The Fashion Statement: The Little Black Dress
"Fashion fades, only style remains the same." That's probably one of my favorite quotes from Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel.
So this post is in honor of the designer, the inspiration of Coco Before Chanel (Audrey Tatou pictured above) and a timeless and ageless look she pioneered--the little black dress, or LBD.
I'm particularly struck by the LBD because, as I write this post, I am vacationing in Istanbul, Turkey. All around me, women are wearing black dresses for a variety of reasons. Some are wearing traditional Muslim dress, head-to-toe black, with black veils. European women are wearing knee-grazing black dresses with high heels for an out-on-the-town look. And the ancient city's Christian roots portray nuns in black habits (strikingly similar to how some Muslim women dress today).
With so many cultural influences coming from all directions how, then, did the LBD become a staple of a woman's wardrobe in the U.S.? In Western countries the little black dress has its origins in death. At the beginning and middle of the 20th century, women wore black dresses to mourn the loss of a husband, a son or a brother... sometimes for several years at a time. Chanel, ever the independent woman to challenge what women could and could not wear, put on trousers, wore sailor blouses and proclaimed this dour look chic in 1926 when one of her short black dresses was published in Vogue. Later, particularly during WWI and WWII when women seemed to be wearing little black dresses on a regular basis, the eye had adapted and the LBD, however controversial, caught on.
Today, of course, the LBD is a classic akin to the trench coat, the pea coat and the perfect white shirt--a flexible garment that can be dressed up and dressed down. Lanvin, Jil Sander and Donna Karan have wonderful versions of the LBD gearing up to make their rounds during this year's holiday party circuit.
But it is worth remembering that Coco--said to have been a pre-feminist, a woman who liberated women from corsets, frilly gowns and gave them hands-free shoulder bags--was determined to live her life independently from men, financially or otherwise. To love men, but not to rely on them, is a noble aspiration to this day. If the LBD is not a direct statement on women and their independence, it is representative of a questioning and rebellious spirit that is always the hallmark of style.