Coco Chanel inspired Little Black Dress

There’s this wonderful blog I follow, called The Sew Weekly ( It’s author Mena gave herself a challenge last year – to sew herself a new outfit every single week. (Very impressive!) And this year, she’s extended it for other people to join her as well. She’s got four amazingly talented ladies from various parts of the world, joining her in the challenge of sewing a new garment (or outfit) every week. And they’re setting themes as well – each week will have a new theme, for anyone else who want’s to join in the challenge. Fun!

Naturally, this appealed to me. Sewing, plus a challenge. Hard to resist, isn’t it?!

The first Sew Weekly challenge of 2011 was to create something inspired by Coco Chanel. I must admit that I didn’t know all that much about the legendary Coco before this, so it’s been very interesting researching her and her styles, and seeing just how much she’s influenced fashion and how much those influences are still showing clearly in our wardrobes even 90 years later.

For example, did you know that Coco Chanel has been credited with creating the Little Black Dress back in the 1920’s? Now a staple in most women’s wardrobes (as she intended it to be), prior to Chanel black was only worn in mourning. She bought it mainstream, to create a garment that she wanted to be accessible to all women, everywhere. Coco’s other influences from the 1920’s include incorporating menswear tailoring into womens garments (such as man-style slacks and shirts, and the classic horizontal-striped sailors style top); paring back the designs of the day to the minimalism of the flapper fashions and getting rid of the over-exaggerated tiny waists and large hips and busts of the fashion of her day; and wearing pearls with pretty much everything. She used minimal colour palettes, such as black, white, navy, grey, and beige.

Then in the 1950’s, after the war ended, Coco Chanel came back on the scene, and left us with the legacy of tweed skirts, dresses with jackets with matching lining, cardigan-style jackets with big gold buttons, and quilted leather (inspired by the outfits of jockeys). Pretty big legacy, right?! And definitely worthy of an outfit inspired by her!

In my quest to find out more about the legendary Coco Chanel, I came across this image of one of her dresses from the 1920’s: Chemise dress It shows many of her influences – the chemise style dress which she popularised and took out of underwear to be outerwear; clean lines that follow the lines of the woman who wears the dress rather than exaggerating them; a simple palette of black with white; man-style tailoring in the collar and cuffs. It spoke to me, so I decided to use it as my inspiration for my Coco Chanel Sew Weekly Challenge dress!

And here’s what I came up with….

Coco Chanel dress, sitting front on

Coco Chanel dress, sitting front on

Coco Chanel dress, sitting on an angle

Coco Chanel dress, sitting on an angle

Coco Chanel dress, standing front

Coco Chanel dress, standing front

Coco Chanel dress, standing back

Coco Chanel dress, standing back

To make it, I used the bodice pattern from the re-released 1952 Butterick design B5033 (dress B, size 12). The skirt is a basic A-line I drafted myself a while back, with two small pleats in line with the front seams to add a bit more fullness to the style. The dress is made from a medium-weight black cotton drill I had in my fabric stash, and the collar and belt are made from a bit of white broderie anglaise I had left from making a skirt a few years ago. (I also have a quest on this year to buy no new fabric so I can get through some of my overly large fabric stash. We’ll see how that goes!) The bow at the neck is a white satin ribbon. The dress fastens at the back with an invisible zipper, and a hook-and-eye closure at the back of the collar. The bodice is lined in dark purple taffeta lining (also from my fabric stash!).

The dress took about 6.5 hours to make, about 1.5 – 2 hours of which was handsewing. (Turns out I’m not very fast at hand sewing!) The belt took a lot longer than expected – the broderie anglaise meant I couldn’t use any of the standard tools I use to turn things, as they caught on the threads of the embroidery, so it took me about half an hour to turn the belt in the right way around. (Gah!)

If I was to do this pattern again, there are a couple of adjustments I’d make to the bodice top to make it fit a little better (it’s fine as it is, but there’s always room for improvement, after all!). I’d take it in by about 0.5cm at each side of each side seam under the arms, and let it out by 1cm at each side seam around the waist.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, and Steve and I had fun taking photos of a prim-and-proper style dress in the crazy chaos of the renovations that are going on in my bedroom at the moment!

Here’s the pattern I used for the bodice:

Butterick B5033 pattern

Butterick B5033 pattern

8 responses to “Coco Chanel inspired Little Black Dress

  1. The finished article looks amazing and it fits you like a dream! Glad you have been able to make use of the building work carnage for your photo shoot;)

  2. I love it!!! The photoshoot is great too. I absolutely adore the collar and the fit is fabulous!

  3. I love the dress especially the collar! You did a fabulous job!

    • Thanks! 🙂 I love what you did with your red gathered dress for this challenge as well – it looks like lots of fun to wear!

  4. Pingback: Looking forward, looking back (a.k.a. 2011 and 2012) | Modern Vintage Cupcakes

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