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Article: The Origin Of Sundresses


Sundresses made their way onto the fashion scene in 1956 with the first construction of red, blue, and yellow colors, plaid cotton, and an A-line design produced by American designer Claire McCardell not but two years before she passed. Known for working with ready-to-wear clothes, Claire McCardell designed clothing which was affordable, functional, and stylish.


She is credited with creating the American look today, noticeable by the casual fashion approach, encompassing of democratic ideals and rejecting formal French couture.

After attending Hood College at the age of 16, this designer applied to what was then referred to as the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, beginning her fashion career and taking the steps which would lead to the creation of sundresses. She started out simplifying original lines which made her garments more accessible for the average woman. Her certificate in Costume Design was granted after three years.


McCardell took control of Townley Frocks, Inc. after the owner had passed and designed a collection shown in the spring of 1931. Hattie Carnegie hired her after the company closed, but her desire to abstain from French influence ended her time there and attending Parisian fashion shows.

Upon reopening, McCardell returned to her previous employer and was offered her own label. This event made her one of the first American designers and female designers to have recognition by name. World War II ended any ties with France as far as clothing was concerned and the rationing of fabric allowed McCardell to integrate fabric made of ballet slippers. She was awarded two of the most prestigious awards in the fashion industry and her “American Look” campaign was promoted worldwide.


The then-president Harry S. Truman presented her with an award in 1950, just a few years prior to the production of sundresses. By 1952 she was partner within Townley but this did not stop her from finishing her collections and forever changing female clothing lines.

Most influential are her Monastic dresses from 1938 which featured untailored and loose sleeves with patch pockets and a belt to create the shape around the waste, often seen today. Four years later she produced the renowned Popever dress which was a versatile wrap dress used to cover up a bathing suit, a housedress, a party dress, or a dressing down. The diaper bathing suit was another famous production which had a panel wrapping between the legs, made from cotton.


She streamlined wool bathing suits, utilized ballet slippers for every day foot wear, and then went on to create pleats and trouser pockets in women’s wear. Soon, she integrated draping fabric, gathered together to accentuate the natural shape of a female body and this led to the creation of revealing sundresses.


The sundresses McCardell created have belting which allows the fullness of the skirt to be recognized with the perfect waist to shoulders dimensions. The bust is projected creating a silhouette with the modern halter top. The fabrics commonly used by McCardell included cotton, denim, jersey, twill, and gingham. Without corsets, girdles, or crinolines, her sundresses were less structured but still flattered as they were form fitting to the natural curves of each woman’s body.

Among the achievements for innovative creations such as sundresses, McCardell received the Mademoiselle Merit award, the Distinguished Achievement award, the Women’s National Press Club award, the Coty American Fashion Critics award, and the Neiman Marcus award. She published a book on her revised vision of American fashion and sundresses entitled What Shall I Wear? The What, Where, When, and How Much of Fashion, published the same year as sundresses were released.


She is now credited with expounding upon the lifestyles of American women during her time who were sophisticated and functional while still casual, practical, feminine, and comfortable. Wars removed access to expensive French fabrics which forced McCardell to design simpler, inexpensive clothing.


Her sundresses encompassed her trademarks of spaghetti ties, decorative hooks instead of buttons, double top-stitching, large patch pockets, as well as the use of denim, mattress ticking, wool fleece, and calicos. Relying upon the intuition that there were functionality problems with women’s clothing which needed to be solved, McCardell implemented the changes in easier travel by designing women’s clothing which would travel well, could be interchangeable, and could be coordinated with separate pieces of an ensemble. Sundresses, for instance, could be worn on their own with flats, or dressed up with heels and a knitted sweater and pearls.


No matter the concepts, McCardell’s sundresses boasted a clean and functional look without padding or understructures, fitted neatly to a women’s body. Some had adjustable components for different body types.


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