The "American Look" was a sportswear focused fashion movement during the 1930s and 1940s. The term "American Look" was coined in 1932 by Lord & Taylor executive Dorothy Shaver. Through the "American Look," US fashion developed its own identity independent from European fashion houses.
Historically, Paris had been the center of fashion design. Prior to the advent of the "American look," American apparel firms mostly copied French styles.
The Great Depression left 13 million Americans unemployed. Creating jobs and decreasing competition from imported goods were vital to improving the American economy. At the same time, the growth of female athleticism and increased female employment fueled a need for simpler and less expensive clothing.
Shaver created the "American Look" program at Lord & Taylor to promote American fashion designers. Between 1932 and 1939, the American Look program featured more than sixty designers, including Claire McCardell, Clare Potter, Merry Hull, Nettie Rosenstein, and Lilly Dache. The clothing lines was moderately priced, well-constructed, sportswear. Many of the "American Look" designers promoted by Lord & Taylor were women.
Shaver anticipated a shift in the fashion industry. World War II was looming and soon American consumers would be cut off from French fashions and limited by government rationing. Once the war began, the "American look" popularized sturdy, attractive work clothes such as Vera Maxwell's "Rosie the Riveter" coveralls. American "sportswear" and "separates" began to appear in Hollywood films worn by young, sporty characters.
Shaver began to advertise American designers the way French couturiers were advertised. She also took the lower cost of American made clothing, which up until this point had been treated as a sign of inferiority, and turned it into a positive.
In 1937, Shaver created the Lord & Taylor Design Awards as “a public declaration of the faith in American creative endeavor.”
Founder of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and creator of New York Fashion Week, Eleanor Lambert is considered the first fashion publicist. The Dress Institute hired Eleanor in the summer of 1940 to promote American fashion. Soon newspapers and magazines were soon full of stories about how New York was replacing Paris as the global fashion leader. In 1940, both Harper's Bazaar and American Vogue published issues devoted to American fashion.
The "American Look" was simple, flattering and inexpensive. Characteristic easy-to-wear, comfortable fabrics of the American Look include denim, cotton and knit jersey. Designs allowed for freedom of movement as well as practicality. Characteristic designs include the Popover dress, which could be easily pulled on for everything from entertaining and parties to covering up a swimsuit, the use of ballet slippers as everyday footwear, pockets and pleats in skirts and trousers, and a move away from constrictive undergarments like corsets. The American Look differed from the New Look in de-emphasizing accessories like handbags and gloves.
Claire McCardell once said, "I belong to a mass production country where any of us, all of us, deserve the right to good fashion."