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The Evolution of the Little Black Dress

August 30, 2017 5 min read

little black dress evolution|evolution of the little black dress

Ah, the little black dress. In the annals of fashion history, there’s nothing little about this iconic dress. In fact, this fashion piece is larger than life. Since the little black dress was first created by fashion legend Coco Chanel and American Vogue published a sketch of Chanel’s iconic fashion creation—a long-sleeved dress in simple sheath silhouette—in 1926, the little black dress has become the ultimate fashion staple of the modern, sophisticated woman.


But why the little black dress? In what way has it evolved through the years? And how has the evolution of the little black dress reflected the times?


From Mourning to Party

Despite its “high-fashion, party girl” appeal, the little black dress actually had its sad beginnings. Before it was accepted as the modern-day woman’s go-to dress, the little black dress was then reserved only for a time of mourning. Believe it or not, back in the day, it was considered inappropriate to wear a black dress outside of a funeral or a period of grieving.


At the height of the World War, the sight of women wearing a black dress became more commonplace as several grieved the loss of their husbands and loved ones during the war.



Coco Chanel, the genius behind the beloved little black dress.


Hard times during the Great Depression has helped fuel the popularity of the little black dress, given the demands for practical, simple and affordable clothing. This is where the genius of the little black dress lies—it has democratized fashion for women as it eliminated heavy and wasteful layers of fabrics, the shorter length (although controversial at the time) allowed for ease of movement and its simple silhouette meant access to affordable fashion.


How Breakfast at Tiffany’s Changed Fashion

In the evolution of the little black dress, there was one defining fashion moment that forever elevated the little black dress to iconic status: Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. 



When Hepburn’s character, Holly Golightly, decided to stop by Tiffany’s to admire the dazzling collections of jewelry while enjoying a croissant and dressed in a gorgeous Givenchy black dress, it was a cinematic moment that gave birth to an iconic fashion item.


Evolution of the Little Black Dress Through the Times

Since that famous cinematic scene, the little black dress has been reinvented in multiple ways—always reflecting the times. Here’s a quick look at the fashion milestones, the women who wore them and the many reincarnations of the little black dress:

1950s: Elizabeth Taylor


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I beg your pardon? #elizabethtaylor

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The 1950s was all about Old Hollywood glamour, and the little black dress was a reflection of these glitzy times as Hollywood superstars, like Elizabeth Taylor, were spotted in luxurious black dresses in silhouettes that celebrated the feminine curves.

1960's: Twiggy



The little black dress kept up with the times as Mod 60s came roaring into the fashion consciousness of the general public. With British model, Twiggy, as the face of this fashion revolution, Mod fashion meant the little black dress got much shorter in length, but retained its simple, sheath silhouette. 1970s: Jackie Kennedy

1970s: Jackie Kennedy

Along with the world’s fascination of the Kennedys, the little black dress entered the golden age of polished sophistication. Usually in her signature pill box hat and long gloves, the First Lady brought first-class elegance to the White House with her many black dress moments.

1980s: Madonna



Oh, who could forget the Material Girl? The rebellious times of the 80s were captured in Madonna’s rock/grunge fashion, including the many moments she wore a corseted and mini black dress with fishnets in carefree abandon.


1990s: Princess Diana


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19 June 1994: Greeted by Baron Peter Palumbo, former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Princess Diana arrives for a gala event at the Serpentine Gallery in London, wearing a black chiffon dress designed by Christina Stambolian ■ 19 يونيو 1994: البارون بيتر بالومبو، الرئيس التنفيذي السابق لمجلس فنون بريطانيا العظمى يستقبل اﻷميرة ديانا أثناء وصولها إلى معرض سيربينتاين للفنون في لندن لحضور حفل خيري. وقد ارتدت اﻷميرة فستانا أنيقا صنع من قماش الشيفون اﻷسود من تصميم المصممة اليونانية كريستينا ستامبوليان ■ #princessdianaforever #humanitarian #princessofwales #princessdiana #gb #hertruestory #kensingtonpalace #uk #thebritishroyalfamily #theroyalfamily #thebritishmonarchy #queenofhearts #instagood #instaroyal #instalike #di #fashionicon #peoplesprincess #style #glamorous #icon #foreveryoung #uk #الأميرة_ديانا #أميرة_ويلز #أميرة_القلوب #الأميرة_ديانا_لﻷبد #بريطانيا

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Following her separation from Prince Charles, the late Princess Diana showed up at a Vanity Fair party in an off-the-shoulder little black dress by Christina Stambolian. On that same day, the little black dress earned the moniker “the revenge dress” as the real-life princess delivered a show-stopping fashion moment.


1994: Elizabeth Hurley



Because there can’t just be one iconic fashion moment in the 90s, model Elizabeth Hurley gave new meaning to the phrase “held together by a safety pin” when she stepped out in an iconic Versace safety pin black dress for the premier of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994.


2000s: Angelina Jolie



One of the iconic moments on the Red Carpet was when Angelina Jolie stepped out for the 84th Academy Awards wearing a velvet Versace black dress with a side slit that went on for days. It was one of the most talked-about fashion moments and, safe to say, easily stole the show.

Which moments in the evolution of the little black dress do you love the most? Do you invest in a little black dress and create your own iconic moments with this timeless piece?

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