Sunday, November 28, 2010

Iconic Style: The LBD

It is something nearly every woman has in her wardrobe (or should), the Little Black Dress is that go-to item that can be dressed up or down for many occasions. It is easy to wear, simple enough that it can be transformed with accessories, timeless, and seasonless.


A 1926 issue of Vogue published a picture of a calf length simple black dress designed by Coco Chanel, which they called “Chanel’s Ford,” meaning it was basic and accessible to women of all social classes. They also said it would become “a sort of uniform for women of all taste.”


Prior to the 1920s black was often reserved for mourning. During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, a widow wore several stages of mourning dress over a period of at least two years. The first year she was in deep, or full, mourning and her dress was plain black with no ornamentation. In the second year she could wear black silk and toward the end of the year embellish with black ribbon, lace, embroidery, or jet jewelry. The final six months, or “half mourning” period, allowed for muted or neutral colors with shades of purple being common. Because deaths were common in the early 20th century as a result of WWI and the Spanish flu, it became more common for women to be seen in public wearing black, leading the way to Chanel’s design and the use of black dresses in Hollywood movies, which interesting were preferred with the introduction of Technicolor because bright colors looked distorted on screen.

The LBD remained popular through the Depression because it was economical and elegant, and during WWII when textiles were rationed it became part of a standard business uniform, conservatively accessorized, for women entering the workforce for the first time.


The post-war era and conservatism of the 1950s brought the LBD around to the look of the femme fatale who was contrasted with the more wholesome housewife character by Hollywood. The introduction of synthetic fibers in this time also broadened the affordability of the dress and widened its appeal.
In the 1960s, the younger, mod generation pushed the fashion envelope with shorter versions of the dress, often with cutouts, slits, sheer fabrics and tulle. Other women of this time preferred more elegant and classic designs, such as the iconic dress designed by Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanys.

Currently the LBD runs the gamut from wrinkle-resistant knits that can be tossed in a suitcase for travel and dressed up or down, simple sheaths that can take the wearer from the boardroom to a dinner date with a simple change of accessories, and more elaborate cocktail dresses that are only trotted out after dark. While most are black, charcoal gray, chocolate brown, and nudes also work equally well and deliver the same results with a more modern twist.


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