The Fashion of Claire McCardell

mccardell display

Note: Due to exhibition changes, the display will now end at Nov. 12.

Frederick native Claire McCardell redefined women’s fashion in the 1930s through the 1950s. She designed casual sportswear for women that was comfortable yet stylish.

To celebrate McCardell’s fashionable legacy (and her birthday May 24), we have 12 of her dresses included in a special display from our collection. They can be seen through November 12, 2023.

By reimagining how a modern woman dressed, McCardell empowered the working woman of the day. Rather than copy Parisian designs for the American market, she developed designs that were sensible, playful, and elegant with American women in mind.

She believed American women didn’t want the fussiness or expense of haute courtier fashions. Instead, McCardell designed her clothing to be American-made and mass-produced. She also often used unconventional materials and borrowed details and fabrics from menswear and workwear and was known for using printed fabrics to give items a trendy, chic look instead,

One of her most famous and popular designs was the Popover Dress. She created the dress in 1942 as a response to a Harper’s Bazaar challenge

to create an outfit a woman could wear to clean the house and later to a cocktail party. The dress came with a matching potholder that fit into the dress pocket. The Popover Dress received a citation from the American Fashion Critics Association.

After decades of creating iconic silhouettes, McCardell died on March 22, 1958, at the age of 52. She is buried in the family plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick.

Profile View of Claire McCardell, 1958 photograph by Louis Dahl-Wolfe. Courtesy of the Maryland Center for History and Culture, PP238.06.003

Profile View of Claire McCardell, 1958 photograph by Louis Dahl-Wolfe. Courtesy of the Maryland Center for History and Culture, PP238.06.00


A special lecture 

Join author Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson Thursday, Sept. 14, at 5:30 p.m. as she discusses  The Hidden History of Claire McCardell: Modern Design and the Birth of American Fashion at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. Frederick native McCardell was a trailblazing fashion designer who made revolutionary designs that helped women live independent lives.  From the 1930s through the 1950s, McCardell pioneered ingenious new designs — from separates to ballet flats to leggings—that remain staples of our wardrobes today. Dickinson is currently writing a book about McCardell, who helped invent American fashion and forever changed how we dress. Admission is $8 for museum members, $10 for general public. To register, contact Donna Rastelli at 301-739-5727 or