Style Essential: Interesting Facts About the Little Black Dress

Updated on April 3, 2017
Rangoon House profile image

I am an idealist, an optimist, a romantic, often a traditionalist. I like to see and write about the good, or how things can become better.

Stella McCartney Dress
Stella McCartney Dress | Source

The Little Black Dress Is a Wardrobe Classic and Necessity

The "little black dress" is an essential component needed to completesa woman's wardrobe. In fact, I think it should be the foundation piece. You can create a variety of looks using just one dress and a few classic staples to build around it. A classic white shirt and a navy jacket are just two of the handful of classic pieces that join the stellar style heights of a black dress.

It is a rule of fashion that every woman should own at least one simple, elegant black dress that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. Those who are clever can manage the art of wearing just one dress that can traverse the social etiquette of cocktail parties, school graduations, racing carnivals, and even funerals.

Because the LBD is a wardrobe classic, the style should be simple, elegant, and timeless. This means it should still be stylish in 10 years' time. The only downside to this is that the LBD will be so perfect that it will be threadbare from wear within one year, let alone a decade! So when you find the perfect one, be sure to buy at least two!

A classic, vintage dress.
A classic, vintage dress. | Source

Short History of the Very First Little Black Dress

A little black dress is a special evening or cocktail dress, generally of a simple and elegant cut. An absolutely perfect one can be transformed from daytime wear to evening wear with a few quick accessory adaptations.

Coco Chanel is credited with the creation of the LBD in the 1920s. Her intention was to design a neutral-colored dress that can be long-lasting and versatile. Her first black dress was published in American Vogue in 1926. It was calf-length, had long sleeves with a straight silhouette, and was made of wool for day wear and crepe, satin, or velvet for evening wear. Later variations included sleeveless, lace, pleated, and chiffon designs. The dress was dubbed "Chanel Ford" after the Model-T Ford due to its simplicity and accessibility for women of all social classes. Vogue predicted that the LBD would become a "sort of uniform for all women of taste." (1)

The Chanel little black dress is an everlasting symbol of sophisticated chic and has been copied and modified many times to please ongoing generations of stylish women worldwide.

Audrey Hepburn is synonymous with the Little Black Dress.
Audrey Hepburn is synonymous with the Little Black Dress. | Source

How the Little Black Dress Became a Fashion Staple

Due to its simplistic style and affordability, the little black dress continued to grow in popularity through the Great Depression and the Second World War. In the later decades, it took on an elevated luxury status as Hollywood leading ladies wore it on the silver screen. In the most prominent example, this style was epitomised by Audrey Hepburn who played Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Hubert de Givenchy's designs for Audrey Hepburn's character, Holly Golightly, established the new standard for the little black dress. Going beyond the classic Coco Chanel version, Givenchy's style resonated with so many women that Hepburn's dress in the film became the blueprint for all highly sought-after black dresses thereafter.

Whether it was Chanel's black crepe-de-chine sheath, Givenchy's updated version, or today's modern dresses, the key to wearing an LBD correctly is by accessorizing.

Accessorizing

Opera-length white pearls suit most necklines. For this look, remember not to overdo anything. The old adage is to remove one thing before you walk out the door. Simplicity is key!

Holly Golightly's gown sold by Christie's for $923,187 In 2006.
Holly Golightly's gown sold by Christie's for $923,187 In 2006. | Source

How To Choose The Perfect Little Black Dress

There are no steadfast rules when it comes to choosing a dress that fits the generally perceived criteria of a little black dress.

The first rule is that it must be tasteful. But how does one explain tasteful?

Generally speaking, the dress must be classic, sophisticated, elegant, and simple. It can also have a quirky, unexpected twist, but the style should ideally still be trendy a decade later. It should be able to take you from the office to a cocktail party, dinner at your parents-in-law, the horse races, the theatre, or even a funeral. The perfect one can be dressed up or down with a quick change of lipstick, jewelry, handbag, shoes, scarf, shawl, or jacket.

Do You Own A Little Black Dress?

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How to Wear the Perfect Little Black Dress

The three dresses below epitomise every inimitable quality of a little black dress. I could not choose between them. They are sleek, refined, and classy. Each one is designed with a subtle, surprising twist of style to counter critics who believe that "black is boring." Notice that for each outfit, the accessories are minimal. The models don't even wear earrings!

Personally, I am a pearl girl. So while I definitely advocate the "less is more" ethos with each of these looks, I would, at the very least, add a pair of pearl earrings to each outfit and possibly a single-strand pearl necklace to the more formal long-sleeved dress. Otherwise, these dresses alone represent everything that a LBD style should be.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Model: Teresa Moore
Model: Teresa Moore
Model: Teresa Moore | Source

LBD in Illustration

These gorgeous illustrations are from the Rose Archive at the Shankar College of Engineering and Design in Israel.

The Shenkar College is one of the most respected fashion institutions in Israel, and the only educational institution in the country to hold an archive of fashion and fashion-related artifacts.

The Rose Archive has donated a sample of illustrations to WikiCommons in the hope of promoting Israeli fashion in the context of historical and contemporary design.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A classic flapper-style dress from the early 20th century.Another flapper-style dress
A classic flapper-style dress from the early 20th century.
A classic flapper-style dress from the early 20th century. | Source
Another flapper-style dress
Another flapper-style dress | Source

Do You Own The "Perfect" Little Black Dress?

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A stunning contemporary by Dolce and Gabbana
A stunning contemporary by Dolce and Gabbana | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 AJ

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      • Rangoon House profile imageAUTHOR

        AJ 

        2 years ago from Australia

        Hi Vespa. We are probably all still searching for the perfect Little Black Dress, and if / when we ever find it, will be sorry we didn't buy two or three!

      • vespawoolf profile image

        vespawoolf 

        2 years ago from Peru, South America

        I agree that the little black dress is an essential. I have several, probably not the perfect one. Chanel was certainly the epitome of style and class. Thank you for the beautiful photos and ideas for finding the perfect little black dress.

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