The little black dress can be filed under Dresses That Changed Everything.
In 1926, Vogue ran a sketch of Gabrielle Chanel’s little black dress. Chanel had been designing for more than ten years at that point. She opened a boutique in 1913 and started to push the fashion world away from the romantic Edwardian styles. We associate the 1920s with flappers, but they were the fringe on the outskirts – it took a while for the general population to transition to knee-length skirts and looser fits. When Vogue ran the picture of Chanel’s knee-length crepe dress, everybody was ready to change and everybody changed into a little black dress.
Some reasons why it changed fashion:
- It was severely simple with minimal detail, so it was immediately copied and mass-produced. It was compared to the Model T Ford – simple, black, and everybody had one. A duchess and a shop worker in 1927 could wear dresses that looked identical, reflecting the changing social dynamic.
- It’s knee-length skirt and loose fit allowed for ease of movement (no more restrictive corsets). It wasn’t decorative, it was functional – designed for women who wanted independence. The 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920, so that dynamic comes in as well.
- Before Chanel decided that black was elegant, it was the color that servants and mourners wore.
It had many critics, Gabrielle Chanel’s changed fashion for good. So if you own a little black dress, thank Coco.