Bonnie Cashin Tweed and Leather Suit, 1970 – 71

I’ve been an admirer of the work of Bonnie Cashin for many years, so it struck me as odd when I realized that I did not have an example of her work in my collection.  I set about thinking and reading about Cashin, trying to narrow down what type of garment I wanted to fill this big hole in my accumulation of American sportswear.

First, I wanted my garment to immediately bring Bonnie Cashin to mind.  I wanted it to look like her work.  I also decided that I wanted something from Sills, from the 1960s or 70s, but I did not want a garment that was entirely leather.  I wanted something made from one of the fabrics that Cashin used very often, wool tweed.

I’ve been really interested in the tweeds that Bonnie Cashin used ever since I read a paper by Jacqueline Field, published in the 2006 journal Dress, the publication of the Costume Society of America.  The paper was not about Cashin; it was about Bernat Klein, a woolens designer working in Scotland.  Klein was quite famous in the UK, but here in the States he did not get the press attention that he garnered in Britain.  While studying the work of Klein, Jacqueline Field found that his wools were used not only by the great European couturiers like Chanel and Saint Laurent, but also Bonnie Cashin.

Klein produced couture level wool tweeds from the early 1960s through 1966, and again starting in 1969.  My suit was made in 1970 or 71, so it is possible that it is a Bernat Klein tweed.  One of his hallmarks was the use of different colors being used in one yarn, as you can see in the vertical yarn in the center of my photo.  He was also known for using thick and thin yarns to give texture to the fabric.

I’m not saying that my suit is made from Bernat Klein tweed, but it is fun to imagine that it might be.

Aside from the tweed, my suit has several of Cashin’s usual features:  leather bound edges, turn lock closures, no zippers, easy fit, interesting coloration.  The moment I saw this suit, I knew it was exactly what I needed.  The only thing wrong with it is that it actually fits me, and the desire to wear it is very strong.

These are not just pocket flaps.  There are substantial pockets, made from the same fabric,  under them.

Designed by Bonnie Cashin, made by Philip Sills, sold at Saks Fifth Avenue.

The side vents are a sporty touch.

The under collar is red leather.

The skirt has no waistband, just a strip of cotton bias.  There is a large covered snap to help secure the skirt below the top turn lock.

The skirt opening is on the left side.

I love the way the lines of the plaid are structured.

As I said earlier, this suit is from 1970 or 71.  How can I be so certain?  The F.I.T. Library has the original sketch along with a swatch of the fabric, and they have it posted on Flickr.  You might want to take a look at the sketch to see a bit about how Cashin designed.  It appears that she used her pattern pieces on more than one garment.  If she came up with a collar she liked, she would reuse the pattern, adapting it to a new design.  You can see this in the other sketches as well.

I’m very happy with my acquisition.  Now I need to find the hooded jersey dress that she designed to wear under the suit.  You can see  it in the sketch.




Filed under Collecting, Designers, Vintage Clothing

28 responses to “Bonnie Cashin Tweed and Leather Suit, 1970 – 71

  1. Maria Carruth

    If the suit fits, wear it! What a timeless style, great find Lizzie!


    • Great piece of wool tweed, Liz. I particularly appreciated seeing the sketch of the suit. The finished suit does not have the boxy jacket like the sketch, the actual suit jacket follows the body shape…also the collar is much larger. And again the metal turning closures…love them and the use of soft red leather binding. It must be very exciting to find a suit and also a designers sketch of that outfit. Thank you for putting all the references to enable following up on your research.

      Send us a picture with you wearing the suit…please.the

      P.S. (different subject) I received an order for a mannequin head from London and gave her “the Liz Bramlett discount” for mentioning your name somewhere.


  2. Wonderful suit, Lizzie! I love all the details (like the turn lock closures down the sides of the skirt…:) And I agree that you should consider wearing this (once in a blue moon, anyway!)

