For decades, there has been nothing more essential to a young, professional woman’s wardrobe than the little black dress. Day to night, work to play, this wardrobe staple has withstood the evolving trends of fashion and time. But how did the LBD make its way to our very own closets? We’ll tell you, in this brief history of the little black dress.
During the early 20th century, the color black was rarely worn out in public. Reserved for widows or those in mourning, black garments were usually bypassed for softer, more feminine colors adorned with flowers and ribbon. It wasn’t until the countless fatalities of WWI that black ensembles became a part of acceptable day-to-day wear.
The little black dress gained commercial recognition in 1926, when American Vogue published a design sketch by Coco Chanel of a black, long-sleeved dress, falling right below the knee. It was paired with black pumps, a pearl necklace, white gloves and a cloche hat. The corset-less dress was stylish and sophisticated, all while lacking a defined, synched waist – a popular standard for many dresses of the 1920’s. Vogue dubbed this LBD, “Chanel’s Ford” because like the Model T, it was simple and accessible for women of all social classes. Vogue continued to define Chanel’s design as a “uniform for the modern woman.” Black was no longer a color of sadness but of cool revitalization and youth.
This style remained popular among women through the Great Depression and into the post-war era when Hollywood movies began portraying Femme Fatales in sleek black dresses. Although this was a sexually conservative time, Hollywood shakers pushed the borders of defiant sexuality with all black costume selections. A well-known example of this is Audrey Hepburn’s long black Givenchy dress in the 1961 classic, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
The widespread trend continued through the 90’s as the rise of grunge music gave birth to the dark grunge-styles of the time. Dark plaids, black boots and short skirts could be found alongside each other in the closets of young women.
To this day, some of the most renowned designers have paid homage to the little black dress by creating their own variation of the classic. Whether it’s peplum or pencil, cotton or silk, the LBD continues to be the default for any occasion as it transcends fashion trends and time.