Coco Chanel's Feminist Progress Through Fashion

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, 1920. Hal Vaughan. Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War. Random House (2011)
Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, 1920. Hal Vaughan. Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War. Random House (2011) | Source

Famous for pushing social boundaries through fashion, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel rebelled against the gender restrictions of the industry. She used masculine wardrobe to express herself. Taking the comfort of men's clothing, she created styles for women. Of course, not all of her best inventions were instant classics. In fact, there were times they weren't understood or appreciated until much later down the road; however, today, Chanel is a recognized name.

Comfort Over Restraint

When Chanel was only Gabrielle or her nick-name "Coco," men dominated the fashion industry. Who knew the key to her success was as simple as women no longer feeling awkward in their own apparel? By changing 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 for women.

Before Chanel, pants were not acceptable for women, but one cannot function 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 a string of issues; therefore, she made smaller hats, like the ones for men. By taking men's designs and revamping them for women, she prospered from social rebellion. She created for both the corporate and social world.

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Fabric, Fabric, Fabric!

The first significant choice Coco made was to use Jersey. This wasn't embraced, immediately, however. At the time, the fabric was used for items such as hosiery. As an ordinary fabric, it wasn't attractive for runway models to be seen in. Nonetheless, due to the limited options during the war as well as the women being in the workforce, Jersey turned out to be an alleviation, both in comfort and for Chanel's style. Jersey made the working women more capable of doing the physical labor. Meanwhile, Chanel was able to make it enticing. Once Jersey became approved by society, it was loved.

The Chanel Suit

Coco altered women's suits for comfort, 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 just to look pretty -- they could be used! She went the extra mile to ensure that her customers would be comfortable in daily use; therefore, suits were to be altered as much as it took for each individual to be able to move freely.

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"The Little Black Dress"

In 1919, Coco's longtime believed soul-mate "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. Chanel's depression ultimately inspired one of her best-known creations -- The Little Black Dress.

The Little Black Dress was designed to be appropriate for any occasion or class. Coming from an orphanage, she wanted to make an item that the lower-class could wear to 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 style or scents, but her words of wisdom. Her quotes can be found throughout the internet. While most popular with women, some can be applied to either gender. 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 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 our personalities if we want to be recognized among a group of clones.

“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. Coco was honest about the predicament of what brings us happiness. 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 to everything, we can use it universally like she did.

The Chanel Legacy

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel passed away at the Hotel Ritz on Sunday, January 10th 1971. She leaves behind a legacy that women should never have to decide between looking beautiful and feeling good. One should not override the other. Her other famous achievements were jewelry, purses, the Camellia flower, and various perfumes. Since her passing, Chanel products come out, year after year. Writers compose film scripts about her 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.

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social thoughts 18 months ago from New Jersey Author

Rangoon House,

Thank you!

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Rangoon House 18 months ago from Australia

I enjoyed reading your tribute to Chanel.

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    I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I have been a goth since I was fourteen, and pagan since fifteen.

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