If there is something that quite literally makes me forget to breath… it’s a Chanel suit.
Coco Chanel wasn’t just ahead of her time. She was ahead of herself. The way, 75 years ago, she mixed up the vocabulary of male and female clothes and created fashion that offered the wearer a feeling of hidden luxury rather than ostentation are just two examples of how her taste and sense of style overlap with today’s fashion.
Chanel was one of the first to borrow from menswear for women’s attire when she created her iconic suits. Consisting of a collarless boxy wool jacket with braid trim, fitted sleeves and metallic embellished buttons with accompanying slimline skirt, the outfit was the perfect choice for the post-war woman who was trying to build a career in the male-dominated workplace. The suit was favoured by celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, and made its mark on history when Jackie Kennedy wore it on the day her husband was assassinated.
Recognized for its clean, unstructured simplicity, the Chanel suit began its life as an easy wool jersey cardigan style jacket with bold black trim, iconic gold buttons and pockets (which were revolutionary at the time) worn with a simple, straight knee length skirt. While the Chanel suit frequently morphs into new variations from season to season, the standard remains as chic and classic as ever.
It was in Paris that she designed the classic “Chanel suit.” The suit was created as a natural step in Chanel’s designs: it employed traditionally masculine features of clothing giving it a very bold look, was designed primarily for comfort and mobility for an active lifestyle, and was fabricated with soft and flexible materials. The Chanel suit consisted of a collarless, button-up, wool jacket, and a well-fitted skirt. The jacket often had braid trim, metallic buttons and fitted sleeves, which left a polished and sophisticated look. Chanel herself wore it with a cropped haircut, which became popular for women in the 1920s.
The Chanel suit, as well as Coco Chanel’s own look, expanded the field of dressing for women. While the style was often criticized at the time, it was the first professional option for clothing that women had. In fact, the Chanel suit was the first suit made specifically for women and its arrival only encouraged women to pursue their professional goals—it was a way for the women after World War I to hold onto their independent lifestyles, even when their husbands came home from war.