that a fashion designer has ever had that privilege since. She really did push sportswear to a whole new level (and I’m not talking about polyester gym suits and tennis dresses here).

Claire McCardell liked simple clothes that you could move in, in fabrics like jersey that draped well and moved with you. She loved cottons too, especially in plaids. Indeed, she made plaid ok to wear for evening wear. She pushed the notion of wearing tights and flats on the streets, instead of spike heels. She made jumpsuits and their shorter version, the playsuit, ok to wear outside of the Rosie the Riveter factory jobs. She put details on clothing that hadn’t been seen before or were seen only on jeans, like topstitching and yes, pockets. Those pockets that we love so much now.

Claire McCardell made it ok to wear separates, like shorts and blouses, capris, and the like. I’ve had two Claire McCardell patterns over the years: a Spadea (that sold for over $200 at auction) and a rarely found McCall’s pattern that probably sold for much less than it should have (I can’t remember). The Spadea was for one of her iconic dresses. The McCall’s was for sportswear separates. They aren’t easy to find, but the two patterns showed the full spectrum of what McCardell did.

I’m pretty sure that this Spadea 1130 is the one I had (it’s been a while). Simple lines and pockets.

Spadea American Designer’s #1130, 1953.

Here’s the McCall’s one I had. It’s a great representation of her love for sportswear separates and sadly, is from 1958, the year Claire McCardell died a very untimely death from cancer.

McCall’s 4494, 1958. Photo compliments of the Vintage Pattern Wiki.

If you are interested in Claire McCardell’s philosophy of dress, take a look at What Shall I Wear? , a book she authored that includes all kinds of advice on how to dress. I have a copy, and I love it. If you want to see more of her designs, grab Claire McCardell Redefining Modernism. It’s a coffee table book that has all the history of her designs, along with beautiful full color photos. Set aside some time for this one. You’ll want to give it its due, because it really is a wonderful book.

Until next time,
Lisa

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1950s fashion, Celebrity, designers, sewing, sewing patterns

Who was Hannah Troy?

McCall’s 5289, 1959, by Hannah Troy.

I came across this fantastic pattern the other day, and as I was listing it in the shop, noticed that it was designed by Hannah Troy. I’ve never seen a Hannah Troy pattern, and never heard of her, so I did some digging.

Hannah purportedly entered into the fashion industry in 1940 through a design she made herself, then sold for $3. She became a fashion model, and in a rather ballsy move for a model, suggested a different drape of fabric to the designer she was modelling for. I guess she didn’t believe in the (very wrong) belief that models are just clothes hangers and shouldn’t think. That suggestion led to her immediately becoming assistant to the designer, then head designer for another company, then to her branching off on her own to create Hannah Troy, Inc. Not bad for someone who started as a home sewist, yes?

Hannah revolutionized the clothing industry when she began designing for women with short waists. She was working as a model at May Company, and after spending days watching salespeople show short waisted women how to alter clothing to fit, decided there should be a petite line, made particularly for short waisted women. She enlisted help from the military, of all places, deciding that they would have the best database of women’s measurements. She got measurements of the WACs from the quartermaster, and found that the majority of women she studied were short waisted. She called the measurements she used in designing “Troyfigure,” and went to work.

One of Hannah’s most influential designs was one that Grace Kelly wore when she went to Europe early in her career. That also happened to be the trip where she met Prince Rainier. Hannah was also considered to be one of the most influential people in bringing attention to Italian fashion. In 1951, exports of Italian goods was $1 million, and by 1955, was $1 billion dollars, all in large part of the fact that she lauded the Italian goods. She was celebrated all over Italy for the help she gave their fashion industry, even being given the Star of Solidarity — the first American woman to be so honored.

Hannah designed with “complete wearability” as her foundation, and felt that the best designs were those that “lent themselves to the individual tastes of the greatest numbers of women.” She wanted to design for the masses, and bring the European styles to American women. Not unlike Coco Chanel, she felt that the best designs compliment, not overwhelm. Interestingly, she didn’t think women’s knees were pretty on anyone, even those with good legs. As the sixties marched on, she pronounced the pantsuit trend as “silly”, and thought the trend of women wearing teen styles was “ridiculous.” She did very well for herself, designing for a number of socialites and celebrities. Newspaper articles describe her apartment as elegant, and having decor that included rare antiquities from ancient Chinese dynasties.

She retired to Fort Lauderdale in the early 1970s, after thirty years in the fashion industry, and died of a heart attack June 22, 1993, in a Miami hospital. She was 93.