I recently started to research an American designer who really thought about what makes a perfect travel wardrobe: Claire McCardell.
In the 1930s, when rich women were starting to “holiday” abroad, travelling by aeroplane or cruise ship, they started to require a special wardrobe that could accompany them. Maxwell and McCardell helped to create the notion of a limited, carefully selected group of interchangeable separates that would look good everyday. At the same time modern methods of manufacture, new fabrics and advances in dying different fabrics in the same colourway, meant that a coordinated capsule wardrobe became a distinct possibility. Also it appealed as a “modern” and “rational” approach – increasingly it was a wardrobe that a lady had to maintain herself rather than having lots of servants to do it for her. She wrote:
Sports clothes changed our lives because they changed our thinking about clothes. Perhaps they, more than anything else, made us independent women. In the days of dependent women – fainting women, delicate flowers, laced to breathless beauty – a girl couldn’t cross the street without help. Her mission in life was to look beautiful and seductive while the men took care of the world’s problems. Today women can share the problems (and possibly help with them) because of their new-found freedom. (Sports Illustrated 1955)
By the late 1930s, McCardell was offering a five to seven piece collection that was ideal for travelling with. In the mid 1930s she showed a 6-pac including
- and 6. two tops
Another wardrobe she suggested for a beach holiday was
- chambray dress
- sun top
For a business trip she proposed a navy-based wardrobe consisting of
- knitted top
McCardell knew what she wanted to wear and buy – as a professional she wanted women to have more freedom (their clothes express the “sportswear” ideal that many Europeans associate with American style). These were essentially modern clothes and by curating a coordinated “look” they made it easier for women to pack simply and still look a la mode when they were swanning about the Pyramids. McCardell delighted in small, important details on easy to wear items. The focus on a clear silhouette and a mix-and-match mentality meant that women could use their own initiative to create new looks from their separates.
During the 1950s she produced a few patterns for Spadea and McCalls, including this one.
I don’t know about you but these images make me want to make something special for my holidays. Have you seen the 1945 Futuristic Dress? It is basically a dress made from four triangles with the joins top stitched for a sportswear look.
I am still intending to make a silk maxi dress for my holidays but I am going to have to crack on as I am running out of time.