American Look

In fashion history the late 1940s are best known for the introduction of the New Look, a return to luxurious feminine clothes that was begun by French designer Christian Dior (1905–1957). Across the ocean, however, American designer Claire McCardell (1905–1958) was creating a revolution in fashion of her own. During World War II (1939–45), when French designers were inactive, McCardell began to design clothes that could be worn every day by busy women. In Fashion: The Mirror of History McCardell is quoted as saying: "I belong to a mass production country where any of us, all of us, deserve the right to good fashion." Among her first designs was a bias-cut dress. A bias-cut meant that the fabric was cut diagonally across the weave, allowing the dress to have a soft and flowing shape. McCardell also invented the popover dress, which was meant for comfortable wear around the house. Women could move easily in these dresses, and in McCardell's other designs. Observers soon hailed McCardell's designs as the American Look.

Above all else American Look clothes were simple and practical. McCardell's bias-cut dresses had adjustable waistlines and side pockets. Her dirndl skirts were slim at the waist and flared outward and could be paired with her clingy tops and light sweaters. Her ballerina leotards were stretchy and fit a variety of shapes, and she eliminated the girdle, a restrictive undergarment. McCardell was fond of simple fabrics like denim and wool jersey, a soft, stretchy woven fabric. Others soon followed McCardell's example and developed an entire range of clothing that became associated with the American Look.

Claire McCardell designed simple, comfortable everyday clothes for the busy American woman. Reproduced by permission of © .

The American Look had a tremendous influence on style in the United States and Europe throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Many other designers sought to make simple, comfortable women's clothes that didn't restrict movement. McCardell and others developed American Look mix-and-match sportswear, bathing suits, winter wear, coats, and other items. Interestingly, accessories like gloves and umbrellas, so important to the New Look of designer Christian Dior, were not required for a well-dressed American Look woman. The influence of the American Look's casual comfort was felt through the end of the century.


Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.

Mulvagh, Jane. Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. New York: Viking, 1988.

[ See also Volume 5, 1946–60: New Look ]

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