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The Little Black Dress has been a staple part of women’s wardrobes for decades now. In this article, we trace its rise and rise throughout the twentieth century, starting with its birth between the wars, and how it can be worn today.
In the interwar period began a fashion revolution that stands tall to this day. During that time, black was the colour of mourning – and there was a lot to mourn for, to be sure – and was considered indecent when worn for fashion purposes. But Gabrielle Coco Chanel decided to turn her back on the corsets and frills of that age and designed a black dress with her old school uniform serving as inspiration.
She called it the little black dress, the LBD for short.
What makes it so timeless?
Like all timeless things, the LBD is simple in its design. There are no extravagant bows or frills. It almost looks like it’s a uniform, but a classy one. In an interview, Coco Chanel described the little black dress thus: ‘a simple yet elegant sheath, in black crepe de Chine, with long, narrow sleeves, worn with a string of white pearls’. Vogue magazine predicted in 1928 that it would become the ‘uniform of all ladies with taste’. It was right.
The changing image of the woman
With the advent of technicolor movies in Hollywood, directors were in the early stages of experimenting with colours. One of the frustrating aspects of using colour on screen was that they got distorted on screen. So black became an automatic easy choice, and the little black dress fit the bill perfectly. Also, that was the time when Hollywood was daring to show women in dark, classy roles (think beautiful spies). The rise of the femme fatale was on, and the black dress played its not-so-insignificant role to perfection.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Audrey Hepburn, in her classic, iconic movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s, wore the little black dress in its ‘Basic Black’ form, and broke a million hearts across the globe. The early sixties were all about this basic black dress accessorised with a string of pearls. That was the very definition of a classy lady. The dress set a record in 2006 when it got sold for US$ 738,000, six times its original estimated worth. Imagine walking around in a dress that costs a better part of a million dollars.
The here and now
There are always periods when black goes out of fashion, but then it always comes back with a bang. So if you think that black is passé, don’t throw out your black dresses just yet. Today’s fashion is so diverse that you need to own not one but a set of little black dresses – one that is knee-length, one vintage with shoulder pads and retro sandals, and you can even wear a sporty look with a short dress on sneakers and a bomber. As Karl Lagerfeld said, ‘One is never over-dressed or under-dressed with a Little Black Dress.’

Damien Peters

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