Chanel on a Budget

     The title may be a bit confusing at first pass – no, I am not promoting buying counterfeit items or telling you how to find a deal.  This post is proudly about me making my own high-quality Chanel inspired suit jacket set…on the cheap!  I chose a pattern in my stash that was the closest to the ‘real deal’ French jacket set through a vintage 1960s designer Vogue.  I’ll admit, the envelope does not clearly say Chanel, but I doubt the mystery ‘designer’ which inspired the pattern is anything otherwise.  Every detail screams “French-style” jacket…and absolutely I love it!  However, for as much weight in the world of fashion that using the Chanel name may carry, my version is exclusively sewn using one yard or less scraps of silk, brocade, and more from on hand in my stash already.  Almost everything was acquired second-hand or as repurposed material, which makes this fantastically sustainable and affordable – yet no less fashionable – way to sew my own designer fashion.  I love a good statement piece, but the ‘making of’ story behind this handmade set makes this one a doozy! 

     For as much as I am thrilled with and proud of my own spin on a Chanel suit set, she is nevertheless my least favorite designer.  This is mostly because of her association with Nazi-Germans and collaborations with the Vichy puppet regime of WWII in order to boost her professional career.  I also detest the way she rode off of other people’s successes and feels she receives undue credit for the “little black dress”.  Ultimately, however, I just never really found her styles directly appealing to me…other than her classic “French Jacket” suit styles of the mid-century!  Gabrielle Chanel designed the “French Jacket” after returning to France in 1954 from exile in Switzerland in order to bring back her fashion house.  I like her revamped image and appreciate it as small sign of her “turning over a new leaf”.  She may have changed up what she offered but she found more popularity than ever with her classy suits and jackets.

Our son even wore his vintage 1960s suit to match with me!

     In the mood to get a head start on my “Easter best” outfit, I serendipitously picked up one of my long awaited projects – this Chanel-influenced suit – at the beginning of this year…way before the 2023 theme for the upcoming MET gala was announced!  The theme happens to be “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” and I happily find myself on point.  After Chanel’s passing in 1971, Karl Lagerfeld becoming Chief Designer helped the Chanel brand begin a new page in its history with his impressive prêt-à-porter and haute couture collections.  I know my suit’s design is from 1964 and thus not from Lagerfeld’s time as Director for Chanel, but this “French Jacket” style has become timeless and always chic no matter the time or place!  It is a luxury brand after all, but no less popular and sought after for all the imitations, knock-offs, or ‘inspired by’ pieces…such as my own!


FABRIC:  Skirt exterior is a ¾ yard remnant of an upholstery fabric “Angelic Meadow, Hydrangea color” that is 45% rayon, 31% polyester, 24% cotton in content. That fabric remnant came with a receipt dated to 2015 from “The Robert Allen Group” of South Carolina.  The skirt lining is a beige toned polyester microfiber bed sheet (previously used to line this dress, posted here). 

My jacket is primarily made with pre-quilted cotton leftover from lining this coat project (posted here).  The pure silk satin used on the collar lapels and pocket flaps is in a sandy beige color.  It is something I acquired when visiting the fabric district in Los Angeles, California. The jacket lining is a 1980s polyester jacquard.

PATTERN: Vogue Special Design #6131 from February/March 1964, vintage original pattern from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I used lots of thread, one skirt zipper and a hook and eye. The braided jacket trimming is cotton in content and was from my local JoAnn Fabrics store, bought about 5 years ago.  The button set is vintage, on hand from my husband’s Grandmother’s notions stash.  The vintage skirt chain is the only recent purchase and comes from this Etsy shop.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both pieces together took me at least 40 hours to complete in January 2023

THE INSIDES:  fully finished and completely lined

TOTAL COST:  The skirt chain was my only current cost – $4! The other notions were already on hand.  The beige silk was a remnant bought for $5 at a shop in the garment District of Los Angeles, California. The rest of the fabrics were either remnants from my other projects or picked up at some local rummage sales for pittance.  My whole suit cost me under $20.

