Perhaps more than any other piece of clothing, the little black dress is, women have been told, the essential, the one that will take you practically anywhere. And perhaps more than any other designer, Coco Chanel was the one who made it ubiquitous.All the famous innovations in fashion and design cannot outshine the fame of the single Chanel Little Black Dress. Prior to the 1920s, black was strictly reserved for times of mourning but Coco Chanel introduced it in a time between the wars, when the bright colors, prints and heavy embroideries dominated the fashion.
The long-sleeved black dress, which was initially made for day in wool, and for evening in crepe, satin or velvet, shook up the world of fashion.
During the 1920s, newfound concepts of individuality and a repudiation of the Edwardian matronly ideal of respectable womanhood gave rise to the new phenomenon of the “Drinking Woman,” who dared to enjoy cocktails in mixed company . She emerged at private cocktail soirées and lounges, and the cocktail dress, as a short evening sheath with matching hat, shoes, and gloves was designated to accompany her.
The cocktail affair generally took place between six and eight P.M., yet by manipulating one’s accessories, the cocktail ensemble could be converted to appropriate dress for every event from three o’clock until late in the evening. Cocktail garb, by virtue of its flexibility and functionality, became the 1920s uniform for the progressive fashionable elite.
By the end of World War I, the French couture depended rather heavily on American clientele and to an even greater extent on American department stores that copied and promoted the French créateurs. As "cocktailing" had originated in the United States, the French paid less attention to the strict designations of line, cut, and length that American periodicals promoted for their heure de l’aperitif. Instead, the couturières Chanel and Vionnet created garments for the late afternoon, or “after five,” including beach pajamas—silk top and palazzo pant outfits worn with a mid-calf-length wrap jacket. Louise Boulanger produced les robes du studio, chic but rather informal sheaths that suited the hostess of private or intimate cocktail gatherings. As the popularity of travel grew, both in American resort cities like Palm Beach, “the Millionaire’s Playground,” and abroad with the luxury of the Riviera, these French cocktail garments gained favor in wealthy American circles. But while America’s elite were promoting the exclusive designs of the French couture, the majority of the United States relied on the advertisements of Vanity Fair and American Vogue, as well as their patronage of American department stores to dress for the cocktail hour.
In 1926 American Vogue named Coco Chanel black dress “a Ford”, meaning it’s simplicity and it’s potential for an enormous and long-lasting success. It was the little black dress of Chanel, that inspired the famous remark of her competitor Paul Poiret: “What has Chanel invented? De luxe poverty.”
The legacy of the LBD has undisputedly stood the test of time, remaining the singular most iconic fashion item that transcends age, size and occasion. Its versatility and figure-flattering qualities for women of all shapes and sizes means Chanel’s timeless little black dress remains the most dependable, go-to item in any women’s wardrobe to this day.
From Joan Bennet to Bella Hadid, the LBD has become the uniform of choice for some of the most iconic women in history. Here, we've chronicled the closet staple from the 1920s to 2016, proving its timeless appeal.
JOAN BENNETT, JANUARY 1928
LAUREN BACALL, DECEMBER 1944
ELIZABETH TAYLOR, JANUARY 1950
MARILYN MONROE, JULY 1956
AUDREY HEPBURN, JUNE 1961
CATHERINE DENEUVE, SEPTEMBER 1966
KATE MOSS, JANUARY 1990
SARAH JESSICA PARKER, JANUARY 1995
GWYNETH PALTROW AT THE BOUNCE PREMIERE, NOVEMBER 2000
NAOMI CAMPBELL AT LONDON FASHION WEEK, FEBRUARY 2006
OLIVIA PALERMO AT THE VALENTINO GARAVANI VIRTUAL MUSEUM LAUNCH PARTY, DECEMBER 2011
CARA DELEVINGNE AT THE FACE OF AN ANGEL TIFF WORLD PREMIERE PARTY, SEPTEMBER 2014
BELLA HADID AT A PREMIERE, SEPTEMBER 2016
Les girls from APPARiS