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    ‘The American Look’: the transformation of women’s sportswear in 1930s and 1940s America

    Kealy-Morris, Elizabeth ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2843-1916 (2022) ‘The American Look’: the transformation of women’s sportswear in 1930s and 1940s America. In: Association of Dress Historians Conference 2022: Fashioning the Body for Sport and Leisure: A History of Dress and Textiles, 30 September 2022 - 01 October 2022, Online and London: Courtauld Institute. (Unpublished)

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    Abstract

    This paper will suggest that the American sportswear style reflects the unique historical and cultural influences on American dress from the birth of the new democratic nation in the eighteenth century to the dominance of New York City’s ready-to-wear industry in the 1950s. Focusing on the key decades of the 1930s and 1940s, this paper will explore the marketing campaign of Dorothy Shaver, Vice-President of the luxury retailer Lord & Taylor, who in 1932 coined the phrase ‘The American Look’ to promote American fashion designers’ collections (Arnold 2009; Millbank, 1989; Webber-Hanchett 2003). The influence of key New York fashion designers on the American sartorial silhouette has been written by many (Arnold 2008, 2009; Breward, 2003; Breward and Evans 2005; Mendes & de la Haye, 1999, 2010; Millbank, 1989; Tomerlin Lee, 1975; Welters and Cunningham, 2005), and this paper will focus on the legacy of Claire McCardell in particular (Breward 2003; Kirkland 1975; Yohannan and Nolf 1999; Steele 1991). McCardell’s combination of nostalgic American prairie style with the use of everyday working wear fabrics of cotton plaid, denim, wool and jersey created an unpretentious casual American style based on comfort, ease and flexibility which is reflected today in the contemporary American ready-to-wear market. List of References Arnold, R. (2008), ‘Movement and Modernity: New York Sportswear, Dance and Exercise in the 1930s and 1940s’, Fashion Theory, 12 (3): 341-358. Arnold, R. (2009), The American Look: Fashion, Sportswear and the Image of Women in the 1930s and 1940s New York, London and New York: I.B. Tauris. Breward, C. (2003), Fashion, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Breward, C. and Evans, C. (2005), Fashion and Modernity, New York: Berg. Kirkland, S. (1975), ‘McCardell’, S. Tomerlin Lee (ed), American Fashion: The life and lines of Adrian, Mainbocher, McCardell, Norell and Trigere, 211-315, New York: André Deutsch. Mendes, V., and de la Haye, A. (1999), 20th Century Fashion, New York and London: Thames and Hudson. Mendes, V., and de la Haye, A. (2010), Fashion since 1900, New York and London: Thames and Hudson. Millbank, C.R. (1989), New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers. Steele, V. (1991), Women of Fashion: Twentieth-century Designers, New York: Rizzoli International Publications. Tomerlin Lee, S., ed. (1975), American Fashion: The Life and Lines of Adrian, Mainbocher, McCardell, Norell and Trigere, New York: Andre Deutsch. Webber-Hanchett, T. (2003), ‘Dorothy Shaver: Promoter of “The American Look”’, Dress, 30: 80-90. Welters, L. and Cunningham, P.A. (eds.)(2005), Twentieth-Century American Fashion, New York: Berg. Yohannan, K., and Nolf, N. (1999), Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

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