my claire mccardell-inspired positano dresses

I was inspired by this famous Claire McCardell dress when I started designing the Positano Blouse + Dress. I’ve always loved its simplicity and the way the draping resembles the drapery of Roman sculptures. This dress is part of the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the following description:

McCardell’s classic day-to-evening dress is a synthesis of the unassuming drawstring peasant blouse and the chic Empire silhouette achieved through spaghetti-string tying at the waist and collar. Is she Esmeralda or Madame Récamier? In fact, she is both vernacular and commonplace and extraordinary. Moreover, if the dress resembles the columnar drapery of ancient or Romanesque sculpture, it is also the exemplar of ready-to-wear adaptability, compliant to a variety of different body types.

If you’re not familiar with Claire McCardell, I’ll tell you more about her another day. She was the first American sportswear designer, a true visionary. But today I want to show you how she inspired our new Positano Blouse + Dress pattern, and what I sewed with some very drapey fabrics to imitate this style.

I spend a lot of time developing our patterns, thinking about the best methods of construction, writing the instructions, and drawing the illustrations. But I also love to play with our patterns as I’m developing them, to see where I can take them beyond the essential pattern itself. So when I can across two unusual fabrics in my local shop I jumped on them, because they both reminded me of that McCardell photo that had inspired me in the first place. They both have drape, and the colors aren’t especially inspiring or appealing. In fact, they’re very neutral, maybe even drab.

So I tried them both as versions of the Positano Dress, lengthening them the way I like to wear dresses. And here they are so you can see the results. They gray fabric is a heavy-ish woven synthetic fabric–I haven’t done a burn test, but my guess is a poly/rayon of some sort. It’s matte, but with a little bit of underlying richness to it–hard to describe, which is what I like about it–and the texture is interesting, almost like a double weave. The brown is a very lightweight cotton jersey–nothing especially unique about it except that I liked the airy lightness about it. And here are the results.


You can see that the jersey really drapes, almost clings to the body, but the length of the dress gives it a nice hang. And the gray woven has a little more body to it. Both of these would be great travel dresses because the gray really doesn’t want to wrinkle–I mean, the body and drape are really interesting because it’s almost impossible to crease the fabric–while with the brown jersey the wrinkles will just fall away.

And since you often ask about fabrics that aren’t listed on the back of our patterns as options, here are two examples of how the style can change with different fabrics. Do you have a favorite?

Stay tuned because I have another Positano Blouse and a Laureles Dress to show you soon, too!




  1. BeckyT

    This was a helpful and inspiring post! I’m very interested in making a Positano dress using some Lady McElroy rayon I have on hand. My daughter saw the pattern and said, “mom, this pattern was made just for you!” I like the longer length of the dress, as you have done in all three examples you’ve made. Could you help with a yardage estimate for the longer length? I’m 5’8” and will likely be making a size 12. My fabric is 58” wide — I like the self-fabric belt but if necessary could use a different sort of belt. Thanks so much.

    1. I’m glad you liked it! Aside from actually laying out the pattern pieces to decide precisely how much fabric to buy, I would suggest deciding how much longer you want to make the dress and adding that measurement x 2 to the yardage estimate. That will definitely give you enough. So for my dress I added 12″, and I would have purchased the yardage suggested on the pattern envelope + 24″ to be certain I had enough. I hope that helps!

      1. BeckyT

        Thank you for the info. I was able cut out a size 12 Positano dress, lengthened 12”, using my 3-1/8 yard stash fabric, 58” wide. Including three belt pieces, with a bit left over. Now on to sewing!

  2. Karen Mulkey

    I like the brown knit jersey dress as it drapes so nicely. The gray fabric doesn’t work for me – just my opinion and maybe because I don’t like the color. I feel best in clear, bright colors as I’m older and need color to brighten my skin. I love your patterns! Karen in Austin, TX

  3. Lyndsey Stanfill

    I love Claire McCardell so much! Fantastic homage.

  4. Marcia Bosscher

    I love both! Love the drape!

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