What We Can Learn From a Radical 1950s Fashion Writer
by Vard Mov
Claire McCardell was an American fashion designer in the era of French fashion. She doesn’t have a household name like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, or Donna Karan, but she is responsible for recognizable fashion feats of the 40s and 50s, such as spaghetti straps, the ballet flat, and pockets and zippers on dresses.

Most importantly in her oeuvre, she wrote the book What Shall I Wear? The What, Where, When, and How Much of Fashion, which was first released in 1956. The book was considered radical back then. She was a sustainable fashion philosopher (although the cheap clothes of the 50s pale in comparison to the fast fashion of today), as well as an advocate for women dressing comfortably for their body type rather than adhering to trendy ill-fitting styles.

“She always thought about women,” says Burch. “She was an incredible feminist before feminism was really mainstream.”
At VARD/MOV, we are firm believers in the same core philosophies–that developing a personal style is sacred, and that quality, versatility and fit for your body and coloration are far more important than trendiness. In a world where the fast fashion industrial complex reigns supreme, we view this proposed culture-shift–from McCardell 70 years ago, and from Stylists like us today–as inherently radical.

McCardell’s imprint on modern fashion and style philosophy has inspired many modern designers, such as Tory Burch who wrote the forward to the most recent edition. Burch, who first learned about McCardell in an art history class, incorporates the core pillars of What Shall I Wear? into her modern work, and holds her predecessor in the highest esteem.

“She always thought about women,” says Burch. “She was an incredible feminist before feminism was really mainstream.”

That a woman chose to write a book about fashion at all in the 1950s is truly radical. In a piece about McCardell in Harper’s Bazaar, Rachel Tashjian echoes Burch’s sentiments: “McCardell believed that fashion was not something for the very few, whether they be very passionate or very wealthy or both. The purpose of the book, and McCardell’s clothes, too, was, as Burch put it, to help all women “feel more confident…feel like a better version of themselves.’”

We always say, the purpose of developing a personal style is not to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ or make others envious. It’s about self discovery and being able to represent yourself aptly and comfortably on the outside. It’s also about being ready to take on the world, wherever it may take you.

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