The term “The Little Black Dress,” the fragrance “Chanel No. 5,” the Chanel suit with its soft, cardigan-like jacket and skirt, have become part of the timeless fashion vocabulary familiar to us all. From our perspective, these aspects of modern fashion hardly seem revolutionary, but Coco Chanel was a businesswoman who became successful by adopting fashion to the evolving role of women in a rapidly changing wartime society; her vision that left a legacy which endures to this day.
To understand the role of Coco Chanel as a fashion revolutionary, it is important to understand the era that she lived in and how the world of fashion differed from the one we know today. In first span of the 1900s, stylish women desired dresses for just about anything they could think of, before noon dresses, afternoon dresses, evening gowns, and simpler dresses that were less occasion-specific. Even recreational and sporting activities such as skating, biking, and tennis playing required women to wear suits and corsets. The suits were jackets and very long skirts and were restrictive and uncomfortable, although very stylish (http://tirocchi.stg.brown.edu). During the 1900s clothes were made to show off women’s bodies
with idealized hourglass figures shaped by corsets. This trend in women’s clothing lasted through the 1920s (http://tirocchi.stg.brown.edu).
Prior to the era of the twenties dressmakers earned a large amount of money by designing and producing these stylish clothes that were fitted for each individual. Dressmakers’ business consisted not only of designing and producing these expensive garments for women, who could afford their services, but also altering, repairing, cleaning, and reusing fabric and materials from older outfits to create new ones. Women in the twenties got their clothes in one of three ways: they bought them used, they made them themselves, or they had them made. The way regular people buy clothes today, choosing designs that are manufactured by the millions in multiple sizes and shipped too many stores is called buying “off the rack,” and means that virtually any shopper in any location has access to up-to-date fashion trends created by famous designers. In the twenties; however cities like Paris and New York were the homes of the fashion houses where the most talented designers did their work, and wealthy customers travelled to these cities to view seasonal collections and have their clothing custom made (American History Book).
Women of the twenties invested in lavish clothes from the most prestigious dressmakers they could afford show off their shapely figures but were not permitted by the customs of the time to expose their skin.
World War I soon broke out and changed women’s fashion forever. The war empowered women and affected fashion in many ways. Women began working at jobs such as nursing, manufacturing, offices, mining, serving in canteens that required them to wear simpler clothing.
Wore short shirts and...