Happy New Year! Thank you so much to all of my amazing followers- I can’t believe how quickly this blog has grown over the past year, and how much support I get from all of you. I just love hearing your feedback and getting your questions. And I can’t think of better way to kick off 2015 than with a FRIDAY FASHION FACT! How many of you couldn’t come up with something to wear on New Years Eve, and went with an old standby- the little black dress? It’s one of the most common and classic pieces of fashion, appropriate for nearly every occasion. So where did such an iconic dress come from?
Through the turn of the 20th Century, black was associated with mourning. The rare times when a woman would wear black outside of mourning were considered shocking and improper. However, during World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic, mourning became so widespread and universal, that people had little choice but to abandon the traditional rules of mourning dress, and thus the color black began to be worn more commonly.
On October 1, 1926, Vogue printed a sketch of a simple black dress by Coco Chanel. The dress was dubbed, “Chanel’s Ford” in reference to Henry Ford’s famous line about the Model-T, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” The image was small, easily passed over by a casual reader. It was accompanied by this short paragraph:
“The Chanel ‘Ford’- the frock that all the world will wear- is model 817 of black crepe de chine. The bodice blouses slightly at the front and sides and has a tight bolero at the back. Especially chic is the arrangement of tiny tucks which cross in front. Imported by Saks Fifth Avenue.”
Though this was not the first simple black dress ever to appear in a fashion magazine, the following month Vogue Paris dubbed Chanel’s dress “the uniform of the modern woman.” However, while Chanel continued to promote the basic dress, it took quite a bit of time for the LBD to garner widespread praise. When the stock market crashed in 1929, people would escape to the movie houses where it was a common sight to see a starlet dressed in black, which photographed sharply in black and white films. Even with the rise of Technicolor, black remained common for stars, as the technology was still being perfected and colors would often distort. Department stores began to advertise the little black dress, using Chanel’s mantra that, “One is never over nor under-dressed in a little black dress.”
The versatile style would be seen on Hollywood bombshells and old-money socialites alike. When Audrey Hepburn donned her basic black Givenchy dress and pearls in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the little black dress officially secured it’s place in every woman’s wardrobe.
Want to learn more about the little black dress? Check out these books:
Little Black Dress, by Andre Leon Talley
Little Black Dress: Vintage Treasure, by Didier Ludot
Have a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!