But when it’s time to be discreet
There’s one thing
you just can’t beat
And that’s a strapless backless classical little black dress
Richard Hartley, Shock Treatment
Audrey Hepburn knew it, as did Betty Boop and Edith Piaf. Clearly Mme. Gautreau, the subject of John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Madame X knew it; that is, the inestimable value of the Little Black Dress.
Thoughout the Edwardian and Victorian eras black as a choice for ladies’ apparel was reserved for those in full mourning. It was French fashion designer Coco Chanel who, in the 1920’s, established black as a fashion choice. Gabrielle Coco Chanel, a designer of great vision and practicality intended the black dress to be versatile, long lasting and available to the widest possible market. In 1926 Chanel published a picture of a short, simple black dress in Vogue. Vogue called it Chanels Ford. Like the Model T, the little black dress was simple and accessible for most social classes. As Vogue predicted variations on this simple black garment would become a sort of uniform for all women of taste.
Today the LBD, as it has become known, is considered essential to a complete wardrobe, and under dire conditions, say while traveling light, can be a complete wardrobe in itself. Living in New York as a busy and often broke young woman, I soon learned which garment would carry me from the office to the opera with very little fuss. One year I wore the same black dress to wedding receptions as on a night train journey across Kenya. It was simply a matter of exchanging pearls and heels for elephant hair bracelets and espadrilles.
The beauty of a sleek, well cut black dress is that it becomes a blank palette for the art of accessorizing. One of the best elements to play off of a black dress is a dramatic hat. Case in point, the simple black de Givenchy sheath worn with a wide brimmed hat by actress Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.
This spring All You Need is Love Hats and Veils was deluged by requests for black hats. Ascot 2008 proved so popular that the design was temporarily removed from the collection for fear that every third woman at the Derby might be wearing the same hat. Like an elegant black dress, a black hat provides the perfect back-drop for color and trim. This Derby season, commentator Nancy Cox wore Blithe Spirit, a dramatic black hat banked in yellow silk roses. Our own First Lady Jane Beshear chose a small black hat trimmed in robin’s egg blue.
Dress it up or dress it down The Little Black dress is the work horse of a wardrobe. As Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, once said, When a little black dress is right, there is nothing else to wear in its place.
by Jan Masters Yon