     For as complex as making a designer suit set sounds, this one was relatively easy.  It called for techniques that were not out of the ordinary, and as I was using bulky, thick fabrics for both the skirt and jacket, I needed no added interfacing!  Nevertheless, true Chanel suit coats have more inventive seaming and more specific details than my version, which has minimal design lines, a two-piece sleeve (common for suiting), and a 60s era boxy cut.  It lacks the famous Chanel “three-panel sleeve” with sleeve cuff vent and princess seaming in the body.  What was supposed to be the classic Chanel ¾ sleeves fell at full length on me and I left them that way in order to compliment my smaller proportions better.  There still is a proper placement for the unmistakable quadruple pockets!  The skirt was only two pattern pieces plus a waistband, and I further simplified that by getting rid of the back kick pleat, making it look trimmer than most Chanel skirts and further slimming the boxy suit for my 5’2” frame.  I love the resulting look!  It has been 8 years now since I have made a 1960s suit (see my last one, a 1967 reversible set, posted here)!

     However, I want to point out that this set is lacking in a true Chanel attribution, being only a “Special Design” (i.e designer inspired).  With this perspective, expecting it to be on par with a modern standard is silly, and – after all – the ultimate decision was up to me, as I am my own designer.  I was not looking for a high end or overly taxing project here, but merely set out to use what I had on hand to craft two well-made pieces with enough of a Chanel reference to make me happy.  

I have done a thorough search for a verified Chanel suit pattern and cannot find a single one, so an “inspired” version is the only option for a home seamstress, outside of drafting from off of an extant original.  If you do have a true Chanel designer item, then you probably wouldn’t bother to make your own…unless you are Susan Khalje, a distinguished educator and practitioner of couture sewing methods.  Working with Julien Cristofoli (a Paris-based draper and couture pattern maker) to create a pattern direct from “authentic sources”, she offers a pattern and accompanying workshop which together teach all the glorious details behind reproducing a true “French Jacket”!  Khalje’s “Straight Skirt” pattern is similar to my own skirt in design lines and would be a great couture upgrade option.  There are many Chanel inspired pattern options out there to choose from, though!  See this post at “Sewing Chanel Style” for the top 10 look-alike patterns!

     As 1990s Chanel was trending again in 2022, I originally considered going for a Karl Lagerfeld era “French Jacket”, which I love the look of but don’t (yet) believe I have the legs to pull it off a cropped jacket, bare midriff, and mini skirt.  If not that interpretation, then I knew I wanted to channel Chanel through the lens of the 1960s.  I associate this decade as being part of the classic era for women’s suits because of Jackie Kennedy’s style, the popularity of fashion photography, and the great couture houses which began in the 1950s and continued offering finely tailored clothing in contrary to the youth movement.  The suit was back in full force in the 1960s as about 40% of women between 16 and 64 joined the workforce with the passing of many watershed moments in equality such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Presidential act banning discrimination based on gender in 1967.  In 2021, I happened to pick up a vintage original 1960s suit in perfect condition for only $20 (see me wearing it here) and found that I loved the boxy shape, cropped length, and skinny skirt.  It was surprisingly fun and something I found appealing…and just like that I had a new vintage obsession.  A 1960s Chanel inspiration was the best and most deluxe version I could think of for reproducing this suit style for myself. 

     The sizing on this pattern was rather odd and deserves a mention.  As I said in the paragraph below “The Facts”, the sleeves were supposed to be “short bracelet length” but turned out long in length.  Well, the entire jacket ran extraordinarily long on me.  I had to raise everything up by almost two whole inches (except the sleeves, which I left at wrist level).  I extended the bust darts to come higher, made a deeper hem, and raised up the placement level of the pockets and button closure.  The width and armscye depth was fine on me as-is, with no added adjustments otherwise.  At right you can see the first shell of my jacket – no lining, pockets, facing, or anything – and I had to re-measure and re-mark all the blueing after this picture.

Then, the skirt ran very small and very short.  Luckily, I measured out the finished sizing at the pattern stage so I graded the pattern up to more than what the numbers said I needed.  Thank goodness I had that foresight because this skirt would have been unwearable otherwise.  The waistband is snug on me – but just fits!  The hem is a simple turn under where the pattern called for it to be 2 ½ inch deep, but that would have made it too short on me to match with the jacket.  I have not yet come across another vintage pattern with such weird proportions where two garments coming from the same pattern envelope have different fitting quirks quite opposite one another.  There is no telling how the blouse included in the pattern would have turned out at this rate (and I’m glad I didn’t decide to make it)!  Vintage Vogue patterns are usually so impressively well designed in my experience.  Perhaps this one is off due to Vogue trying too diligently following the designer’s lead.  My guess is that either the pattern’s inspiration was perhaps overbearing their normal design process or this is just a fluke release.  It’s a good thing I was able to have everything turn out okay.

