The History Of The Little Black Dress

Published: 15th June 2009
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No lady's wardrobe is quite complete without the little black dress. We take it so much for granted as the life saver that it is, that we kind of assume it's been around forever. Actually before the 1920s black dresses were reserved for mourning periods for widows. In those days there were different stages of what could be worn during mourning including accessories, design detail and types of materials.

Nowadays it is considered an essential part of fashion that every lady should own a little black dress that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. When choosing the dress it is important to veer away from current trends but to go for something classic. But where did this trend originate?

It was in 1926 that Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel had a picture in Vogue of a simple, short black dress. It was straight and calf-length and something that could be worn by any woman. At the same time soon after the First World War there were other radical changes happening in fashion. The bouffant style hair was giving way to short bobs, but more radically some women were no longer wearing corsets and rummaging in male wardrobes, and they were indeed beginning to dress like boys!

Initially the designers did not seem to take to this change so well but after time they embraced it and lady's wardrobes had a more androgynous style. The full outfit showed a waistless, bustless figure but was dressed up with flamboyant accessories. Coco Chanel was a fashion icon and she helped along the sporty look, the little black dress and the use of jersey knit for ladies clothes.

During the Great Depression the little black dress retained its popularity due to its elegance and affordable price. Hollywood helped this along as many of the dramatic female characters were seen wearing halter neck versions of this fashion staple and the less dramatic ones were wearing the normal version. The style continued to spread during World War 2. The 1950s were conservative so the style became more of a uniform again and also synthetic fibers had become popular during the 40s and 50s. But then arrived the 1960s.

The 1960s brought changes of all sorts and this style was affected also. There was a lot of shortening of skirts, with the younger crowd creating a mini skirt version. Slits and cutouts were fashioned in the bodice area and the use of sheer fabrics was also part of these changes. By the 1970s there were more lacy, feminine versions of this style but at this stage other colours were more favoured in fashion. In the 1980s they made a comeback now with shoulder details being popular.

Possibly the most famous visual of this style is Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanys. Her character, Holly Golightly, wore the Chanel ideal with the black dress accessorized with a simple string of pearls. The great singer Edith Piaf performed for her entire career wearing a black sheath dress, and this got her the nickname of the "little black sparrow."

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