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In case of a fashion emergency, the average Jane needs a few things in her McGyver survival bag: lipstick, strappy sandals, and the little black dress, affectionately known by an acronym, the LBD. Depending on the size of her closet, any fashion survivalist most likely has several LBDs in her arsenal. The next time you’re shimmying into your own favorite little number, spend some time thinking about the storied evolution of the little black dress.
The Roaring Twenties
The legendary Coco Chanel is credited with the creation of the revolutionary little black dress. Prior to the early 1920s, it was trés gauche for a woman to be seen in black if she was not in mourning. To the fashion rescue marched Mlle. Chanel, who designed her signature simple elegance in a divine crepe de Chine sheath with long sleeves. Styled with pearls, "Vogue" magazine featured a drawing of her creation in 1926 and accurately pegged the dress as a sartorial game-changer. The black dresses of the Roaring Twenties were calf-length and featured the period-appropriate drop waist. The dress sashayed as the lady walked or Charlestoned.
After the twenties, hemlines and waistlines lifted a few inches, and after World War II, waistlines moved on in, accentuating the female shape. The skirt of the LBD could be voluminous with a full slip underneath or pencil thin. The sheath evolved into a versatile silhouette that could be belted and worn to an afternoon canasta game or out to the finest restaurant for gimlets and dinner. Given the right mood, the dress might even welcome a nightcap with that special fella if the male accessory sparked.
Long black gloves accompanied the Swingin’ Sixties sheath, which was made perennially famous by Audrey Hepburn in the romantic movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The straps of the sheath were often wide, and the hemline could sweep the floor or barely cover the lady parts, depending on which end of the decade one found oneself. The 1970s saw the LBD hemline hit at about the knee and a slinky, body-hugging material clung to all the right parts while the wearer shook her groove thing at the disco. Occasionally, the top of the dress tied around the neck to form the perfect halter. By day, the perfect LBD would wrap around the body à la Diane Von Fursternburg.
The modern maven can rock the LBD in any style or material, which is indicative of just how much the little black dress has evolved. Whether it’s a modern-day coatdress or a classic sheath, the LBD is more than a staple, it’s a non-negotiable. And in a truly modern interpretation, the little black dress can be a mini or even a maxi.