Designer Discounted

Inside a Jacket: Chanel Vintage

You don’t go out to find a vintage Chanel jacket. It finds you. It falls on your lap at the right time, when you have earned it, having finally cultivated the nonchalance it takes to wear it like it’s cheap.

Before we go any further, let me assure you that I’m not especially fancy. I don’t own a yacht, nor do I attend charity balls every weekend. My lifestyle as a frazzled editor, businesses owner, runner, mountain climber, and budget-flight traveler is not at all conducive to parading a Chanel. My closet has a couple of Balenciagas, sure, but nothing too precious. I don’t know why the stars aligned and the universe found it fit to lead me to an exquisite vintage like this, at a price that doesn't make me wince. Perhaps there really is a Santa.

When the day came to meet my jacket, I was my usual self—unpolished and unprepared. The box arrived on a lazy weekend afternoon, and I was wearing a ratty 10-year-old shirt and lounge pants. I didn’t expect it until the next day, so it caught me in unglamorous circumstances.

Maybe I should change clothes for this momentous unboxing, I thought, but the excitement was too much to bear. If I don’t do this now, my head will explode.

So without wasting another second, I yanked the packaging tape off, holding my breath.

Chanel Jacket Vintage 3

There it was, stunning despite its age. For what felt like an entire minute, I just looked at it, almost afraid to touch it with my parvenu hands. When I finally made contact, I realized why collectors covet vintage Chanel jackets. The softest silk lining, the hand-finished sleeve vent, the beautiful trim set in between the garment fabric and the facing—everything was perfect.

This off-the-rack vintage is not haute couture, but it was executed so beautifully that it almost feels tailor-made. Unsurprisingly, a growing number of fashion connoisseurs are switching to vintage because of this inimitable craftsmanship. Very few couture-sewing techniques still trickle down to ready-to-wear clothes these days.

I quickly put the jacket on, sliding my arm right through the silk-lined sleeves, easing my body into the perfect fit that only genius tailoring can provide. Such is the effect of a Chanel jacket; it slims the torso, elongates the arms, and lifts the shoulders. It’s incredibly lightweight but does not lose shape. It molds to the body, and you almost forget that it’s there.

This particular piece is estimated to have been made in the late 1980’s. The symbols used on the care label indicate that it was produced after 1985 and before 1990, making it at least 22 years old. Could it be one of the early designs of Karl Lagerfeld, who took over the reins of Chanel in 1983? Just thinking about its pedigree makes me giddy. Early Karl? Chic, chic, chic!

So elated am I that I am willing to overlook imperfections. As you can imagine, this old Chanel is no longer pristine. The handwritten inscriptions on the label indicating the collection, style, color, and other details have faded. Even the chain on the hem is missing, presumably taken off for cleaning. You can still see the needle holes on the silk lining where the chain used to be.

Traditionally used to weigh the jacket down, the chain allows the garment to retain its shape and skim the body, giving the wearer a slim and elegant silhouette. It also ensures that the jacket hangs properly, returning to form even when the arm is raised and lowered. Sadly, my jacket and its chain never reunited. (I am looking at the possibility of replacement as we speak.)

Chanel Jacket Vintage 2
The author's vintage Chanel jacket. 

"A Chanel jacket is a friend that never lets you down. It’s like a hug from someone you love. When you wear it, you forget that you fly economy and that you drink cheap wine. You suddenly feel stylish–and this time, you really are." 


Despite the absence of the crucial component, however, the jacket remains marvelous. You can tell that all the silk linings were lovingly put in by hand. The sleeve vents have working buttonholes. More notably, the trims are not cheap continuous pieces sewn in as an afterthought. No, non, nein. Authentic Chanel trims are built as they are applied.

Chanel Jacket Trim
The trims of a Chanel jacket. 

There are as many outside panels as there are panels of lining in a Chanel jacket, all of which are accurately overstitched. This makes it possible for garment to go two to three sizes up or down. During my research, I came upon a blogger who had her jacket sized up by Chanel during her pregnancy, and then sized back down when she lost the baby weight!


"Chanel jackets were inspired by men's jackets and have retained their masculine flair. The loose, boxy shape and the slim sleeves continue to reject the constriction of traditional women’s clothes. The construction creates a supple garment that is easy to move in. Coco Chanel made her clients cross their arms at the shoulders when measuring, ensuring that the jacket will not impede movement."


This timelessness is perhaps the best thing about a Chanel jacket. It has been reinvented and reinterpreted may times, but it has always remained desirable and inimitably sophisticated. It’s one of those rare creations that never seem to fall out of fashion. Go ahead and pair it with your favorite jeans and trainers, a pencil skirt, or over your evening dress. It will always work.

Disclaimer: The author does not have a background in couture sewing. This article is written from the perspective of someone who simply appreciates well-made clothes. It is not meant to be an instructional guide on how to sew a Chanel jacket.
Published October 17, 2013 by Ingrid Cudia
Designer Discounted