Di Riddell - Your Voice Matters

Di Riddell

Your Voice Matters - Confidence Beyond 50

5 Ideas From Coco Chanel’s Spin On Femininity

Coco Chanel, femininity, confidence

Even mentioning the word feminist can raise hackles…  are we talking about equality in  the workplace, reproductive rights and what is empowering to women. Or is it the ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’ angle?  Young feminists rage about old feminist who sniff that if it hadn’t been for their bra burning generation feminism would not exist.

I think the fire will rage eternally…as I said it can raise hackles depending on which side of the fence you sit on. And perhaps what age you are.

So we have the meek, gentle, submissive, pure quiet and sacrificial woman on one side(eekk do you know anyone like that?) Or the more mainstream career orientated, taking care of themselves, having a shoe and jewellery fetish who love cocktails on the other. Ok that was a rather ‘other extreme’ approach… extreme is what the word feminism seems to evoke.

I got to thinking about who I considered an early feminist. I came up with Coco Chanel… she did not call it femininity of course… and what an amazing woman she was. Because of her early life she was a master at creating mystery about herself.

Coco Chanel feminine confident


She lived from 1883 to 1971, so for 100 years Coco Chanel has been synonymous with style. She did it with flair and personal power.  What a feat for that time in history. Throw open your wardrobe and there you will find the spirit of Chanel.

Coco has been referred to as ‘the most elegant woman who ever lived’. She was scampish, lithe and agile. Also fiercely independent with an iron will and an amazing level of self belief.



She discovered at an early stage what became her and she never lost faith in it her way. She knew what suited her and designed around her own body. Over time she merely elaborated  upon what she preferred.

If you have a collection of jackets for tossing over jeans, knee grazing pencil of A line skirts, jersey, navy and cream. Any black dress is a descendant of her little black dress from 1926 short silk model. And deep pockets, twin sets, dropped waists, belted cardigans, short dresses for evening wear and the need to accessorise at all times. Then her influence is there…

Considering for a moment that Coco Chanel was simply unable to be meek and gentle or caring in that feminist way. To think of her using femininity in the hopes of luring a man into taking care of her in exchange for her independence was impossible when she had been dumped by her father at an orphanage at the age of 12. Her mother had taken that track and where did it get her? Dead at 32 of an incurable disease.  She knew it was folly to put her survival in the hands of anyone else.

So she was not into the time honoured feminine tradition of ‘sucking up to men’ however she had a handy toolkit of useful wiles. To her, her beauty, charm, wit and ability to pander were used in the service of getting what she wanted, not because it was a feminine duty.

Neither was she one for girlfriends… so no popping over with a wine to girlfriends for a gabfest was out of the question.

As she put such a great ‘spin’ on her life… I thought I would look at her ‘spin on femininity’… via ‘The Gospel According to Coco Chanel’ by Karen Karbo

Keep it to yourself

Maintaining a sense of mystery is an outdated aspect of femininity which could do with revival. Coco said One shouldn’t speak of oneself, or almost never. People should guess. How can they do if your Facebook page reads like a personal diary.

Indulge your irrationality

In French culture femininity means an abiding desire to ‘have men in the picture’ and knowing how to relate to them in a low maintenance way. It was said that Chanel had the most sense of any woman in Europe. Part of that  good sense meant occasionally behaving as if she had lost her mind in the interests of reassuring the men in her life that she was irrational in a reliably feminine way. She thought in the interest of getting along, it makes it much easier on everyone when ‘men behave as men are expected to behave and women pretend to behave as women are expected to behave’.

Worship at the alter of your own intuition

Coco’s confidence in her unerring intuition is especially noted in her jewellery. She not only feminised menswear…she came to a point of realising that plain sweaters and simple dresses were perfect showcases for swags of costume jewellery. Needing to make a statement when the fashionable ladies of her time were Charlestoning under pounds of fine jewellery. Coco stated ‘costume jewellery is devoid of arrogance in an ear of overly easy luxury’. She was also known to incorporate real jewels from past lovers gifts with costume jewellery to add to her mystique.

Pearls will set you free.


pearls feminism and confidence

Pearls are a  girls ‘good friend not her ‘best friend’ and a woman can say or do whatever she wants so long as she is wearing pearls. Coco used them extensively and effectively.

The tricky bit is how long? Her rule of thumb was the shorter the necklace, the greater the likelihood you will look like a storybook Grandma. Then if worn too long you could be mistaken for a flapper off to a costume party.

The best way said Coco is to show your disrespect for their original form and purpose. Take a few strands and sling them around your neck haphazardly. Wrap a necklace around your wrists. Or do what Coco did tucked long strands  in her belt.

Blame all your unhappiness on love

She had many influential lovers… Where else would a penniless girl turn for help?  To benefactors and lovers… All were impressed with her wit and razor sharp mind, her passion,  talent and her ability to make a business work. .

Yes they set her up in business…, and yes she paid them back… she was determined to be independent and she threw herself into her work. And they all married into their own wealthy class. I think she was a master at reframing… saying ‘marriage is like mountain climbing, not for everyone’. She enjoyed being loved by men.

Count Your blessings… It is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all. Coco railed against her failed love life because it had not included a husband and children. Would it have suited her I ask?

Lastly one of the advantages of not having all your dreams come true is that there remains something out there just beyond reach on which you can blame all your misery.

Where do you sit on femininity? Love to hear your views.