Editorial article written for Little Black Dress website, focusing on the origins of the little black dress, starting with the inconic Coco Chanel.
The origins of the little black dress are accredited to the classic designs of the great, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. Chanel’s mantra was to design and produce a range of black dresses that were intended to be wearable, versatile and available to the mass market due to the neutral nature of the colour palette.
The Chanel philosophy lives on today as the archetypal model for aspiring little black dress designs to bow down to. Fashion houses to highstreet designers are all emulating the calf-length, straight cut, uncomplicated designs that were so typical of Chanel collections.
Prior to the late 1920s when Chanel was at the beginning of her journey down the road to becoming a universally recognised, iconic figure in fashion, black was considered a colour of mourning, which exuded bad feeling and negative connotation. Chanel managed to change the perception of black and transformed its tainted reputation into one of sophistication and class.
The flapper dress was the preceding step in the LBD chain of evolution in all its glittering glory. This dress featured the Chanel straight up and down cut with extremely clean lines but with an added pinch of razzle and a dash of dazzle. The flapper style was snatched up by people of all ages and still pops it head up now in the contemporary fashion industry.
The 1940s and 1950s were back in black but the LBD had a foxy new makeover. Housewives were trying to emulate the Femme Fatales like Grace Kelly in the films of this era with their sex symbol image and perfectly sculpted hourglass shapes. These suppressed women replicated the screen siren style with synched waists and capped sleeves to accentuate the female figure, possibly craving the male attention that these film starlets received from being objects of the male gaze.
Burlesque dancer and 1950s throwback, Dita Von Teese is the perfect embodiment of vintage fashion. This divine ensemble is a futuristic interpretation of how specific dress patterns create that highly sought after physique. This aesthetic has also been recreated on the Topshop Unique Autumn/Winter 2011 catwalk.
The little black dress took two directions during the 1960s with the young Mod followers sporting skintight, mini dresses with seductive slits and bodice cutouts. Sheer fabrics were introduced into the mix in this fashion era, which is making a massive come back in the industry this season.
Alexa Chung’s readily admired style belongs in the era of peace and love as she fluctuates between hippy-chic and Mod. She is pictured here wearing a prime example of the penny collars and long sleeves that were synonymous with garments of the time.
On the other hand we have the older generation who were lusting after the simplistic sheath dresses made famous by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1962. These dresses took a few steps back in time to the simplicity of Chanel resurrecting the passion for the sleek silhouette all over again. Yves Saint Laurent have recreated the sixties style on their Autumn/Winter 2011 runway with a fabulous, polka dot, leather shift.
The craving for uncomplicated creations soon faded when it came to the 1980s when sprayed on micro-minis made a come back and silhouettes became top-heavy and voluminous. Shoulder pads were vital and outlandish sleeves decoration became a fever that spread like wild fire.
Emma Watson recently adorned the eighties garb at the Harry Potter photocall. Emma looked amazing in this 2011 take on the 1980s style. We’re glad she went for a flattering pixie crop as opposed to a heyday Madonna perm! Expect to be wading your way through over-exaggerated puff sleeves on the rails as the new season approaches.
If you don’t want to shell out a pretty penny (and the rest!) for a dress that you may be saving exclusively for a special event, then navigate yourself towards the edgy side of town where there is guaranteed to be vintage and thrift stores aplenty. Charity shops are also the perfect place to begin and a cushioned blow to your bank balance too!
However my best advice to you when searching for that perfect, antique LBD is to turn your attention a tad closer to home. Although these high-end designers and highstreet stores are doing a pretty impressive job of emulating the golden eras, there really is no place like home; no place like that dusty old chest hibernating in your grandma’s attic waiting for a runway-inspired resurrection. You can’t get more genuine than that!