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The History Behind The Little Black Dress

If you've ever wondered how the Little Black Dress became a party staple, read on.

Prior to the 1920s, black was usually reserved for mourning (something the Victorians took quite seriously) and considered highly inappropriate to wear in normal, day-to-day life. 

The rise of this wardrobe staple was primed by several factors. Due to World War I and severe outbreaks of the Spanish Flu, seeing women in mourning, wearing all black in public, became a common sight. Tastes were also changing toward simple and more economical fashions, something that’s common during times of war, uncertainty, and financial distress.

In 1926, Vogue became the first magazine to publish a drawing of a little black dress, designed by Coco Chanel. The fashion magazine predicted that this would, in the future, become a uniform for women of all ages and social classes. They even called the dress “Chanel’s Ford,” drawing parallels to the mainstream appeal of Ford’s Model T car. In “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life,” Justine Picardine described this first LBD as “a simple yet elegant sheath, in black crêpe de Chine, with long, narrow sleeves, worn with a string of white pearls.”

In 1961, the little black dress finally got its big Hollywood moment. The exquisite LBD designed by Hubert de Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” came to symbolize the epitome of chic, in a film that has influenced fashion more than most.

The LBD gives us a chameleon-like ability to fit into any kind of social situation, and therein lies its appeal. Little black dresses, designer Norma Kamali says, “take us to parties, job interviews, weddings and funerals. We experience all of life’s big events in the little black dress. It can be respectful or empowering, depending upon the design.”

“A little black dress allows the wearer to accentuate her physical gifts,” says Vogue Editor-at-Large Andre Leon Talley. You can thank Madame Chanel for daring to break away from convention to bring us this perfectly timeless wardrobe staple.