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The Little Black Dress: Fashion for the Ages

Most stylists recommend that every woman keep at least one little black dress on hand. Read on to learn more about this fashion staple.

If the acronym LBD instantly brings to your mind the phrase “little black dress,” it probably also conveys a decided glamor—perhaps Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy cocktail number in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. When Coco Chanel’s iconic version debuted in 1926, however, it brought to fashion critics’ minds not a New York cab but a Model T. Vogue dubbed it the “Ford” dress, a long-sleeved shape of crepe de chine with little adornment besides a subtle X pattern of tucks across the front. It had none of the flapper era’s signature lace, fringe, or flask pockets.

While the LBD seems to have struck Vogue’s writers as somewhat austere, they also recognized its power as a new essential, calling it “the frock that all the world will wear.” But the color had never seemed entirely mundane; black garb was a symbol of aristocracy as far back as the 15th century, as the dye was expensive to produce. Through the 18th and 19th centuries, black clothing was largely worn by women in mourning and members of the clergy, and caused a stir when the subject of John Singer Sargent’s 1883 portrait Madame X donned a black gown that set off a shocking expanse of skin and the supremely haughty arch of a jet-black brow. Today, of course, the LBD is the rule more than the exception at any social event where jeans and a tuxedo t-shirt won’t do. As Christian Dior once said: “You can wear black at any time. You can wear black at any age.”

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