Couture designed Mainbocher created the WAVES and SPARs uniform. Mainbocher was born in Chicago, trained in the New York fashion industry, and served at editor of Paris Vogue
. In 1929, Mainbocher opened his own fashion house. His atelier, just off of the Champs-Elysees in Paris, was the first opened by an American in the City of Lights.
Mainbocher brought an almost messianic view to fashion, saying
I don’t believe that dressmaking is an art but I do think that dresses are an important part of the art of living, just as important as food, surroundings, work and play.
His fashions drew a sophisticated, self-assured clientele.
One client was Josephine Forrestal, a former American Vogue writer who married the Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestral. She made suggestions for the initial unform design. Some worked, and some weren’t very practical McAfee recalls the initial blouse design was “simply impossible to iron,” useful for a socialite with a personal maid, but not so for women expected to work and iron their own clothing. Nonetheless, the personal connection of a Navy wife gave the Navy women entree into the high fashion world.
A famous designer designed them for us and they fit beautifully. And you felt so comfortable. It was probably the most expensive thing any of us had ever had. Well made. Beautiful material. And besides, it had two pockets just inside where you could put Kleenex and look better.
– Virginia Gillmore, World War II WAVE
Mainbocher was a well-known dress designer at the time. And I knew I would never have designer clothes, so there was my opportunity. So when someone says, ‘Why did you join the Navy?’ I say, ‘Well, number one, blue is my color.’ [laughs] I don’t look that great in khaki or green. Olive green or whatever the color was. But I have blue eyes so that helped that. And it was a nice looking uniform.
– Eileen Horner (Blakely), World War II