Cultural critics were not incensed about ladies’ suits, which had hung in ladies closets since the fin de siècle and had loose jackets and full skirts in the Après Guerre. As designers made slimmer, straighter suits in the mid-1920’s, many critics found their tailoring and cut masculine and, when accessorized with shirts and bow ties, deviant. Some critics, like Eugene Marsan, who called suits “virile”, were being humorous. Marsan surely recognised that no one could fail to notice the gender of women wearing suits. Fashion reporters offered more serious commentary. They insisted that the suits were versatile and made from durable fabrics, hence practical, but also that they were “pretty” and “chic” – hence, feminine. They reported that well-cut suits in sturdy dark-hued woolens were the preferred city costume for spring and autumn walks in the park, shopping, and visiting. Society and women’s magazines alike recommended “morning suits” for travel on trains. The color range extended from black in 1918, to black with white or beige trim in the early 1920’s, to gray in the 1930’s. Long before that, a gray suit was de rigueur in the provinces. (1)

1. Les Modes (Paris) May 1921
1. Les Modes (Paris) May 1921 “Matinal” Costume Tailleur par Charlotte. 2. Les Modes (Paris) 1926 Tailleur par Bernard

By the mid-1920’s, some fashion arbiters simply recorded without further comment that many ladies were wearing “mannish cut” suits. Those who remarked on the emancipatory implications of the suit insisted on its “coquetry” and reminded readers that coquetry in costume “is one of the most exquisite feminine qualities”. (1)

Bessie Love, film actress, on board the SS Majestic - 4 November 1925
Bessie Love, film actress, on board the SS Majestic – 4 November 1925

During the 1920’s, women’s suits contained many of the same features found in men’s clothing styles. Women’s suits were practical but elegant, usually made of wool, with straight, hip-length suit jackets worn over straight matching skirts, and typically came in the standard colours of navy, brown, tan, or black, possibly with white pinstripes. Jackets might be single-or double-breasted, or “edge-toedge”, which meant that the two front panels just barely came together and were fastened with a single metal link button (like a cufflink).

Actress Mildred McCoy in 1929
Actress Mildred McCoy in 1929

Coco Chanel introduced what has since become known as the classic Chanel suit: a boxy jacket trimmed with contrasting ribbon or braid, worn over a straight skirt. The jacket was lined in the same material as the matching blouse, and the jacket and skirt were made of soft jersey or tweed. (2)

Designer Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel ‘(1883 – 1971), wearing one of her suits in the grounds at Fauborg, St Honore, Paris.1929
Designer Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel ‘(1883 – 1971), wearing one of her suits in the grounds at Fauborg, St Honore, Paris.1929

The neckline was collarless, and the fabric around the neckline and front of the jacket was trimmed discreetly with narrow braiding or ribbon. The jacket occasionally had buttons or fasteners but was worn open. Tailored blouses often were worn untucked with a fabric or leather belt at the hipline. The Chanel suit was appropriately accessorized with matching scarf or some expensive jewellery. Women’s suits were considered appropriate attire for work or for travel, but not typically for entertaining. (2)


(1) Dressing Modern Frenchwomen: Marketing Haute Couture, 1919-1939

(2) The 1920’s by Kathleen Morgan Drowne, Patrick Huber http://www.fashionencyclopedia.com/fashion_costume_culture/Modern-World-1919-1929/Tailored-Suit-for-Women.html#ixzz3cTI8A73c