     I was doubting myself of my adventurous choice to use the quilted cotton material for a Chanel suit when such a thing is normally made with a tweed or traditional suiting material.  On its own, nevertheless, this cotton batting has a soft but stable structure similar to suiting and I thought it match with the quilted, textured, plush qualities of the skirt’s tapestry fabric.  The look of quilting is not entirely foreign to the history of Chanel, though.  Back in 1929, Chanel designed a handbag that had a double chain strap which could be worn over the shoulder and not just hand held.  Then in February 1955, after she began redesigning the rest of her brand, a quilted diamond or herringbone pattern was additionally stitched on the exterior of her leather chain strap handbags and “The Chanel 2.55” accessory was born.  My beige quilted cotton, used on the main body of my jacket, merely mimics a Chanel purse!  Additionally, though, the main difference (from what I read from this source) between a couture Chanel jacket and an off-the-rack (prêt-à-porter, which came after 1978) is the way that made-to-measure items have their silk lining quilted directly to the exterior tweed fashion fabric.  Apparently I was just finding an easy way to a mock couture touch by buying pre-quilted fabric instead of quilting the lining to the suit body!  My jacket may be an unusual interpretation of Chanel but it is still very much on brand.

     To counter the quilted cotton material, I did dive into my good supplies for other parts of my jacket, especially when it came to the contrast portions (collar lapel and folded-back flap top pockets).  The silk satin was like fine butter to work with and really elevates the appearance of my jacket.  It was slightly a pain to use here because it was such a complete opposite in weight and texture from the quilted cotton.  However, I didn’t bother to hand stitch through the silk as I normally would but used my machine for practically everything but tacking in the lining and the label.  (Can I briefly freak out over how the envelope had a rare “Vogue Special Design” label hiding in between the pattern tissue!?!) 

     The braided trim went over the top of all my machine stitching and made everything look so clean and refined…it was such a ridiculously easy way to finish this simple suit it felt like cheating.  The trim was so perfectly meant for this project by the way I was literally left with only 2 inches to spare out of the 3 yard length I had on hand.  It is so Chanel inspired to have the trim looking like tiny braiding, but ultimately I was just happy it matched the beige tones of both my cotton and silk material.  Additionally, a set of buttons from the familial inherited stash of notions had four in one size and then also the next size up and so seemed further meant to be part of my project.  They are substantial buttons that add a touch of golden bling which is synonymous with Chanel, second only to an overload of pearls.   

     I suppose the most Chanel part of my skirt is the button-on skirt chain that I added to the waistband.  However, the tapestry material that I chose deserves its own spotlight – it is so fantastic.  This was a remnant I picked up from a furniture warehousing company that moved literally one block up from where I live, so I love the fact I didn’t even have to leave my neighborhood or drive anywhere to find some cool fabric.  There is such a complexity of color and detail in the weave that immediately gets lost at a normal distance away from me (i.e. outside of my personal bubble space).  I really went over the top thinking about the pattern layout for this simple skirt just so I could make sure all the seams lined up beautifully at every seam.  The oversized brocade needed to be aligned well and the lovely material deserved it.  After heaping such praise and time on skirt’s exterior, I do feel guilty that I used something as common as a microfiber bedsheet (leftover from this project) to line the skirt interior – but fabric is fabric and sometimes what is on hand is better to me than buying new.  I used the good vintage rayon hem binding at least! 

     Most Chanel suits do not have the juxtaposition of a printed skirt with a solid jacket.  However, I felt the blue tapestry material was refined, deluxe, intricately woven, and – most importantly for me – very wearable outside of pairing it with the set.  I know Chanel is known for using pink, but a soft blue has always been my favorite over pink.  As I am the one sewing these pieces, this is my personal interpretation of a Chanel suit after all!  I’ll always attest that home seamstress are designers just the same as any big shot…sewist ‘small fry’ like me may not have the press or clout, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do just as well for ourselves with what we sew together! 

     I loved wearing my Chanel inspired set for Easter…it feels so good to get back into my tradition of making suits for this holiday.  I kind of fell off from keeping this tradition over the last couple years.  My last Easter suit was sewn using a designer 1996 pattern (posted here) in 2020.  I hope to pick up where I left off with my “progressively advancing up through decades” Easter sewing by making a 2000 era suit for 2024!  Keep your eyes peeled to see if I can’t wait and end up sewing it this year.

I’m wearing my paternal Grandmother’s vintage jewelry here, and my favorite piece is the 1960s watch necklace. The pearl gold bead necklace is something I made myself as a teenager!

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