Mount Mary University Digital Collections

Bonnie Cashin

Bonnie Cashin with Sister Aloyse and Mount Mary Students_New York_circa 1979-1980.jpg
Bonnie Cashin speaking with Sister Aloyse Hessburg and Mount Mary students in her New York design studio, circa 1979-1985
Source: Mount Mary University Archive
Cashin Tomorrow Begins Today.jpg
Statement written by Bonnie Cashin on her personal stationery
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Bonnie Cashin (1908-2000) was one of the first great American sportswear designers. Rather than concentrating her efforts on high-end couture, Cashin designed functional clothing to fit the post-war American woman. A native of Oakland, California, Cashin’s career began as a teenager in the 1920s when she was asked to design costumes for Broadway dancers. Cashin went to work at ready-to-wear manufacturer Adler & Adler in 1938. During World War II Cashin designed uniforms for women in the armed forces and auxiliary corps.
After moving back to California, Cashin began designing for 20th Century Fox. Her designs were featured in many films, most notably Anna and the King of Siam (1946). Cashin eventually returned to New York and resumed work for Adler & Adler. In the early 1950s she established her own company, Bonnie Cashin Designs, which combined her business office and fashion studio.
Cashin’s long and prolific association with manufacturer Sills and Co. began in 1953.
Cashin Gold Needle Award Mount Mary 1970.jpg
Announcement for 1970 Gold Needle Award presented to Bonnie Cashin at Mount Mary
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Cashin was an innovator who worked in her own unique idiom. Unlike most designers Cashin did not look to Europe for inspiration, though during the 1960s her influence was evident on many Paris runways. Cashin was known for tweed, leather, and canvas designs cut with clean and simple lines, and natural earth tone fabrics worn in layers. Signature details of Cashin designs include leather bindings, toggles, and similar hardware for closings. Cashin coordinated her clothes with accessories such as hoods, bags, boots, and belts of her own design.
An avid traveler, Cashin was inspired by clothing from all parts of the globe. She believed in functional layers of clothing and advocated this way of dressing long before it became an international fashion. From the start Cashin specialized in comfortable clothes for the country and for travel, using wool jersey knits in subtle, misty colors.
Cashin Form Follows Function Mount Mary 1991_1.jpg
Flier for show featuring Bonnie Cashin's designs at Mount Mary in February 1991, which Cashin attended
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Bonnie Cashin’s connection to Mount Mary began as early as 1970 when she visited campus to receive the Gold Needle Award and take part in the student fashion show. Cashin returned to Mount Mary on numerous occasions to meet with and speak to students. In 1991 Cashin attended a showcase of her designs featured in the Fashion Archive. Cashin was particularly close with Sister Aloyse Hessburg, founder of the Mount Mary fashion program, who regularly took students to visit Cashin’s studio in New York.
Bonnie Cashinto Sister Aloyse October 1980.jpg
Handwritten note from Bonnie Cashin to Sister Aloyse Hessburg, October 1, 1980
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Cashin was unique in the fashion world since she did not employ design assistants or license her name. Her independence from dominant fashion trends and desire for privacy has led many to underestimate her impact on modern clothing design. While she stopped designing in the late 1980s, her form-follows-function approach made her a pioneering force in American fashion. Many of Cashin’s unique and highly personal clothing designs are now widely accepted as essential fashion concepts.
To learn more about Bonnie Cashin, check out the book Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It at Haggerty Library.


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