What Every Woman Should Own: The Little Black Dress
Small? Slimming? Perfect for any occasion? Must be the famous LBD, or the little black dress.
Where did it come from?
The little black dress came out of the 1920s with the help of Coco Chanel, who we might all know from her famous perfume Chanel No. 5. She is one of those designers that, when alive, changed the course of fashion forever. Chanel was born in 1883 and grew up during a time when fashion was dominated by large, cupcake inspired, puffy dresses. These dresses were characterized by the wide, massive mutton chop sleeves, the long flowing skirts and the defining fashion piece of the Victorian era – the corset – which narrowed the waist to a tiny point. The overall impression was a classic, if overdone, hourglass figure capped with a monolithic, wide brimmed hat decked with fruit, flowers, and possibly entire stuffed birds.
The advent of World War I dismantled this fashion forever. Instead, designers like Chanel, who were almost the opposite of the pre-war fashions, championed the slim, chic, boyish styles that emphasized strong craftsmanship and simplicity. When the world was looking at decadent fashion that made one think of a pastry shop window, Chanel was designing dresses that any woman could wear and, more importantly, afford.
The little black dress was predicted to become a sort of uniform for woman everywhere. Before the fashion forward promotion, the black dress was shunned by society. Black, the traditional color of mourning in Europe, was a common sight strolling the streets in the eras after the Great War and the Spanish Influenza. Apart from death, black was associated with danger and evil. Women who wore black, and were not in mourning, were represented with a more unsavory character and less-than-angelic nature.
Along with many other women of the time period, Chanel defied these conventions. In an era of social revolution, women cut their hair short as well as their skirts. They revealed skin, went out to parties without older brothers escorting them, and drank illegal alcohol like there was no tomorrow. They enjoyed the new found social freedoms previously reserved for men. Sometimes, they even wore pants!
Chanel championed the chic, sporty, clean lined look. She preferred quality and simplicity over the decadence of the past. Coming from a less-than-well-off-childhood she wanted her styles to be accessible to women of all means and wages – to not be stratified by wealth. Her styles captured a generation and a desire to change. The woman looked distinctly boyish in her fashions – a sharp and defiant change from the strongly regulated fashions of men and woman in the past. The Victorian mindset was the tighter the clothes the tighter the morals – this meant that woman could be arrested off the street for wearing inappropriate, “wanton” clothes. Chanel threw all of her work in the face of past propriety and broke the mold of what a woman should look like and dress like.
And the LBD was born!
Shopping for just the right dress
The dress itself can come in many styles – strapless, mini, maxi... you name it. The style of dress doesn't matter so much as the quality. A LBD has to fit the person wearing it. If it doesn't look right, don't try to wear it, it will only make you uncomfortable and end up looking cheaper than you'd want. Instead look for a well made garment that fits all your curves. Before you despair at never finding such a dress... the key is to not really go looking for it. Instead, whenever you're out shopping, keep an eye on the dress section and try on everything you have even the smallest possibility of liking. Some dresses might surprise you!
Whatever you do though, don't get your hopes up while looking. Actively searching for just the right dress puts stress on you and makes you more critical. Instead of feeling confident and having fun you are suddenly worried over how you don't look good in anything, and it's just a downward spiral from there. So, when you're out at the mall, searching frantically for something to wear to your friend's work party? It might not end so well. (But who hasn't gone through that horribly dreadful feeling of “I have absolutely nothing to wear” as you stare at your overflowing closet.) Most of the time, questing for the right dress only leads to disappointment and then, *gulp, disillusionment. Which means steaming piles of despair to filter through and an unsettling feeling of self-doubt. But that little black dress with your name on it is out there! Trust me!
Since the dress has gone through many alterations to fit with current trends, it has adapted to many different brands and cuts, but it never lost its edgy, fashionable appearance. The classic way to wear the LBD is with a long strand of pearls so you keep the clean, plain dress the center of attention. The dress can be made even more formal by wearing simple black heels, plain sheer tights, and a sleek up-do that captures all the fly-aways. To dress it down, add some color and soften the stark lines a bit with rounder designer jewelry and colorful pendents. Add a pair of flats or lace tights with wavy or curled hair. For an even more casual look, a sweater or cardigan belted at the waist with solid colored tights and a pair of comfy boots or flats make the dress still classy but relaxed.