Little Black Dresses

The Little Black Dress

When we think of timeless pieces of a wardrobe, we usually think: Simple. Elegant. Looks good on just about anyone… right? An example of an accepted “timeless” piece is the long-revered little black dress. Vague though its name, when the phrase is mentioned, most likely all women (and probably even men, for that matter) picture something similar: A simple, maybe-strapless-maybe-strappy, shortish, basic cocktail dress – in the color black, of course. So what is it about the little black dress that makes it so timeless?

Before the 1920s, the color black was usually reserved for times of mourning (and was even considered indecent when worn for other reasons). In the 1920s, the concept of wearing black began to change. While it’s hard to imagine one person’s influence creating a veritable butterfly effect of stylistic timelessness; in the case of the little black dress, the most influential award goes to famous, French designer, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. In 1926, Chanel published a picture of a sleek dress in American Vogue. The dress was calf-length, super straight, super-simple – and, most importantly – black. Vogue called it “Chanel’s Ford,” comparing it to the famous Model T car as, like the Model T, the little black dress was simple and universal. It was one of the first clothing pieces accessible to women of all social classes. Vogue editors also predicted that the little black dress would become a “…uniform for all women of taste.”

Because of its elegance and affordability, the little black dress survived the Great Depression and continued to grow in popularity and timelessness through the twentieth century. Still today, in the dawn of the new millennium, the little black dress is considered by many women to be an essential component of the wardrobe. Fashion and style gurus even tout that every woman should own a simple, elegant black dress. After all, it can be dressed-up or dressed-down to perfectly fit any occasion… right?

Not exactly. While probably anyone would admit that Audrey Hepburn or Jackie O. could make a burlap sap look great (or “sassy,” or “perfect,” or “timeless”…or any other adjectives that might be used to describe the little black dress), not everyone looks good in the same things. Even the “timeless” little black dress, despite its strong history and cultural popularity as an essential wardrobe piece, shouldn’t hang in every closet. Reasons? For starters, not everyone wears (or even likes) the color black. Some women may not feel comfortable in dresses at all; or – might love to wear dresses, but only if they can be pulled off with a favorite pair of Birkenstocks and a jean jacket thrown over it. Still others may not have the option to wear a little black dress for religious reasons. Ultimately, while it’s true that the little black dress will be owned and worn by many, probably for years to come, women should give themselves permission to buck tradition if the little black dress isn’t for them. The bigger take-away, perhaps (so as not to be too hard on the cute, little black dress, which is absolutely fabulous on anyone who owns one and loves it!) is that there probably shouldn’t be any one article of clothing considered “essential” for every woman. Not even the little black dress.