Section 1: Identification and Evaluation of Sources
This investigation will explore the question: To what extent did Coco Chanel influences women’s rights in the 20’s. We will be focusing on the years 1920-1930 for this investigation. In this internal assessment we will be focusing on how Coco changed women’s fashion by not catering to women fashion at that time and made clothes for the working, everyday women and how she redefined women’s role in society through her clothing.
The first source we will begin investigating in depth would be “The Designer COCO CHANEL,” This text is a secondary source from Time magazine article written by Ingrid Sischy and published on June 8, 1998. This source is very valuable because it provides detailed historical information about Coco Chanel’s life and the time period in which she lived, as well as evaluating the impact of her work through contemporary fashion. But it doesn’t only discuss Chanel’s impact on the fashion movement and risks she’s made, but it also explores how the change in fashion influenced the lives of European women and redefined their roles in society. Because it is a secondary source written over twenty years after Chanel’s death, hindsight allows the author to reflect upon almost one hundred years of time, citing examples from many authors from decades ago when chanel was living.
Its purpose is to provide information in detail about Chanel’s personal life and as well as her professional life , it also provides information how she linked her revolutionary designs with the work of contemporary designers to support her legacy in both works in fashion and feminism.
The second source we will evaluate “Coco Chanel: My first feminist hero” an article written by Sarah Sahagian. The origin of the source is valuable because it was published in a website called “Gender focus” which is known for focusing on the flexibility of gender roles and feminism. The article is also valuable because it was written in 2015 which allows the author to rely on other sources in writing this article on Coco Chanel’s fashion. However it is also limited because it again like the first source only gives one perspective instead of multiple when writing about Coco Chanel.
The purpose of Sahagian’s article is show and inform the reader on how Coco Chanel changed the way women looked and how her not being married in an era were women were taught and pressured to find a man.
Section 2: Investigation
Coco Chanel born 1883, in Saumur, France was not a typical feminist that campaigned for suffrage or sexual freedom for women yet still made a profound impact on the European feminist movement by redefining women’s roles deemed by society through her changing and revolutionizing women’s fashion. Coco Chanel also known as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, can undoubtedly be described as the Fashion Queen of the 1920s (Wilson). Chanel was always going out of the box and changing up what the society ideal women should dress like, one of her many quotes were “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different” so based on her own quote she didn’t believe that she being a women should be the same cookie cutter women that society wants and forces on to women. Chanel was the first couture fashion designer to cater to the independent working European women by making loose “boyish” clothes and rejecting the corset. The 1920’s was a significant period of time for women because some were given the right to vote in several western countries and were given professional that used to be reserved just for men. Coco also didn’t get married which was definitely not common with the era she was in were a women’s main goal was to get married and find a man rather than actually having a job. “In an era where there was so much pressure on women to find and become legally bound to a man, Chanel was her own master, becoming more successful and renowned than her male counterparts in the male-dominated French fashion scene” (Sahagian).which could’ve influenced women to be more independent and have rights of their own. By Chanel being the only women in a male dominated field also influences women by showing them they could also be in a male dominated field but still dominate the men or work alongside men. Even though she didn’t speak on feminism she spoke a lot about femininity and the liberation of women “Chanel would not have defined herself as a feminist–in fact, she consistently spoke of femininity rather than of feminism–yet her work is unquestionably part of the liberation of women” (Time).
However Chanel was also said to be homophobic and Anti-semitic which means she didn’t influence all aspect of women’s rights by being against what some could have been. “Gabrielle Chanel — better known as Coco— was a wretched human being. Anti-Semitic, homophobic” (NY TIMES). This shows you that Chanel didn’t care for all women because if she did she would have been ‘anti-semitic’ or homophobic which shows that she couldn’t care less about those or their rights if they were gay or jewish which shows the Chanel wasn’t for them. But some say that she was just associated with a nazi during World War II and didn’t particularly believe in those particular views herself. However she is a Nazi sympathizer for profiting off of her Nazi alignment and antisemitism and also still associating with someone who was a Nazi “Chanel wasn’t the only French woman to engage this kind of self-serving collaboration horizontale, but she likely profited from her Nazi alignment and antisemitism more than any of her fellow French women” (Warner). However, even though Chanel was said to not be for those who were Jewish or gay that doesn’t show that they still were not influenced by her in other aspects of their women’s rights.
With all that being said, It still seems to me that regardless of Chanel’s values or who she was linked or associated or whether or not she profited from antisemitism, Chanel still made an impact on women and also influenced them by her bending and breaking societal norms of what a women should do and look like through her fashion designs and her way of living which in turn influences how women are depicted and influences their rights.
Section 3: Reflection
This Internal Assessment was written in order to gain knowledge on Coco Chanel’s affect on women. The challenges the historian faced was to deliver legitimate information to give to the reader on Coco Chanel’s legacy and determine how she influenced women rights during the ‘roaring 20’s’. What this taught me about being an historian is to make sure that the information you’re reading and especially the sources you’re reading can be trusted. How you can tell the sources are reliable would be to check what website you’re reading it from and who’s writing them and if the website allows you to change the article or answer it’s most definitely not reliable. I feel as though there are ways to describe historical events without giving out bias opinions but you just have to be careful of what words you use to write of a particular historic event. I feel like i’ve developed a sense of restriction on where i’d find my sources and how i would receive them as well
When comparing different perspectives it was rather difficult to distinguish what was just a rumor or what was actual facts considering Chanel was a public figure and was a very well known fashion designer. So that shows me that historians would have to really make sure and be very cautious and careful with where they get their information from. It was also hard trying to not let my own belief like for example “you are who you hang out with” decide whether to call Chanel an Anti-semitic and homophobic or not.
Overall, this IA has provided me an insight of the challenges that historian face doing what they do as a job and made me more aware to make my investigation of any essay more legitimate and make sure that my sources are reliable
Eschner, Kat ” Why Coco Chanel created the little black dress”, Published by Smithsonian Magazine, 2017
Nichols, Michelle “Chanel advanced women’s rights” Published by Reuters, 2009
Sahagian, Sarah “Chanel, My first feminist fallen hero” Published by Gender focus, 2015
Sischy, Ingrid ” The designer COCO CHANEL” Published by Times Magazine. 1998
Warner, Judith “Sleeping with a nazi agent?” Published by NY Times, 2011
Wilson, Holly “1920s Fashion Icon: Coco Chanel” Published by The Mancunion, 2017