Little black dress – a symbol of elegance, chic and timeless piece of clothing that, supposedly, every woman should have in her wardrobe. Since the late 1920s, you could see many old Hollywood stars wearing one – Edith Piaf, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and so on…
A claim that Coco Chanel “invented” little black dress was said so many times that it basically became a fact and found its way straight to the history of fashion books. Even though Coco Chanel certainly is one of the designers who are most responsible for making lbd famous and giving it a certain cult status, especially after 1926 when she created a simple black jersey day dress, many other designers experimented with this look and black colour.
Historically, black was associated with regret, mourning and asceticism, until the fourteenth century, when it became a way for the individual to express their own style by causing a dramatic effect which all-black appearance had. During the fifteenth century, black was mostly worn by the members of the aristocracy, and due to the fact that black colour was difficult and expensive to produce with natural dyes, it became a mark of the wealth. During the eighteenth century, black was the colour of the priesthood, and it was believed that honest, respectable people wear it. When dandies wear it, a century later, she was a synonym of elegance, especially for men. With the introduction of aniline dyes, things began slowly to return to old – black regained status of mourning colour in everyday life, on special occasions to make that WOW effect, and bright colours became a huge part of women’s fashion world. One of the most controversial examples was John Singer Sargent’s 1884 portrait of “Madame X”, Virginie Gautreau, dressed in form-fitting, seductive black gown with quite a deep decolletage, which was shocking for that time, and in a great contrast with modest dresses that covered the body. In this way, Virginie, a high society member, made a departure from the previous standards of dressing and wearing a certain colour for certain occasions.
During the early twentieth century, famous designer Paul Poiret based his collection on a bright, vivid colours and patterns. Coco Chanel claimed that his collection made her feel nauseous because of all of the colour blocking, which is why she made shades of beige, dark blue and black as the centre point of her collection. Thus, the year 1926, is actually a milestone in her career, thanks to the famous dress not intended for the widowers, but instead for a young everyday woman. But thirteen years earlier, Coco Chanel designed little black dress with a white collar for Suzanne Orlandi. However, exactly on October 1, 1926, Vogue declared black dress as must have piece. The rest of it is a history, but this date is remembered as the day of launching the lbd into the fashion world.
Little black dress had it all. It was inventible to become famous because it was the ideal mix of elements. It was practical, easy, versatile, chic, elegant and sophisticated. Fashion magazines around the world featured this trend. Even Dior said, in 1954 that you can wear black in any time, any age, on almost any occasion. It’s an essential piece of woman’s wardrobe.
As the fifties era became more sexually conservative, and this reflected fashion of that time, little black dress was considered as a symbol of rebellious woman, seductive and mysterious one. Hollywood femme fatale were often photographed in a wiggle, pencil black dresses, opposed to the bright, light colours of the dresses worn by the housewives. The 1960s were not a glorious time for the little black dress. One of its masters, Cristobal Balenciaga retire in 1968, and this was also an era focused on a youthful sense of fashion, colours and patterns. However, there is one little black dress from this period, that remain the most popular one ever. Of course, I am talking about the dress that Audrey Hepburn wore at the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It was designed by Givenchy. He and Audrey were close friends, so she took two copies of the famous dress. What is interesting is that none of them actually was in the movie. Givenchy versions were too revealing because they showed too much legs, which was not considered suitable for the big screen, so Edith Head had to make a few changes on the lower part of the dress, just to make it a bit more appropriate. One copy was given by Audrey to the movie museum at Madrid, and the second one ended at the auction in 2006, where it was bought by the anonymous buyer. Money from the sale of the dress went to charity – for opening a school in Calcutta.
During the 1970s and 1980s, fashion designers like Claude Montana and Azzedine Alaia, experimented with different patterns and fabrics, such is leather, to make little black dress more appealing for younger generations. Since the nineties, lbd became a regular “guest” on the red carpet on which she showed all of her versatile. And indeed, we can see evolution of fashion through this piece of clothing that has always been present and integral part of it, with the possibility to adopt to the main fashion trend, but somehow also to always stay a timeless classic.