Coco Mademoiselle Chanel Perfume Bottle

Coco Chanel was a force to be reckoned with in the fashion world. A woman who was never afraid to speak her mind, she is renowned for her innovative designs and bold opinions. In many ways, she helped to expedite a women’s standing in society. Which, during the early 1900s, was no small feat.

Who was Coco Chanel?

Born in Saumur, France in 1883, the life story of Chanel covers wars, feuds and exponential business growth. Born as the daughter of a laundrywoman, fashion allowed Chanel to change the course of her life. Her designs and tenacity positioned her at the forefront of women’s fashion in France. Ultimately, she is remembered for founding her namesake brand, the House of Chanel.

Coco Chanel / Wikimedia Commons

How Coco Chanel Empowered Women

From innovative addition to bold fabric choices. Discover 7 ways Coco Chanel empowered women with her designs, and how she forever changed the course of fashion history.

1. The 2.55 shoulder strap handbag

Before the innovative mind of Chanel entered the fashion scene, women had always carried their bags by hand or by a short handle. In her bid to provide freedom and comfort for women, Chanel debuted a handbag with a shoulder strap. Women could go about their day “hands-free”, easily hopping on trams and buses with freedom and able to literally handle any situation with more ease. Even today, vintage and pre-loved Chanel bags remain highly sought after and valued.

chanel double flap
A pre-loved 2.55 flap bag from Timeless Vintage

2. The Little Black Dress

The LBD phrase was coined in 1926 by a fashion commentator after Chanel created an elegant, black, calf-length dress. Chanel was known for her understated designs and the ‘Little Black Dress’, was the epitome of understated glamour. It’s a phrase still used today, and one often referenced in pop culture.

Chanel Black Dress | Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons

3. Corset-free Clothes

Chanel is often linked with releasing women from the corset. And it’s usually meant in a figurative sense. Chanel aimed to entwine comfort and couture. By borrowing fabrics and fits, usually associated with menswear, she managed to create clothing that gave women more stylistic freedom. Her styles didn’t typically involve suffocating, figure-fitting clothing rules that Victorian women had previously followed.

5. Removing the jersey stigma

Up until the early 1900s, jersey fabric had always been associated with sporting wear, particularly male sporting wear. Having been a part of sporting social circles, especially horse racing, Chanel began to experiment with jersey within her designs.

Illustration showing three women in day outfits by “Gabrielle Chanel” (sic) consisting of belted tunic jackets and full jersey skirts for March, 1917 / Wikimedia Commobs

Jersey was seen as a cheap material, but she persisted and created a line of comfortable women’s clothing. Unheard of at the time, it was welcomed by many as another fresh perspective on how women can dress for comfort.

4. Power Suits

In 1920 Chanel debuted a two-piece suit for women. Tweed was her material of choice. Like jersey, tweed was associated with menswear, and not women’s fashion. The boxy cut allowed women to feel comfortable whilst still looking professional in a business sense. Even today, tweed is often a signature feature in new Chanel collections and runway shows. The tweed suit is a Chanel staple.

Two Chanel suits | Museum at FIT from USA / Wikimedia Commons

6. A Female founded brand

While Coco had financial help to begin her brand, it was her own passion and business mind that truly created the Chanel brand. Chanel initially received help from a partner to open her store. Then she went into business with Pierre Wertheimer, who she later had a very bitter relationship with.

In the 1910s it was extremely rare for a woman to run a business, let alone own and oversee decisions. Her tenacity and spirit helped to pave the way for future female brand owners.

7. Women’s trousers

Chanel wasn’t the first designer to debut trousers for women, but she certainly helped to cement the trend. Trousers were frequently seen as unsuitable clothing items for women. They were perceived to be too masculine

Chanel wearing trousers | Wikimedia Commons

Her loose-fitting trouser styles were even considered risqué by some as they could be linked to pyjamas, which in turn linked to the bedroom. However, the comfortable fit and minimalistic styling appealed to many fashionistas. Before long women’s trousers became well accepted in the fashion world.

Featured Image: Coco Chanel Madamoiselle Perfume Bottle / Photo by Philip Myrtorp on Unsplash


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