Such is the ubiquity of the little black dress that it’s hard to imagine a time when it didn’t exist. Over the decades, this design classic has solved many a woman’s what-to-wear dilemma. For parties or business meetings, for dinner engagements or interviews, the LBD can be adapted to almost any occasion.
While today black features in almost every woman’s wardrobe – in the form of both recreational and work garments – in the 1920s it was considered the shade of mourning. Europe had suffered the loss of millions of young men in the First World War, a tragedy that was further exacerbated by the Spanish flu that followed soon afterwards. Millions of bereaved women subsequently wore black – for months or even years after their loss.
But with the LBD, Chanel and Patou reinvented black. Turning away from notions of mourning, they made the shade stylish and sexy. While the catwalks of Paris ensured that the women of the world learned of this new, liberating piece of fashion, it was Hollywood that infused it with its legendary status.
Rita Hayworth donned a rather provocative version of the little black dress in the 1946 film Gilda. The most famous scene featured Hayworth doing a brief striptease – in a moment of cinematic history that fortified the notion of a ‘femme fatale’ and cemented the LBD’s credentials as a truly alluring piece of fashion.
Perhaps the most famous on-screen little black dress of all time was worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Another Frenchman, Hubert de Givenchy, created this iconic version of the LBD, further boosting Hepburn’s sizzling on-screen sex appeal, and helping to make the movie a true classic of the 1960s.
More recently, the sensual possibilities of the LBD were explored in the 1993 film Indecent Proposal. Demi Moore wore Thierry Mugler’s sultry interpretation of the little black dress while spending the evening with Robert Redford – after agreeing to the proposition of the movie’s title.
The story continues. After more than 80 years of tweaks, re-styles and hem take-ups, the little black dress has come a long way. But its universal appeal remains as strong now as it ever was, providing women from all walks of life with a constant in an ever-shifting fashion landscape.