It’s because of the tiny, ageless, twinkling Gabrielle Chanel, the dark-eyed French woman, that the entire fashion world did a flip-flop during the flapper era.
Women discarded girdles, rolled down their stockings, shortened their skirts, threw away their belts , went all in for the boyish-look and learned how to do the Charleston.
Chanel, born an illegitimate peasant, was abandoned and left in a convent orphanage. It is where she learned to sew.
In 1891, Chanel worked as an assistant shopkeeper in Moulins.
After a short-lived singing career at a mediocre concert hall, where she got the nickname “Coco”, she moved to a chateau near Paris as the mistress of a horse breeder and discovered her talents through the admiration of others who were fascinated with the clothing she made for herself.
Later another wealthy lover later helped Chanel open a shop selling hats and some clothes in 1913.
So began the legacy of the House of Chanel
In terms of fashion Chanel emancipated women from binding, uncomfortable clothes, taught them to be free and easy. Short skirts, short hair and flat chests of the 20s all can be traced to Coco’s influence.
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Depictions of Chanel’s designs first appeared in American Vogue in 1916. Her collection debuted that fall. Although the “Eternal” designed a number of types of fashions for women, including evening gowns, trousers and blouses, outside of her famous Chanel No. 5 perfume, she’s most known for her classic suit.
Classic because it’s just as stylish today as it was in the 1930s.
Chanel’s classic suit featuring The Iconic Tweed Jacket tells the same story over and over again.
It’s the story of a little suit, with two or four pockets and collar and cuffs faced with the same fabric as the blouse underneath plus masses of gold necklaces, gold cuff links and gold buttons which looked deceptively like the real thing.
The famed “Chanel Suit” is widely known the world over. The Classic Chanel Suit is a haberdash suit. It’s styled similar to a man’s suit, except with a slim skirt and collarless jacket. It’s a feminine version of a classic man’s suit.
But what makes a “Chanel” a “Chanel”?
Keeping it short a true classic Chanel, probably the most copied article of all time, is trimmed in braid (or colored bindings), contains gold buttons, patch pockets and sewn into the hem is a gold-colored chain meant to ensure a proper hang from the shoulders. The jacket is worn with a blouse of cotton, pique or silk.
But, there’s more than one type of Chanel suit and here are some other elements to look for:
The Authentic Chanel Signature
• Bracelet-length, cuffed sleeves, with a sliver of silk blouse showing underneath.
• Jersey blouses matching the lining of the jacket
• Multicolored piping and braided trimmings on cardigan-type jackets with small, round collars.
• Beautiful tweeds in lots of navy blue, pinks, oranges and Chanel’s own garnet red.
• Chanel’s dress length standard was 16” from the ground.
• Sleeve lengths range from a chilly, above-elbow to bracelet length, leaving bare enough for the forearm to show the bracelet or other wrist jewelry.
• Checks and stripes lined suit jacket that’s worn with a striped blouse (the same color as the lining). The skirt is box-pleated.
• Leather trimmed flecked tweed suit and a self-material hat.
• Quilted linings
• Boucle wool
• Check weave in green, blue, beige, taupe and pink with white.
• Most skirts are narrow and slim, but each collection included a few suits with skirts flared, gored or pleated.
• The fitted jacket can have three, four or five button closings.The double-breasted suit, usually with jacket reaching only to the waist is normally styles with a pleated skirt. Suit jackets coming in three lengths-those that skim the waist, hug it or cover the upper hipbone.
• A wide neckline, leaving an open area that provides a setting for strands of pearls, a bib necklace or scarf; a jacket that’s cropped at the waist.
• Deep armholes in the suit, with sloping shoulders, belted or fitted at the waist.
1957- The “Inseparable Separates” Suit
A supple suit worn with a blouse of printed silk. The suit in tweed, jersey or shantung, is inseparable because the suit jacket’s lining as well as its collar-facing are out of the same printed silk (or pique) as the blouse.
The classic re-do in beige tweed with four vertical slit-pockets, two on the bust and two on the hips. The blouse, jacket lining and collar facing are of printed silk with an impressionistic pattern in brown, red and orange. A classier number was made of black shantung for the suit and white pique for the blouse, jacket collar, cuffs and lining.
Featured a shorter, narrower jacket with more fit, shorter skirts and easier with low inverted pleats at the front and back. This version was particularly stunning in red and grey plaid wool, lined and faced in red pongee to match the blouse. The lapels and pocket flaps were trimmed in the same red pongee.
1964- The Chanel “New Look” suit
Pink and green giant checked wool. The cardigan jacket is braid trimmed and has brass buttons at the wrists. The wrap around skirt has two vertical slip pockets and is brass-buttoned in front and a matching silk blouse and tweed bonnet.
Other than braided trim, notice Chanel’s love for pockets?
In fact, the pockets of the Chanel suits are one of the main standout features of the beloved classic.
1960 Tweed suit in flecked tweed
Narrow skirt with center front stitching. Patch pockets. Trimming at pockets and collar. Belted waist. Large brass buttons.
1960 Belted Suit in ribbed navy wool.
Worn with white shirt. Beautiful cuffs. Four pockets.
Chanel matador look. A cropped jacket, straight skirt and tipped-forward matador type hat. The suit is tweed in beige with a strong dark overtone. The blouse is of soft pink silk and has a self-tie at the neckline.
