Women's Suit by Chanel

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Clothing and Dress


Women's Suit by Chanel




The jacket measurements:
sleeve length of 22 inches (55.8 cm), width of 5 inches (12.7 cm)  
center-back length of 24.5 inches (62.2 cm)
circumference of the hem of the jacket is 40 inches (101.6 cm)

The skirt measurements:
circumference of hem is 36 inches (91.4 cm)
waist is 27 inches (68.5 cm)
hips circumference is 32 inches (81.2 cm)
total length of the skirt is 22 inches (55.8 cm)
7 inch long center-back zipper (17.7 cm)


Known for transforming comfort into luxury, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971) was a revolutionary designer who set a high standard for women’s fashion in the twentieth century. Chanel’s early successes were based on her popularization of a casual, chic style that turned away from the confining clothing of the 19th century. She chose to use new fabrics such as jersey knit, comfortable to wear and easy to take care of. Chanel’s business grew in the 1920s and 1930s with the introduction of such iconic garments as the Chanel suit and the “little black dress.” However, Chanel closed her shop in 1939 when France declared war on Germany, choosing to stay in Paris during the rest of the war (Krick 2004). This decision, combined with Chanel’s activities and associations during the war years, tarnished the designer’s reputation for some. It took Chanel fifteen years after the war ended to return to the world of fashion.

Chanel set out to revive her ideal of women’s fashion. Her comeback collection debuted in 1953, followed by an update of her previously classic looks. The most notable of these was the reworking of her classic tweed designs and developing a status symbol for the new generation: The Chanel Suit (Krick 2004). Her innovative creations have since been immortalized by numerous designers, such as Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of the House of Chanel from 1983 to 2019. The signature looks continue to be reinvented, simultaneously conveying the ingenuity and traditionalism for whith the House of Chanel is revered.

Michael McKenna and Carlos Benevides donated the woman’s Chanel suit to the University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection in 2001. They co-owned Artifice, LLC, a business dealing in high-end resale of designer clothing and probably acquired the suit through connections cultivated in finding vintage clothing for their store.

The jacket, skirt and coordinating yellow scarf date to 1972. The single CHANEL couture label is on the back of the neck of the fitted jacket. The label, hand sewn with pointed corners, includes a hand-written number in pencil on the back that states “72 777.” The number “72” most likely refers to the year in which the garment was made, while the “777” indicates the style number.

Constructed as a couture cardigan suit, this Chanel suit is extremely well-made. The fitted suit jacket has full-length sleeves, two breast patch pockets and a weighted gilt chain along the hem inside the jacket. Chanel was known for paying attention to the unseen details, such as equipping jackets with a flat gilt chain to help them hang properly from the shoulders (Haye and Tobin 1996). The four-button center closure includes in-seam buttonholes. The jacket is fully lined with yellow silk broadcloth, pieced to stabilize the fitted, more fluid fabric of the yellow wool and hand sewn into the jacket body and sleeves.

All of the seam allowances in the skirt are bound with hand overcast stitching. The seam allowances are very wide to provide for alterations. The 2” wide hem allowance, bound with a French or Hong Kong binding of the yellow lining material, is hand stitched with a couture touch – a twisted catch stitch. The lining hangs separately from the waistband and also has hand sewn overcast stitches to finish the seam allowances. The back panel for the skirt is further stabilized with a piece of light-weight, plain weave cotton fabric sewn as one with the wool. This added fabric prevents the back of the skirt from becoming distorted through sitting down.

Fiber samples from the outer material of both the jacket and the skirt were identified as wool. The fiber sample taken from the inner lining of the skirt, also the lining inside the jacket, was more difficult to properly identify.  The translucency of some of the fibers suggests that it is silk. However, there are also twisted and slightly ribbed fibers, which indicate that the fabric is not just silk. Based on its overall properties, it is likely that the suit lining could be silk broadcloth. According to Dictionary.com (n.d.), broadcloth is a closely woven dress-goods fabric that could contain a mix of silk, cotton, and rayon with a soft, mercerized finish. The feel of the suit lining, as well as its visual surface texture, closely resembles broadcloth, which in this case is made mostly out of silk.

