The Little Black Dress: Then and Now

The Little Black Dress, or LBD as it has affectionately come to be known as, has become more
than just a wardrobe staple piece; it is the symbol of effortless, timeless, and anytime fashion: it
always just works. Adopted and praised by the most famous of designers and houses of
couture, the LBD often is the example of paying a lot to look like you are not trying too hard, but
the simple yet timeless dress’ roots are anything but lavish and luxurious. As incredible and
timeless as the Little Black Dress, and other staple pieces are, it is important to note the past
and continuing narrative of the separation of fashion and class then and now.
We began to see the presence of the Little Black Dress in the late 1800s and the early 1900s,
and it was originally worn by both the serving class and the working class. In essence, wearing
this dress was used to separate the elite from the higher class by designating them one specific
look to wear. Overtime, the Little Black Dress became the champion of the working class, and a
mark of class and elitism in general: the wealthy wore and were able to afford much more lavish
and colorful prints and dresses, while the working class and less wealthy were subjected to
poor-quality, colorless garbs. Ironically, poor-quality, colorless garb is a fitting description of
some of the first Little Black Dresses; a far cry from how they are described today.
As time went on, many young women; shop girls, who worked in factories to create clothing
were also subjected to wear these Little Black Dress uniforms; another way to separate them
from the wealthy aristocratic ladies they were creating for and selling to. But, with their
accessibility and talent with the sewing machine, these industrious young women were quickly
able to produce pieces in incredible likeness to those they were selling to their clients, but for
much cheaper. They used colors and patterns to mimic the styles the customers wore. But, the
second the elite class noticed the shop girls taking on their styles and visually looking similar to
them, they completely flipped the switch, and began wearing simple black dresses themselves,
only with better material and hemlines. In fact, it is noted that famous British actress and
socialite Lillie Langtry made a huge name for herself in the London fashion scene in 1886 in, as
the Emporia Daily News called it, “a simple little black frock.” This display of the Little Black
Dress springboarded a huge trend of socialities and the elite donning Little Black Dresses to
appear cool and edgy and current. The upper class simply did not wish to be associated with
the lower class, obviously, so when the lower class started to look like they did, they flipped the
switch, and dressed like the shop girls, except in a very unattainable way for the shop girls; as
these particular LBDs were immaculately tailored and hemmed and made in the best fabrics;
something the shop girls could not achieve or afford even if they tried.
The Little Black Dress went on to be featured in countless fashion magazines, including Vogue,
when Coco Chanel adopted the style and made it her own; really and truly bringing the LBD to
the forefront of fashion society. The Little Black Dress essentially became the symbol of

“affording to look like you did not try and are effortless” when getting dressed. It went from
being a stigma of the working class to the best of the best for the best of the elite class.
Like denim, the Little Black Dress can and does come in a variety of styles and price ranges;
making it attainable for everyone. However, also like denim, as price goes up for the LBD, so
does the quality and status associated with the dress: those who know fashion will know how
much the piece cost just by looking at it. The Little Black Dress is the mascot and insignia of the
fashionably chill and effortlessly chic, but it is important to know the history and societal
implications that come with this piece. Like much of fashion, the Little Black Dress is a vital and
timeless piece, yes, but not without its challenged and suppressed past of elitism and forced
By: Emily Goldberg.