The History of the Little Black Dress

Education Fashion History

The little black dress has become an iconic piece that exists in every modern woman’s wardrobe. It can be worn a million different ways, for almost any occasion. A little black dress that fits well and is styled correctly, whether it’s designer or thrifted, can make a woman look effortlessly chic. But where did the history of the little black dress begin? Keep reading to learn more about the history of the little black dress and how it became the mainstream staple we know it as today. 

For centuries, the black dress was to be worn only as a uniform for shop girls or when in mourning in order to indicate plainness and piety. In the 1890s, shop girls began to learn how to sew, and started to use patterns and bright fabrics for their clothing. Society matrons got their revenge by dressing like shop girls, wearing black as a fashion statement. This change made the black dress a class marker. 

The Invention of the Little Black Dress

However, the true origins of the famous little black dress we know today did not start until the 1920s, thanks to Coco Chanel. Raised by Catholic nuns in an orphanage, Coco Chanel learned how to sew at a young age. Her humble beginnings of poverty and hard work were what inspired many of her designs. In the early 1920s, she was designing up to eight hundred pieces a year. 

In 1925,  she decided to start borrowing from menswear and designed the Chanel suit, which paved the way for women to start saying goodbye to corsets, constrictive clothing and big hats. In October of 1926, her long sleeved, calf length black dress was shown on the cover of Vogue. 

The Little Black Dress by Coco Chanel in Vogue 1926

“Thanks to me, they (the non-wealthy) can walk around like millionaires,” she said. Chanel’s concept of luxurious poverty made the statement that true style and elegance did not have to be synonymous with being overdressed or over abundant in fashion. 

The 1930s to 1960s

By the 1930s, the little black dress had become mainstream fashion. Loose and straight dress shapes came into fashion, and the little black dress remained a staple during the Great Depression due to its simplicity and affordability. After the war in the 1950s, Christian Dior’s New Look, consisting of cinched waists and full skirts, gave the little black dress a new twist. It wasn’t long before this style became Hollywood’s go-to for the femme-fatales that were shown on the big screen. 

The 1960s brought along a version of the little black dress that is also quite famous. Worn by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Givenchy’s long black dress has become a fashion motif that is still referred to today. 

Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffanys Givenchy Dress

The 1970s to Present Day 

The little black dress followed the trends and silhouettes of the 1970s and 80s, however it wasn’t until the 1990s, with the minimalist black slip dress in style, that the little black dress once again made a powerful statement. In 1994, Princess Diana wore her “revenge dress”, designed by Greek designer Christina Stambolian, and Elizabeth Hurley wore the Versace safety pin mini dress to the premiere of “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”  It was safe to say, the little black dress was back on top and making more statements than ever. 

Princess Diana's Revenge Dress

Celebrities continue to wear the little black dress as a symbol of true style and elegance. Megan Markle has been seen in a handful of fit and flare black dresses, while Rihanna more recently has redefined maternity wear at the Paris Fashion Week Dior fall 2022 show, when she wore a sheer Dior babydoll dress that turned underwear into outerwear. 

Rihanna's Maternity Little black Dress at Dior Paris Fashion Week 2022

The little black dress is a true fashion staple that will withstand the test of time. It is versatile, affordable, and accessible for everyone. It has gone from a symbol of service to one of independence, from restraint to temptation, and from glamor to grace. The little black dress may change with the trends and silhouettes of the decade, but it will always stay elegant, confident and sophisticated. What more can you ask for in a dress?

If you’re in need of an updated little black dress, there will always be options to try at Meg. No matter what the occasion, from the everyday going out dress, to a cocktail dress for a wedding, or a dress for a sophisticated dinner party or awards ceremony, we have you covered with a plethora of different fits and styles. 

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