Does the little black dress continue to be an essential wardrobe element for the woman of 2015? Do you own one? According to Wikipedia the little black dress is “an evening or cocktail dress” that is simple and often cut short. This definition fails to recognize the scope of the little black dress.
Prior to the Victorian era brides wore their best dress, whatever color it was, for their weddings. Often that was a black dress, especially in Scandinavian countries. During the Victorian era, and continuing into the 1920’s, the black dress was reserved for mourning. It was even considered disrespectful to wear black if not in mourning.
According to Style List all of that changed in 1926 when Coco Chanel published a simple black dress in Vogue. Vogue described Chanel’s designs as the shape of the future and the concept of the little black dress as a must have was born. Chanel’s 1926 version was a simple black dress with long sleeves, featured with pearls. It soon became a woman’s go to dress for any occasion.
The little black dress retained its popularity throughout the depression. It became a symbol of simple elegance. A woman could own a little black dress without spending a lot of money. When she wore it she always looked pulled together. It retained its popularity through WWII due to textile rationing.
During the 1950’s the popularity of the little black dress took a bit of a hit when it became associated with the more risqué woman, think Marilyn Monroe in a plunging neckline. Audrey Hepburn revived it in the 1960’s when she wore a more sedate version in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Throughout the next several decades the little black dress went through multiple incarnations. In the 1980’s it featured bits of lace or ruffles at the neckline. In the 1990’s Kate Moss wore a leather jacket to add a bit of edge to her mini skirted, little black dress. By 2000 the little black dress was still considered a staple for every woman’s wardrobe, but by then it was anything you wanted it to be as long as it was black and a dress. The little black dress now includes dresses with lots of glitz. One version is even a baby doll dress that would have been considered lingerie in earlier decades.
Today Tim Gunn of Project Runway still says every woman should have a classic little black dress. I, however, think times are changing. The MBA blog says a simple black dress is nice to have, but does not describe it as a must have. The AARP Style Guide for women over 50 lists a black pencil skirt as part of a woman’s basic wardrobe but not a black dress. Instead AARP suggests that jewel tones are much more flattering for the skin of AARP age women.
I own a basic black dress. The last time I wore it was in 1991 to my husband’s 50th high school reunion. Do you own a basic black dress? When did you last wear it? I propose that we give up the notion that every woman should have a little black dress; or even a dress at all if you don’t wear them. I, myself, like dresses. But this year I think I will make a new classic dress, but it will be blue or gray or maybe brown, but definitely not black.