Coco Chanel's Feminist Progress Through Fashion

Updated on November 23, 2019
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.


Famous for rebelling through fashion, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel broke down barriers in the fashion industry for women. She used masculine wardrobe to express herself. Taking the comfort of men's clothing, she produced styles for women. Not all of her best inventions were instant classics. There were times when society didn't understand or appreciate them until much later. However, Chanel is a recognized name today.

Where Comfort Meets Beauty

When Chanel was only Gabrielle, men dominated the fashion business. Who knew that the key to her success was as simple as giving women the unusual ability to function in their own apparel? By altering the construction of women's clothing to fit their bodies and not merely to attract the gaze of men, she achieved instant clientele from women.

Coco took men's clothing and transformed it for women. Likewise, she took women's clothing and made it flexible like men's. Before Chanel, pants were not acceptable for women, but one cannot move well in a dress. The corset was another common item in a woman's closet, but Coco challenged it by designing relaxing yet elegant dresses. Women wore large hats, causing an array of issues; therefore, she made them in smaller sizes like those for men. By taking men's designs and revamping them for women, she prospered from social rebellion. She created both for corporate and social situations.

Fabric, Fabric, Fabric!

Jersey fabric was Coco’s first significant choice. This wasn't embraced immediately. At the time, it was used for items such as hosiery. As an ordinary fabric, it wasn't attractive for runway models. Nonetheless, due to a variety of reasons, it became a success. There were limited options during the war and women were in the workforce. Therefore, Jersey turned out to be perfect, both in alleviation for women's bodies and for Chanel's style. Jersey made the working women capable of doing the physical labor. Meanwhile, Chanel was able to make it enticing. Jersey was not only approved, but adored.

The Chanel Suit

Coco altered women's suits for flexibility as well. In typical Chanel fashion, the tight-fit design was out the window. No shoulder-pads, no emphasis for the bust, and the neckline allows the woman to breathe. Unlike most suits, the pockets were not only to look pretty, but to be used. She went the extra mile to ensure that her customers would be at ease in daily use. Therefore, suits were to be altered as much as it took for each individual to be able to move freely.

"The Little Black Dress"

In 1919, Coco's longtime believed soulmate, "Boy" Capel, died in a car accident. After slipping into a deep grief, she had her housekeepers turn her room black. Coco dressed in black as well. It only lasted about a minute, however. As soon as she saw the finished room, she had her bed moved to another location to get away from it until it was changed back:

“..She spent only a few minutes, however, in this mausoleum. ‘Quick, Joseph, get me out of this tomb and tell Marie to make me up a bed somewhere else,’ she told the butler,”(Madsen, p.105, para.4).

Chanel's depression ultimately inspired one of her best-known creations, the Little Black Dress. It was designed to be appropriate for any occasion or class. Coming from an orphanage, she wanted to make something for the lower-class to wear that would blend in with the wealthy. Since the dress could be worn to weddings or funerals, its versatility made it popular, much later on. Breakfast at Tiffany's was released in 1961, in which the star Audrey Hepburn wears a Little Black Dress. It was because of Hepburn that it became a classic, but Chanel invented it.

Chanel Mottos to Live By

Many Chanel fans are not only drawn to Gabrielle because of her products, but her words of wisdom. Her quotes can be found throughout the internet. While most popular with women, some can be applied to anyone. Readers seeking life inspiration can turn to some of these quotes to keep going.

"In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different."

Who couldn't appreciate this quote? Essentially, Coco is suggesting that we be ourselves. Each one of us is unique. Whether in business or in our personal lives, to stand out we must be true to ourselves.

“Great loves too must be endured.”

In a society that expects love to drop from the sky, people need to be realistic. Coco experienced great hardship when it came to love, especially with "Boy" Capel. They almost lived happily ever after, multiple times. He betrayed her by getting married when they should have been together. Once he was available, again, he died on his way to be with her. What brings us happiness tends to come with predicament. Everything good comes with struggle and loss.

“Fashion changes, but style endures.”

Coco found her niche. Through adjusting her clothes to women's bodies, she could design anything women needed. Regardless of our industry, once we find what we have that the world needs and how to apply it, we can use it universally as she did.

The Chanel Legacy

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel passed away at the Hotel Ritz on Sunday, January 10, 1971. She leaves behind a legacy that women should never have to decide between looking beautiful and feeling free. Her other famous achievements were jewelry, purses, the Camellia flower, and various perfumes. Since her passing, Chanel products come out year after year.

Writers have composed film scripts about Chanel's personal life and accomplishments. In 2008, Coco Chanel was released, which stars Shirley MacLaine. In 2009, Audrey Tautou portrayed Chanel in Coco Before Chanel. Then, later that same year, Anna Mouglalis played Coco in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. Whether merchandise or fictional representations, the Chanel name is here to stay.


Madsen, Axel. Chanel: A Woman of Her Own. Holt Paperbacks. 1991.

Do you own anything by Chanel?

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Did you know that Chanel invented the Little Black Dress?

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Questions & Answers

  • I'm using your article as a reference for an essay I am writing. I was just wondering who I should put as the author?

    I am honored and flattered. You may use my pen name, "social thoughts."

  • Why did Coco Chanel use black for a dress, because before, most people wore black clothes for funerals only? What made her choose black?

    Black is the color of mourning. She wanted something that went with how she was feeling, after losing the love of her life. It mixed death with life, as it can be worn to any special occasion.

  • Did Coco Chanel invent women's trousers?

    It's hard to say that she "invented" the idea. Some say that she did, but most say that by embracing it in her fashion, it became more socially acceptable.

© 2014 social thoughts


Submit a Comment
  • social thoughts profile imageAUTHOR

    social thoughts 

    5 years ago from New Jersey

    Rangoon House,

    Thank you!

  • Rangoon House profile image


    5 years ago from Australia

    I enjoyed reading your tribute to Chanel.


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