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The Little Black Dress: An Evolution

The Little Black Dress: An Evolution

Written by Hannah Mae Webster

The 'little black dress' has been a classic wardrobe staple seemingly forever. However, the history behind its introduction and evolution is fascinating, from its early popularisation by Coco Chanel to the revolutionary Givenchy design for Audrey Hepburn. Unlike many trends in fashion history, the little black dress has never lost its power due to its iconic versatility. Vogue predicted its popularity in a 1926 piece which stated that the little black dress would become “a sort of uniform for all women of taste”. The traditional origin of the black dress can be traced back to the act of mourning during the Georgian and Victorian times, however, it wasn't until the 20s when Coco Chanel caused a revolution and introduced the contemporary version of the 'little black dress'.

“One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a Little Black Dress.” - Karl Lagerfeld

"Chanel's Ford"

Vogue published a drawing of a simple yet stunning black dress in 1926, describing it as "Chanel's Ford". This comparison to a Ford car, suggested the accessibility of the piece to all women in society, irrelevant of class. Coco Chanel introduced her black dress around the time of the Great Depression, thus heightening its popularity due to the demand for simple, understated, and affordable clothing. This idea continued throughout the war period, therefore building up the success of Chanel's black dress.


Christian Dior's 1947 'New Look' further developed the little black dress by creating silhouettes with accentuated, cinched waists and full skirts. The hyper-feminine silhouettes catapulted the little black dress further into its journey of success.

"A little black dress is something to rely on" - Stella McCartney

Movies featuring Iconic Little Black Dresses

Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961

In the 1961 film, 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', Audrey Hepburn featured in one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history, in which her character, Holly Golightly, wanders along the street, croissant in hand, dressed in a black gown, sunglasses, gloves, and pearls. This gown was designed by Hubert de Givenchy and became one of the most recognised little black dresses in history. This scene highlights the versatility of the black dress as it is suggested that Holly Golightly is wearing her outfit from the previous evening into the next morning, although extreme, this symbolises the highly adaptable and wearable nature of the dress.

Le Grand Blond avec une chaussure noire, 1972

Mireille Darc wore this jaw-dropping completely backless black gown in the 1972 French film, 'Le Grand Blond avec une chaussure noire’. The gown was designed by Guy Laroche and was highly daring yet enviable.

Gilda, 1946

Designer Jean Louis designed the unforgettable black gown for Rita Hayworth in the 1946 movie 'Gilda'.

 Jean Louis commented, “it was the most famous dress I ever made. Everybody wonders how that dress can stay on her while she sings and dances... well, inside there was a harness like you put on a horse. We put grosgrain under the bust with darts and three stays, one in the centre, two on the sides. Then we moulded plastic softened over a gas flame and shaped around the top of the dress. No matter how she moved, the dress did not fall down."

Some Like It Hot, 1959

Marilyn Monroe's character Sugar wore the iconic black fringed dress designed by Orry-Kelly in 'Some Like It Hot', as well as sporting another divine sheer embellished little black dress later in the movie.

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