11/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Michelle Obama Brought Back The Waist

Ours is not the first generation of grown women to deal with the tyranny of the tent dress, and with its implicitly infantilizing aesthetic. In the 1930s, designer Claire McCardell became famous creating fast-selling waistless dresses. According to Patricia Mears, the deputy director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, McCardell used children's clothing as her inspiration, tweaking the designs to make them more womanly. "She would go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, look at their collection of kids' clothes, and make patterns with a gathered neck, long empire sleeves, spaghetti strap ties, so you could tie them lower for a fitted torso," Mears says.