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Claire McCardell fashion sketches

Identifier: KA-0082-01


Claire McCardell (1905-1958) graduated from the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (later, Parsons School of Design) in 1928 and later became a pivotal figure in American ready-to-wear fashion. In 1944, McCardell returned to Parsons as a critic and instructor, a position she held for the rest of her life. The collection contains roughly 9,000 of McCardell's sketches, dated 1931 to 1958; mostly produced for Townley Frocks.


  • 1931 - 1958



53.7 Cubic Feet (128 binders, 1 folder)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents of Collection

The bulk of the collection consists of approximately 9,000 fashion sketches produced by Claire McCardell for Townley Frocks between 1931 and just before her death in 1958. All sketches are rendered in pencil, with 163 accompanied by fabric swatches. In addition to the Townley sketches, the collection includes 510 sketches McCardell created for Hattie Carnegie and 163 sketches she created for Win-Sum between 1939 and 1940, during the period when Townley had temporarily ceased production.

Fellow Townley designers Arnold Isaacs (1930-), who in the early 1950s had begun using the name "Scaasi," and Mildred Orrick are also represented in the collection. The 18 Scassi sketches were produced for Townley's "Urban" label during McCardell's final season and Orrick contributed approximately 250 sketches for McCardell's line during McCardell's illness and immediately following her death.

The collection includes one folder of ephemera, mostly on Townley stationery and order forms, featuring jottings regarding materials and garment numbers. There is also a sketch of what appears to be a garment manufacturing company, with areas labeled "shipping" and "piece goods," and three items of correspondence between Lake Dress Manufacturing Company of New York and W. I. Young of Norfolk, Virginia, dated 1932.

The collection includes no personal materials, nor does it include professional correspondence apart from the Lake-Young items in the Ephemera series.

It is important to note that the years used to organize the collection are approximations based on inscriptions found on numerous sketches.

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Please contact for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives. Please contact:

Biographical note

Claire McCardell was born in Frederick, Maryland in 1905 and attended the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (today, Parsons School of Design) from 1925 to 1928. With a certificate in Costume Design, McCardell joined the team of New York fashion designer Robert Turk. After Turk met a sudden death, McCardell became head designer for Townley Frocks. Closed for business in 1938 or 1939, Townley Frocks would re-open its doors in 1940 and offer McCardell her own label, “Claire McCardell Clothes by Townley.” Adolph Klein, the owner of Townley Frocks, made her a partner of the firm in 1952.

McCardell returned to Parsons in 1944 as a critic and lecturer. That same year, she was honored with the first of her two Winnies, the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics' Awards. In 1945, Lord & Taylor picked up McCardell's collection for Townley, and in 1950, U.S. President Harry Truman presented McCardell with the Women’s National Press Club Award. McCardell exhibited her work at the Frank Perls Gallery of Beverly Hills in 1953, and appeared on the cover of Time magazine in May 1955.

Claire McCardell died from cancer at the age of 52 in 1958. Her friend and former Parsons classmate Mildred Orrick (1906-1994) stepped in to finish McCardell's line at Townley Frocks. The firm closed in 1976.


Organized in 2 series: 1. Ephemera, 1932, undated; 2. Sketches, 1931-1958. Arrangement is chronological.

Custodial History

Sketches donated to Parsons School of Design by Adolph Klein, president of Townley Frocks, 1967.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Internally transferred to Kellen Design Archives from Adam and Sophie Gimbel Design Library of Parsons School of Design, circa 1996.

Related Materials

Biographical materials about Claire McCardell as well as photographs of the designer visiting and lecturing at Parsons will be found in the New School Archives' Parsons School of Design Alumni Association records (PC.03.02.01). The New School Archives also holds the papers of McCardell's classmate, friend, and Townley collaborator, Mildred Orrick in Mildred Orrick fashion and costume sketches (KA.0067) and two garments designed by Claire McCardell.

Guide to the Claire McCardell fashion sketches
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
October 7, 2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note