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Bonnie Cashin – American Pioneer


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This site is no longer being updated so head over to Seamwork to get all the latest patterns, tutorials, video classes, and more.

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Bonnie Cashin (1915-2000) – American

Plaid mohair sweater and leather pants, 1958.

While many of us may know the name of Claire McCardell, the work of Bonnie Cashin isn’t that well known to modern lovers of fashion. Yet Cashin was honored with the 2003 Fashion Institute of Technology exhibition, “Bonnie Cashin: Practical Dreamer.” Cashin did not use unnecessary adornment or details, her clothes were fun and luxurious while still being quite practical and comfortable. Like many female designers, she made clothes that she herself wanted to wear or as she said, “fashion evolved from need.”  She designed for women like herself who were smart, active, self-aware and independent.

Bonnie Cashin

Cashin introduced the concept of functional layers of clothing into Western fashion. These layers would consist of togas, funnel-necked sweaters, hooded jersey dresses and oversized coats. Her signature Noh coat was an unlined T-shaped coat with deeply cut armholes that could be worn by itself or under a poncho or cape.

Coats and capes.

She worked for the ready-to-wear firm Adler and Adler for twelve years before freelancing as Bonnie Cashin Designs, Inc. in 1953. In the early 1960s, she was designer of the early Coach bags. Some of her signature details, such as the leather bound edges and metal toggle closures are still in use today.  Some of the first bags she designed for Coach were known as “Cashin-Carry” bags.

Coach bags by Cashin, 1968.

The colors that Cashin liked to use were dark, misty, natural, almost fall-like colors: loden, russet, saffron, pumpkin, teal, earth tones but no primary colors or pastels. She sometimes added vivid accents.

Green day ensemble, 1952.

Hollywood Connection: From 1942 until 1948, she was a contracted costume designer for such Twentieth Century-Fox films as Anna and the King of Siam (1946) with Irene Dunne, Cluny Brown (1946) with Jennifer Jones, and Laura with Gene Tierney (1944).

Leather cocktail dress, 1954.

Patio wall graffitti.

    Her style, innovations, and lasting influence on fashion:

  • Walls in her living spaces were transformed with large painted squares emblazoned with inspirational words written in marker.
  • She never worked with fabric on a dress form, instead designing on paper only.
  • Her use of leather or linen piping to trim edges on suede, wool, knit, and even organdy evening garments.
  • Cashin hallmarks were the use of long-lasting fabrics such as leather, industrial-size zippers, large pockets, and pairing fabrics such as tweeds with tartan plaid and suede.

Mohair ensemble with hitch, Fall 1964.

  • She was known for her use of toggle closures on jackets and coats and dog leash hitches for lifting and securing long skirts.
  • She coordinated her clothing pieces with hoods, bags, belts and boots of her own design.

Images: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) Museum of Los Angeles; Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Arizona Costume Institute,

Sources: “In Cashin Fashion,” by Stephanie Iverson, Victoria magazine; Fashion(2003) Christopher Breward;  “Design for Living”by Amy Spindler, New York Times; 2000 Obituary, New York Times; Who’s Who in Fashion(2008) Anne Stegemeyer; the Bonnie Cashin Foundation.

Lisa Williams   —  

Comments 7


I have to say that I had never heard of Bonnie Cashin, but there is so much in these images that I ache to own. There are so many lovely details and her colours are amazing. Nearly all of those clothes would work today, which I think is the sign of great design – becoming timeless.

I am enjoying this series of posts so much, thank you for putting them together.



My mother was a real estate broker in the 60’s and 70’s- she had 6 offices that employed only women. She endeavored to give women a chance to succeed in a tough business that was dominated by men. She taught the women to differentiate themselves by utilize the advantage they had as women, rather than seeing it as a handicap. She had a dress code which required the agents to look chic at all times. She herself favored Bonnie Cashin. She had a series of wool knit turtleneck dresses, in about 15 solid colors.

Then she had a series of plaid wool coats and capes which she could choose to go with any dress. It made for an amazing wardrobe- perfect for an occupation where you are often wearing your coat with your dress while you are meeting clients, so your coat needs to be great.. SO chic. My mother loved the workmanship. The edge trimmings of all the thick, nubby wool coats were made of suede or leather… the hardware used for closures was stunning- outsized, chunky, like jewelry added to the coats. The resulting garments were luxurious quality yet very classic- and I think that is what you observed about them- they were enticing, lush pieces. They were gorgeous clothes! Here is an interesting link for you:



Mary Beth @ Yarn U iPhone app

It’s apparent how much Bonnie loved mohair…and that first top would work with a pair of jeggings (yes!), boots and an attitude in New York City on a cool day right about now.


Whoa! That blue leather cocktail dress is awesome!
I love how so many American designers developed their clothing out of necessity. It says a lot about this country’s values, I like it :)


Love this! What a woman!

Louis Vuitton

I’m glad that I’ve found this blog. Aw, this was a really qualitative post. In theory I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

christopher maroc

Bonnie Cashion worked with my grandmother, Pola Stout, and always spoke so highly of her as a designer and friend. It is a delight to reintroduce myself to Ms. Cashion’s designs and incredible artistry. What an amazing talent she was.

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