Tweed suit with a tiered silhouette, a marvel of tailoring balance.The loose cropped jacket echoes the matador line. The blouse is of printed gauze and trim.
1960 Chanel suit with a box-pleat skirt in checks and stripes. The lining of the jacket is also striped.
“It is not gambling to bet that people will lead an altogether different mode of life, effecting modes. But there’s one thing that won’t change. Women will today, in twenty and in a hundred years’ time, always seek to increase and heighten their personality and appearance with the help of dress.”-Coco Chanel
“A woman has the age she deserves.”-Gabrielle Coco Chanel
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, at one time one of the richest women in the world, initially got her start in fashion by opening a small hat shop selling to the upper crust society of Paris’ polo scene.
Admired for her dark eyes and small frame, she was adored mostly because she had a style of dress different from ladies of the time who were were bound in corsets, smothered in long skirts and saddled under hat confections of straw weighted with masses of flowers and feathers.
Chanel did away with constricting corsets, sported small boater hats and dressed comfortably in pants or short skirts made of knits normally set aside for men’s underwear.
With WWII closing all the fashion houses in Paris, in 1939, Coco Chanel, the first lady of haute couture since the 1920s, retired completely from the fashion world and moved to Switzerland where she remained for 14 years quietly building her perfume empire, until her comeback in 1953-54 at the age of 70. Of the comeback, you either loved Chanel’s efforts or wished she’d stay in retirement and relished headlines like: “A fiasco,” “Ghosts of 1930s gowns,” and “Out in the sticks with Chanel”.
Nevertheless within two years Coco was enjoying new found respect and was once again the darling of the fashion world.
Committed to her fashion sensibilities, she updated her signature looks and redesigned the classic tweed suits that made her famous and in 1957, at a time when Christian Dior was the king of fashion, Coco received the Nieman-Marcus couture Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion, declaring her the most influential dress designer of the century.
The “Chanel” suit (originally appearing in the 1930s) became a status symbol for a new generation all over again.
Somewhere I read, a Chanel suit is like a “station wagon come to town,” comfortable and under-dressed it’s an “international uniform, that’s more informative than a passport”.
Putting it simply, it’s a basic little tailored suit.
Known for much more than dressmaking Chanel was the first couturier to create accessories for her designs. After all, wearing a Chanel suit meant looking the part. This meant adhering to the tradition of accessorizing the classic with Coco’s signature trademarks: chain necklaces, chain belts, scarves, beige shoes with black toes, leather gloves, a small hat, a quilted leather handbag with a chain handle and, of course, wearing Chanel No. 5.
Chanel, once considered one of the best dressed women in the world, was also an astute business woman.
By all accounts, Coco wasn’t warm and affectionate. In fact, it’s said most people feared her sharp, biting tongue. She didn’t like pretense and was surprisingly outspoken.
Of French women she said, “They want to be like American women, but they never will.” Of American women, “They trap men, train them and eat them.” Of women in general, “If women only understood that men are nothing but babies, the world wouldn’t be in the mess it is.”
Although Coco was pursued and courted by some of the wealthiest aristocratic men in the world, she never married or had children. She lived a solitary life, dying alone in her hotel room in 1971 at 87.
I imagine her doing what she loved most-creating, wearing her “uniform”-a jersey suit with violet braids, a round hat, three-string pearl necklace, a pair of shears hanging from her neck, an arm full of dangling bracelets, staring at the back of the room of models and designers sitting patiently-lovingly-like schoolchildren- on chairs waiting to be called up by Coco.
Make Your Own
One way to achieve Chanel’s iconic look is with a simple collarless jacket pattern. Trim it with a floral embroidered tape of gold and black, and with gold soutache braid. The jacket can be worn with a matching skirt, or over a black dress. Craftsy has a class: The Iconic Tweed Jacket, that is a great starting point.
Metallic gold corded piping; metallic gold on black woven tape; metallic gold soutache braid.
All of the trim is applied before facings, pockets and lining are sewn to the jacket.
Applying the trim
• Around neckline and center front edges, stitch the gold piping to the right side of the jacket on the seam line with the cord facing toward the body of the jacket. It’s easier applying the trim if you use a cording or zipper foot machine attachment.
• Measure in 3/8 inches from the stitching on the piping and mark all around neckline and center fronts, using this mark as a guide for one edge of the tape. Stitch tape to jacket along both edges.
• Measure in 3/8 inch from inside edge of tape all around neckline and center fronts, then using this line as a guide; apply soutache braid by stitching down its center.
• Sleeves: Follow the same instructions as you did for the neckline and front edges.
• Pockets: The trim must be applied before pockets are hemmed and lined. Mark hemline on all pockets. Then, right on the hemline, top-stitch a row of soutache braid. Measure down 3/8 inches and stitch metallic gold tape along both edges as you did before. Measure down 3/8 inches from tape edges and stitch another row of soutache braid.
• Turn under the pocket hem, insert lining; turn sides and bottom edge of pocket under ¼ inches and press. Pin pockets in place and carefully slip-stitch it to the jacket. Trimmed patch pockets shouldn’t’ be top-stitched to jacket by machine.
Stitch facing to jacket, stitching on first row of stitching on piping, then turn the facing to the wrong side and press. Then continue as you would.