Elizabeth Hawes (1903 – 1971) American
Elizabeth Hawes was born in New Jersey and started sewing as a teenager. In 1932, Dorothy Shaver promoted Elizabeth Hawes and a few other female designers to the media as leading American designers. Like Claire McCardell, her fashion contemporary, Hawes created simple bias-cut comfortable garments with deep armholes and natural shoulders that would be worn with flat-soled shoes. However, while McCardell’s style was somewhat suburban, Hawes was more part of the arty and sophisticated city set.
Hawes felt that the body and its clothes must work together. She thought that American women should not accept French fashion as the standard. Her goal was to bring stylish clothing with an American sensibility to the masses and believed that all women deserved to have beautiful and functional clothes.
Her career beginnings were suspect; her first job upon arriving in Paris was as a copyist for a high-end French “knock-off” copy house. She worked there for over a year eventually receiving a position in the legitimate fashion industry by apprenticing with Nicole Groult, the sister of designer Paul Poiret.
While still in Paris, she started her own fashion news service for Americans under the pseudonym “Parisite.” She also wrote columns for The New Yorker, Women’s Home Companion and PM magazine.
While considered famous in her time, she was never featured in Vogue or Harpers Bazaar because of her unconventionality which alienated fashion industry leaders. One of the reasons you may not have heard of Hawes is because of her unpopular stance on US mass production.
Hawes believed in mass production and believed that the US could learn from the French process. But the purely businesslike approach upset her and she was unwilling to make the compromises needed for American mass production. Despite this, her fashion career lasted fifteen years. After a stint working in an aviation factory during the war, she turned to studying and writing about female factory workers and the conditions they worked under.
Hollywood Connection: None, she opposed the growing idea of Hollywood being considered the capital of American fashion.
Her style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
- She is the author of nine books on fashion, the most famous ones being Fashion is Spinach (1938) and Men Can Take It (1939), which advocates for more freedom in fashion choices for men. Note: The book is available to read or download at the link above.
- She would use details such as elaborate insets of suede on her garments.
- Hawes would give her dresses unique names such as The People’s Choice, Five Year Plan, Rubicon, Alimony, and Misadventure.
- Her personal uniform consisted of a turtleneck or buttoned-down shirt underneath suspenders and deep-pocketed trousers worn with flat, flexible shoes.
Sources: Radical by Design: The Life and Style of Elizabeth Hawes (1988) Bettina Berch; Women of Fashion (1991) Valerie Steele.