The jacket and skirt are made of a textured wool, a choice that Chanel was known for using in her suits (Haye and Tobin 1996). This fabric is a variation of a twill weave, with a fancy bouclé yarn included in the weft. A closer inspection reveals a thin, plain warp yarn that alternates with a heavier warp. As this plain warp yarn breaks the repetitive “two-under and two-over” of a regular twill weave pattern, it creates a broken twill. According to the Textile School (2018), broken twills are constructed by breaking the continuity of a continuous weave in a regular or irregular way, giving off a stripe-like effect with any number of designs that can be produced.

Chanel promoted the versatility of this textured wool fabric, and then feminized it by implementing new colors, material, and textures into the previously under-utilized fabric (Vernose 2020). This fabric became the simple staple for her post-war comeback, incorporating it seamlessly into her new minimalistic style of straight skirts and collarless jackets – which is exemplified by the 1972 cardigan suit in the university's collection. Using these light, loosely woven woolen fabrics demonstrated Chanel’s impulse toward ease and comfort for the modern woman. The wide-cut armholes that facilitate movement, its minimal tailoring, and use of a broken twill weave with a fancy bouclé yarn come together to create the perfect combination of free movement and interesting style in this Chanel suit.

After Chanel’s death in 1971, Gaston Berthelot took over at the House of Chanel in what would be the first of many transitions. During the short time that Berthelot was in charge, from 1971 to 1973, the House of Chanel became stagnant, lacking the progressive direction for which its founder was famous (Haye and Tobin 1996). This was influenced by the ageing and wealthy clientele that continued to faithfully purchase classics designed in the Chanel tradition (Haye and Tobin 1996). As this suit was created by Berthelot during this transitional period, it was most likely designed for a client matching this description.

After Berthelot, Alain Wertheimer took over, steering the house in a new direction, focusing on the lucrative American youth market (Haye and Tobin 1996). Others came after to design the House of Chanel’s couture and ready-to-wear lines, but none were as successful at returning the house to its former glory as Karl Lagerfeld. Becoming the head of haute couture in 1983 and ready-to-wear in 1984, Lagerfeld – imitating Chanel’s 1950s comeback – looked to reinventing past designs for future success (Krick 2004). Incorporating all of Chanel’s signature details, Lagerfeld linked together the trademark tweed fabric, colors, gold chains, quilt-stitching, and the “CC” logo (Krick 2004). The emphasis was once again based on Chanel’s interpretation of tweed and wool fabric.

Chanel was a true artist and visionary, recognizing what women’s fashion needed at every turn of a new decade. Her tweed suit comeback further reiterates how her inventive styles began as staples and then transformed into inspiration for future designs. This cycle of converting old to new, past to present, has never been better by any other house than Chanel. Although the couture suit in the Historic Textile & Costume Collection was not made under Chanel’s direct reign, it is still physical proof of the house’s style evolution and direction. The House of Chanel is an iconic, revolutionary, and creative powerhouse that will sustain itself – no matter the change of design direction or times it is in.


Dictionary.com. 2012. "Broadcloth." Dictionary.com.  https://www.dictionary.com/browse/broadcloth

Haye, Ame De La, and Shelley Tobin. 1996. Chanel: The Couturiere at Work. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press.

In-House Patterns. 2015. "In Fitting Fashion: French Binding Tutorial ."

In-House Patterns. July 8. https://inhousepatterns.com/blogs/news/36695297-french-bindingtutorial#:~:text=French%20binding%20is%20a%20versatile,or%20contrast%20colours %20or%20fabrics.

Krick, Jessa. 2004. "Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (1883-1971) and the House of Chanel." Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October.

Textile School. 2018. "Broken Twills - weaving ." Textile School. March 19. https://www.textileschool.com/357/broken-twills/.

The Textile Kit. 2018. The Textile Kit. ATEXINC, Corporation .

The Vintage Fashion Guild. 2010. "Chanel." The Vintage Fashion Guild. August 1. https://vintagefashionguild.org/label-resource/chanel/#.

Vernose, Vienna. 2020. "The History of the Chanel Tweed Suit." CR Fashion Book. January 5. https://www.crfashionbook.com/fashion/a26551426/history-of-chanel-tweed-suit/ #:~:text=Inspired%20by%20sportswear%2C%20the%20iconic,true%20diversity%20of %20the%20fabric.


Donor: Michael McKenna and Carlos Benevides, Artifice


URI 2001.02.01a, b, c


Shelby Kanski
Susan J. Jerome, MS '06


“Women's Suit by Chanel,” Historic Textile and Costume Collection, accessed March 27, 2023, https://uritextilecollection.omeka.net/items/show/477.

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