Prioritizing comfort, Coco Chanel was famous for borrowing from menswear to create pieces that freed women from their traditionally restrictive clothing (she especially hated the corsets and ankle-length skirts that were popular at the time). Coco sought to design womenswear pieces that were more practical, yet still elegant, favoring androgynous silhouettes that she could provide with her feminine touch.
In 1923, at a small show in her Rue Cambon reception area, Coco Chanel introduced the first-ever suit for women. The Chanel Skirt Suit was a two-set piece, consisting of a slim, knee-length skirt and a boxy, military-style jacket. Inspired by her lover’s sportswear, which she used to dress in herself, Coco constructed it out of tweed. As tweed was most commonly used to make men’s underwear, it was not a very high-fashion material at the time but, by combining it with others and having it produced in a variety of colors, Coco re-imagined and popularized it.
Though the Chanel Suit was not well-received by critics, it was loved by some of the world’s most influential women. Then-First Lady Jackie Kennedy, Princess Diana, and Brigitte Bardot (among others) all made the suit a staple in their wardrobes and were frequently photographed wearing it.
Since Coco’s death, the suit has been re-created in almost every Chanel collection. Designing versions that reflected his personal taste and the ever-changing trends, Karl Lagerfeld’s takes on the Women’s Chanel Suit were especially daring. Most notably, he transformed it into an all-denim look in Fall/Winter 1991 and a hot shorts set in Spring/Summer 2011.
Want to add one of Chanel’s most classic designs to your collection? Shop for a vintage Chanel Suit, so you can wear a piece of the house’s history. You can find tweed skirt sets (just like Coco’s original) at The Vintage Bar.