April 4, 2021

Jessica McClintock, designer of countless prom dreams, dies

Jessica McClintock, the designer who made countless prom dress dreams come true, has died at age 90 at her home in San Francisco.

McClintock, whose Feb. 16 death was not immediately announced, was famed for her budget-friendly formalwear, and thousands of promgoers have fond memories of trying on gowns at her boutique in San Francisco’s Union Square.

The fashion trailblazer was born in Maine in 1930 and left home at 17 to pursue a college degree. She graduated from San Jose State University and eventually settled in the Bay Area, where she invested in San Francisco fashion label Gunne Sax in 1969. The brand was known for its calico prairie-style dresses, but after McClintock joined the endeavor — which would later take her name — the dresses moved toward a more romantic, elegant style.

“Jessica often spoke of her belief that ‘Romance is beauty that touches the emotional part of our being’ and believed that everyone could choose to surround themselves with romance in their daily life,” her paid obituary reads. “With that idea she incorporated romance and beauty, and an elegant sensuality, into every product she designed.”

By the 1990s, Jessica McClintock was synonymous with accessible women’s formalwear. Her designs graced weddings, bridal parties and untold numbers of formal dances and dinners; Hillary Clinton wore a Jessica McClintock dress when she married Bill Clinton in 1975.

In 1997, Women’s Wear Daily ranked Jessica McClintock as the seventh-most recognized brand, just short of Cartier and Tiffany.

McClintock worked until her retirement in 2013 at age 83. Although she initially planned to shut down the brand with her retirement, it was licensed and is active today. Her son Scott, who survives her, will continue to manage the label.

“Jessica McClintock was a fashion icon for those without big wallets,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) wrote on Twitter. “She was a dear friend, an elegant woman, a successful businesswoman who made every girl who wore one of her prom dresses and brides she dressed, like me, feel like a princess.”