The Little Black Dress

Black sequence dress with tuelle overlay. Sleeveless and princess neckline.
The Little Black Dress

From my early twenties and from the very first years when I started to read fashion magazines, I learnt that there was one item every girl needed to have in her wardrobe. That item was the quintessential little black dress.

One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a Little Black Dress.โ€ 
Karl Lagerfeld

My wardrobe has a number of different styles that fits into the little black dress family. I have a dress that is sleeveless, with a round neckline and sits against the curves of my body just nicely. Think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s when she tees it up with a broad black hat and white scarf wrapped around the rim. This one is my go-to for a night out when I don’t want to think too hard about what to wear, how I want to feel and when I want to have simplicity in my style. The less is more way always sits well with me … on me!

Audrey Hepburn in little balck sheath dress and black broad rimmed hat with a cream scarf tied around the rim. Leaning on a black stool. Blue background.
Audrey Hepburn in that LBD

Retro Black

The other two Little Black Dresses I love are my two retro 1950s style numbers. One is sleeveless, the other has little cup-like sleeves that caress my shoulders. They both have wide skirts. They are simply elegant and full of feminine style. They are my all-time favourite and they have my back everytime I am at loss as to what to wear. Their style is easy to wear and they go so well with my vintage Elizabethan pearls. I just love that retro 1950s and 1960s style. This was an era where women wore feminine dresses teamed with little cardigans with matching coloured shoes, wrist gloves and matching hats. Think Mad Men

Three separate images forming a collage - Betty Draper, Peggy Olsen and Joan from Mad Men. Betty in a floral blue and pink dress, wearing pearls, white rimmed sunglasses, little white laced gloves and holding a white cluch bag. Pegg in a spotted shirt  and red button up waist and pleated cream skirt. Joan in a black dress with red floral designe at the kneckline and on the skirt hem.
Betty, Peggy and Joan

The 1920s

The little black dress, otherwise known as LBD, found its fame through French designer Coco Chanel. In 1926 she unveiled her design of a short, black, simply cut dress in French Vogue. She had created the uniform of style. A uniform that all women of all social classes could aspire to wear to look classic and chic. The LBD had made it possible for all women to easily access panache and style regardless of their social status.

Coco Chanel - looking side onto camera. Dressed in black with a string of pearls around her head.
Coco Chanel

In October 1926, Vogue featured a sketch of a long-sleeved, calf-length, black sheath dress by a plucky young designer named Coco Chanel. Dubbed โ€œChanelโ€™s Ford,โ€ the dress was promoted as equivalent in egalitarianism to the Model T.

The Underclass Origins of the Little Black Dress – The Atlantic

Victorian Mourning Dress

Up until the early twentieth century, before Coco Chanel made her mark in French couture, wearing black before the 1920s was the colour of mourning. It was deemed undesirable to wear black at any other times. Black mourning frocks were symbolic of the sanctity of the passing of a loved one. The Victorians upheld the mourning period rigidly with widows expected to wear mourning black for at least two years.

Black full length mourning dress. A layer of pleated down the skirt and on the cuffs. High neckline. Long sleeved.
Victorian Mourning Dress

Hollywood Starlets

Throughout the Great Depression, the LBD found popularity because of its uncomplicated elegance. It didn’t take a lot of money to look fabulous. This love for the LBD moved throughout Hollywood’s Golden Age with starlets such as Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe right through to Madonna, Liz Hurley and Princess Diana showcasing their own way of wearing the LBD. Their personal styles were paramount in sustaining our love affair with the little black dress. It was the go-to frock for effective and instantaneous chic, class and fun.

Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe all dressed in black dresses.
Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe

World War II

The LBD increased in popularity during World War II mainly because of the debilitating rationing of textiles. During the war, there was an enormous increase in women entering the workforce due to men being heavily involved in the defense forces. The LBD became the ‘uniform’ of choice for these working women. It was functionable and looked sharped with a sense of feminine elegance which I feel was still so importnat to maintain during these dark and worriesome years of war.

1940s women in black work outfits

The 1950s, the 1960s and beyond

During the conservative era of the post-war era, the attitude towards the LBD started to experience the “up-turned-eye-brow” effect. It was seen as an unsavoury choice in comparison to the innocent and homely pascal colours of lemon yellow, powder blue and soft pink. Only women of unscrupulous morals were seen wearing all black. They were perceived as the women who stayed out late at night drinking martinis, flirting and consorting with men in bars and taking them home to their beds. Black was seen as “the bad girl’s” colour. It is no accident that Sandy in Grease wears all black when she has her transformation from good girl to vixen to woo Danny. The LBD received its revival when Holly Golightly brought it back in fashion in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. During the 1960s, the younger generation also breathed life back into the LBD, reviving it back in fashion when it re-emerged as the mod mini.

Jane Birkin in a mini black dress and three quater sleeves. Standing barefoot. on a city footpath.
Jane Birkin in the Mod LBD circa 1960

Over the decades the Little Black Dress has become synonymous of classic style. A few months ago I stumbled upon an adorable bottle of perfume in honour of … yes, you guessed it … the little black dress. Guerlain has created a lovely scented perfume in honour of the LBD. It was my inspiration for writing this Post. The LBD started its journey from the working class professions of women who “balanced trays, stocked shelves, folded shirts, worked the switchboards, and wrung out the laundry” long before Coco Chanel’s design. I am one gal who is grateful to all those women who came before me and hung their own little black dress in their own wardrobes.

“A little black dress makes a woman feel beautiful and glamorous. It’s a long-lasting, versatile and affordable to a large market of women, and is debilitating here to stay.”

Tell us about your favourite little black dress? Where is your favourite place to love to wear your LBD to?

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