Despite the acceptance of fashionable sportswear as a form of casual dressing in French fashion in the 1920s, the American garment industry went on to become the most prominent producers of such clothing. The key difference between French and American sportswear was that French sportswear was usually a small part of a high-end designer's output, while the American sportswear designers focused on affordable, versatile, easy-care garments that could be mass-produced and were relevant to the customer's lifestyle, enabling the modern, increasingly emancipated woman to dress herself without a maid's assistance. Although the influence of Europe, particularly Parisian high fashion and English tailoring, was always significant, the Great Depression which started in 1929 acted as a trigger to encourage American fashion to focus on homegrown style and design - particularly sportswear. With 13 million Americans left unemployed by the Depression, it was necessary to create jobs and reduce the competition from imported goods in order to improve 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.
Many of the first sportswear designers were women, including McCardell, Potter, Elizabeth Hawes, Emily Wilkens, Tina Leser, and Vera Maxwell. A common argument was that female designers projected their personal values into this new style. One of the few male designers at this time was Tom Brigance, who by the late 1930s was regularly ranked alongside Potter as a leading name in mid-range priced sportswear. Like Potter, Brigance understood how to design smart and fashionable clothing for mass-production, which made his clothes attractive to manufacturers as well as to customers. Two other notable male designers of sportswear at this time were Sydney Wragge and John Weitz.
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The precursors of true sportswear emerged in New York before the Second World War. Clare Potter and Claire McCardell were among the first American designers in the 1930s to gain name recognition through their innovative clothing designs, which Martin described as demonstrating "problem-solving ingenuity and realistic lifestyle applications". Garments were designed to be easy-to-wear and comfortable, using practical fabrics such as denim, cotton, and jersey. McCardell in particular has been described as America's greatest sportswear designer. Her simple, practical clothes suited the relaxed American dress code, neither formal nor informal, that became established during the 1930s and 1940s. McCardell once proclaimed: "I belong to a mass production country where any of us, all of us, deserve the right to good fashion." Martin credits the 1930s and 40s sportswear designers with freeing American fashion from the need to copy Paris couture. Where Paris fashion was traditionally imposed onto the customer regardless of her wishes, American sportswear was democratic, widely available, and encouraged self-expression. The early sportswear designers proved that the creation of original ready-to-wear fashion could be a legitimate design art which responded stylishly to utilitarian requirements.
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