The History of the Little Black Dress

A look at the history of the little black dress.

“One is never over or under dressed in a little black dress.” – Karl Lagerfield 

We take it for granted, but the “Little Black Dress” was not always a thing. Believe it or not, the LBD is a fairly recent fashion invention. Women of today accept it as a staple of the modern woman’s wardrobe, but the history of the little black dress is less than 100 years old.

A look at the history of the little black dress.

Image: Vintage Style via Shutterstock

The Birth of the Little Black Dress

The LBD has a relatively short history in the history of fashion. It was Coco Chanel who first created the LBD in the 1920s. Chanel’s creation, which first appeared in Vogue magazine in 1926, was a deceptively simple drop-waist sheath dresses in black. It quickly became “the” dress for ’20s flappers.

Prior to this period black clothing was a symbol of mourning (made popular during the Victorian era) and most women would not have worn black except in mourning. Chanel, inspired by the peasant widows of World War I, elevated the black dress into a chic and elegant piece. Chanel also marketed the dress as “the dress” that every woman should own for its versatility and practicality. It was this notion that led its to staying power–the Great Depression made frugality a necessity for many.

A look at the history of the little black dress.

Image: Film Noir via Shutterstock

The Next Chapter for the LBD: “New Look” and the Era of Hollywood Glamour

The LBD had a new life under the Christian Dior’s post World War II “New Look” and under the new influence of Hollywood glamour. The utilitarian necessity of the Depression era LBD was a thing of the past, but Dior and Hollywood reinvigorated the LBD and made it the dress of choice for Hollywood divas and temptresses. Stars like Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner, both of whom epitomized the femme fatale in film noir, added to the glamorous image of the LBD.

A look at the history of the little black dress.

Image: Inspired by Breakfast at Tiffany’s via Shutterstock

“Breakfast At Tiffany’s”: Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy

When one thinks of the LBD in film, Audrey Hepburn may be first to come to mind. She and Hubert de Givenchy made the LBD of the 1960s a cultural icon. His “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” design is easily counted amongst the most iconic movie dresses of all time (with only Marilyn Monroe’s white “Seven Year Itch” dress being more well known) and easily the most famous little black dress.

It was this design that cemented the LBD as fashion royalty. The timeless style will forever denote polished sophistication (at least until the next fashion icon comes along).

A look at the history of the little black dress.

Image: LBD via University of Salford

The Little Black Dress of Today

Whether long or short, the little black dress is now a staple in most every woman’s closet. It is appropriate to wear to work, while running errands, or out for the evening on the town, and, yes, it still works at funerals. The key to the occasion is in the design and the styling, of course. One can truly never go wrong with adding another little black dress to a wardrobe.

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Top Image: Little Black Dress via Shutterstock

Jen Wallace

Jen Wallace shares her indie life by writing about making, creating, cooking, learning, playing, decorating, and pretty much anything else that strikes her fancy from indie biz tips to the modern history of the American hemline.