    Bonnie Cashin was a true original. My very favorite wardrobe item is from her–a 70s cashin-for-sills tweed poncho with suede trim and turn lock closures that comes with matching suede pants (which I’ve never used). I’m very careful when and where I wear the poncho, but it makes me so happy every time I put it on!


  3. I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you decided to wear it! Great conversation piece!



  4. mimi

    Love seeing this about Bonnie Cashin. I have a jacket that was my mother’s.Bonnie Cashin Cashin Country, the label reads. Ultrasuede maybe? Tag reads dry clean or hand washable. Very soft with a Nehru-type collar-can’t think of what else to call it-and those woven leather buttons. I can still see her wearing it in my mind’s eye. Thanks for all your great posts.


  5. Of course you should wear it! What fun is collecting if you can’t? And get somebody to use the chalk method to make a sewing pattern from it. I’m a believer in these designs living on by being remade.


  6. The leather detail is really gorgeous and unexpected. You must post a picture of the hooded dress, I’m so curious to see it!


  7. I do like this suit very much, and the tweed is simply gorgeous


  8. Nathalie

    I love those side fastenings down the skirt and the leather detailing is gorgeous!


  9. What a wonderful post! This suit wouldn’t fit into my life style, but if it fits into yours why not wear it once in awhile? You would just have to be careful. I expect Cashin designed most of her clothes to be dry cleaned?


    • I’ll probably never were the jacket and skirt together, but the jacket alone is a great top layer for jeans or a casual skirt.

      Cashin worked mainly in leather for Sills and Ayers, so I think she just assumed that these garments would have to be dry cleaned.


  10. super suit! You certainly found a beautiful Cashin suit with all the right bells and whistles for your collection. I don’t know how you can exercise the restraint to stick with owning only one. (as for me, if money were no object…)


  11. Okay:

    I did wear the jacket yesterday for a day of treasure hunting. I loved wearing it, and will keep it in my closet for a while anyway!


    • Lizzie, you look wonderful in that jacket! I was struck right away that it’s in one of your favorite colorways of red :). The collar just begs for a turtleneck; perfect wear for those NC mountains. The jacket and skirt are so timeless and yet contemporary all at once, the essence of true ‘investment’ clothing. This is the type of clothing that I like to see, so much different from the fast fashion that so many of us lament. You should keep it in your closet and wear it often.
      PS: what kind of shoes are you wearing?


      • You might laugh to know what I was wearing. I was out shopping and the day involved a good deal of driving, so I worn a pair of black yoga pants and a red and off-white striped tee. On my feet were my trusty grey Converse sneakers!

        I’d planned on wearing black Bass loafers, but caved in to the comfort of the Converse.


  12. You look fabulous in that jacket! I always say that once you have a great jacket, it really doesn’t matter what else you are wearing.


  13. What an exceptional suit! I love everything about it. I know you aren’t a “pink” person, but that little bit of pink in the weave really adds so much to the overall design and look, don’t you think? If this were mine, I’d definitely be wearing it…


  14. kathy levitt

    I have a beautiful beige leather Bonnie Cashin coat in great condition that I would like to sell as I am a large and this one is a small-medium. It is a Sills. with a Saks Fifth Aveneue label at the collar. simple and elegant. one turnlock does it all. plaid interior. best, k.


  15. cassie davidson

    I have been collecting vintage coats for several years and I love them. Seems I’m pulled toward anything vintage from the 70’s and under. Some I keep and wear and some I sell occassionally. I bought a Bonnie Cashin last year but didn’t know anything about her til I read your articlr today. It is dark brown in with the turn lock closures with a soft dark brown inner lining that is throughout the inner sleeves. (The way all winter coats should be made in my opinion for optium wamth.) The design label says it is made from Angola leather of selected imported hide. It is in excellent condition. And I enjoy wearing it even tho the leather is a little on the noise side upon movement. Thanks for your article.I hope im lucky enough to find some more pieces of her design.


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