Fashion, like all art, evolves. New ideas come into play each day, and designs which were once the height of fashion are now considered dated, unoriginal, and antiquated. Though, among the array of fleeting fashion trends, there are some looks which always remain the same. Most iconic of all, perhaps, is the Little Black Dress.
This classic silhouette has forever been a necessity to the fashionista. Simple, understated, and cool, it is the epitome of simplicity in design. Having been introduced in a time of overstated, elaborate fashion, the Little Black Dress came as a breath of fresh air in 1926 when Coco Chanel swept it onto the scene. After years of decadent styles, where designs utilised every material under the sun, the lack of adornments allowed this piece to become timeless. Though this was not, of course, the first black dress, it was Chanel’s minimalist modernity that made the dress ubiquitous. Through the years there has been a steady evolution of the style, each ‘era’ of dress fitting in with the current trends whilst also remaining bare enough to not cement it to a particular period.
The late 1920s, for example, saw a significant flapper influence: made of tiered fabrics, a loose fit and a fun flair, ‘20s nightclubs were abundant with stylish LBD-wearers. After this the dress remained popular even during the Great Depression, its modest style both appealing and available to women from all economic backgrounds. It was also during this that time entertainers began to wear them. French singer Édith Piaf became prominent for her appearances in black sheath dresses throughout her career, for which she was nicknamed “little black sparrow”.
Despite all of the progress of the Little Black Dress, it possibly reached the height of its fame when worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This iconic performance mesmerised generations, and the minimal outfit has been a style staple for years. The dress, designed by Hubert de Givenchy, recently sold for close to $1,000,000 – six times what it was predicted to sell for. Even to this day there has yet to be another Little Black Dress to gain a similar notoriety: the image of the classic pearls, cigarette holder and the black satin sheath gown capture the epitome of timelessness. The simplistic design, modest fabric and elegant styling all built up for the piece to keep its elegant image through the ages.
For the next 50 years the Little Black Dress would be re-designed and walked down every catwalk in the world. The list of fashion icons captured wearing their version of the Little Black Dress is endless: from models such as Naomi Campbell and Iman, to style icons like Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana, the outfit seemed timeless. It proved that for a woman to look beautiful, fashionable and elegant it did not require extravagant gowns costing thousands; it was a dress that allowed the natural beauty of women to be the key player. As Karl Lagerfeld once said, “One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a Little Black Dress.”
If the longevity and adaptability of the Little Black Dress has taught us anything about fashion, it is that to remain timeless a certain minimalism of style is needed. Looking through LBD designs over the years, each has features which allow it to be fixed to its time period; but due to the lack of bold prints, bright colours and excessive detail, these features never seem old-fashioned. Its simplistic, elegant and contemporary look means that the Little Black Dress is no longer just a piece of clothing; it is an institutional design piece. It is something that will never go out of style, because as the women who iconicised it, Audrey Hepburn, once said, “Elegance is the only beauty that never fades.”
Text by Ryan Nielson