“I like fashion to go down to the street, but I can’t accept that it should originate there.” Coco Chanel
Very few things in fashion have stood the test of time like the “little black dress,” a fashion article which has truly never gone out of style. From Chanel to Audrey Hepburn, powerful and iconic women for the last century have favored their bodies with this classic design.
Fondly referred to by fashion historians as the “LBD,” since its creation by Coco Chanel in Paris during the 1920s, the little black dress quickly became a wardrobe essential. Coco, living in a post World War I Paris, fully understood that every woman desired to look fantastic and did not want to “break the bank” doing it.
Based on this keen observation, Coco designed a dress that was visually versatile, a simple color, but most importantly had to be affordable so that everyday women could have access to it. This led to the birth of the “LBD,” aka the Little Black Dress.
Rule of Fashion
Cited by many women the world over as a fashion must-have, the little black dress–known today as a “cocktail dress”–is what I consider to be the one item needed by every woman. Actress Audrey Hepburn, while filming Breakfast at Tiffany’s, declared it was an unspoken Rule of Fashion that every women had to own a little black dress in order to have a complete wardrobe.
The beauty of the LBD is in its complete fashion versatility as an article of clothing. All you need to do is add a bit of sparkling jewelry and a silk scarf, and you’re ready for a night out on the town. Throw on a nice blazer and a pair of heels for an elegant daytime look. My advice when buying a LBD is to look for one that is as simple in its design as possible, because you never want to wear a “dated” dress.
A Little History
American Vogue in 1926 featured a small photo editorial for a brand new black dress by Coco Chanel. This simply black dress was knee length, framed by straight drop lines. Vogue’s editors raved about the new dress design, labeling it “Chanel’s Ford,” comparing it to the Model T which made cars accessible to the masses for the first time. Vogue did predict correctly that the LBD “would become a uniform for all women of taste.”
During 1930s to the post World War II era. the little black dress kept being “a uniform for all women of taste” due to two driving factors. First, the governments of Europe and America required a wartime rationing of fabrics, leading fashion designers to have to make do with less, hence their love of the LBD.
The second was that more and more women were having to enter the work force as a large part of the male population went to war. The workforce was made up of mostly women looking for a stylish uniform that could be easily accessorized.
Dior’s “New Look”
As the 1950s saw a rise in sexual conservatism, one of the leading designers in Paris, Dior, lashed out with his own take on the LBD. He transformed the more business-oriented little black dress of Chanel into a symbol of Hollywood’s femme fatales. Dior did this by cutting the dress off at the shoulders and adding halters to it. Dior is credited with introducing synthetic fibers to his design of the LBD, making is more affordable for the everyday woman.
“Zest is the secret of all beauty. There is no beauty that is attractive without zest” Dior
Many credit Audrey Hepburn for bringing the LBD back into mainstream culture by wearing it during the filming of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The Breakfast at Tiffany’s designs of the LBD were created by Hubert de Givenchy in the popular 1960s style of sheath dresses.
Thankfully, the late 2000s saw the styles of the ’80s return, bringing with it a national fitness craze. In America we saw a more body-aware theme dominate the lines of our most popular designers, all leading to a massive comeback for the little black dress.
How To Buy the Little Black Dress
So now your brain is filled with pictures of Audrey Hepburnl wearing her LBD from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and you are ready to rush off in search of your very own little black dress. Before you start swiping your credit card, here are a couple of points to consider.
Off the hanger: When searching for the perfect LBD, you have try on everything. Years of styling women of all shapes and sizes has taught me the lesson of having them try on everything, even dresses they would normally never put on. Try it yourself; you might even be pleasantly surprised.
An eye for detail: When choosing between two dresses, always choose the one with the eye-catching detail.
Leave a little to imagination: You have heard the old saying “less is more,” but what no one told us is what that really means. In the case of the LBD, never buy one that is too clinging; let it gently fall over your curves. The LBD will have you looking thinner if its side lines drop straight down.
How low should you go? In the case of how much cleavage you should show, I refer you to the rule that “less is more.” Go for an appealing neckline that shows the world you are a woman, but leaves enough mystery to keep them coming back for more.
The knees are key: When it comes to the hemline of the LBD the knees are simply the jumping off point. Personally, I like a hemline that lays an inch or two above the knee, as this showcases the legs. If you are a little self-conscious about your height, a trick I always like to recommend is getting your hemline tailored to be slightly higher at around 4 or 5 inches above the knees. This, combined with a nice pair of stiletto heels, will create what most men lovingly call “legs from here to heaven.” I will leave the meaning of that one to your imagination.