Coco Chanel’s “Little Black Dress”

Audrey Hepburn in the "little black dress" | 1961 | Courtesy of Flickr

Growing up, this woman had been abandoned by her father, leaving her and her siblings to become orphans. Although she grew up very poor, she strove to make a name for herself and be somebody important in the world, and she has since become famous for her fragrances, signature handbags, and the modern breakthrough in women’s fashion associated with her, revolutionizing the world of fashion one piece of clothing at a time. She was the French fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Being filled with the “desire for independence and need to be different,” Chanel freed women from tight corsets and introduced them to new comfortable loose clothing.1

During the 1920’s, Chanel had become one of the most powerful designers, creating a variety of fashionable clothing worn by women, and even influencing the “flappers.”2 Prior to her “revolution in fashion,” the fashion industry had been ruled by men, and clothes were made from a male’s viewpoint for how women should dress. But she introduced an entirely different concept of women’s fashion to the world. In the years before 1919, fitted vibrant colored clothing was the signature look, where black or dark clothing were only worn at funerals and at times of mourning. She even began attending many high social functions wearing pants, making something that was never done before a new trend in women’s fashion.3 Her style was one of a kind. She designed her clothing from her own viewpoint, as a woman, wearing what she saw as most comfortable.

Her creations instantaneously became the uniform of the modern women. It all started with the explosion of a gas burner while getting ready for an event in 1926. She found herself troubled trying to get the water temperate enough to wash her face. Wearing a simple white dress, she tried to alter the gas flame when it exploded surprisingly. Her white dress was now fully coated with soot. The explosion resulted in the creation of the legendary “Little Black Dress.”4 The original little black dress was plain and simple. It was a long-sleeved black fitted, but also comfortable creped, dress.5 It was a tragedy that led to the innovation of a lifetime. Chanel had created the perfect dress, suitable for any occasion, elegant or casual. “It defined the essence of modern, liberated women and reflected a change.”6

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel wearing the famous “Little Black Dress” | Courtesy of Flickr

When the famous actress Audrey Hepburn wore the dress in 1961, it brought more attraction to the style and simplicity of the Little Black Dress. It became more idolized and desired. The fame of the little black dress increased due to its exposure in Hepburn’s iconic movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She portrayed a character named Holly Golightly.7 Chanel’s fashion was frequently displayed among the high social class. She dressed many famous individuals such as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Madonna, and Jackie Kennedy.8

Through the years, the Little Black Dress became knows as the LBD.  It came to be a necessity in every woman’s attire. It could be used for any type of occasion. Generations after generations, the dress has changed drastically. The LBD went from a fitted design to a more fashionable cocktail dress for special events. The LBD has become a trademark, displaying the transformation of fashion and dress since at least the late 1920’s. We are now in the twenty-first century; the little black dress remains a mainstay of the clothing industry and a must in the wardrobe of every woman. Even after four decades after her death, Chanel remains an icon. She played a very important role in the revolution of women’s fashion. Thanks to Chanel’s bold attitude and braveness, she broke the “rules” and transformed fashion.

  1. Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004, s.v. “Coco Chanel.”
  2. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, April 2013, s.v. “Chanel, Coco,” by Richard Martin.
  3. Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004, s.v. “Coco Chanel.”
  4. Isabella Alston and Kathryn Dixon, Coco Chanel (United States: Bellagio Press, 2014), 34.
  5. Isabelle Fiemeyer, “Chanel the Enigma,” France Today Vol.32, No. 1 (2016): 83.
  6. Deborah Felder, The 100 most influential women of all time: a ranking past and present (New Jersey: Citadel, 1996), 175.
  7. Nancy Wingston, “It starts with a little black dress,” Toronto Star (2016).
  8. Isabella Alston and Kathryn Dixon, Coco Chanel (United States: Bellagio Press, 2014), 90.
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  • The Little Black Dress is such a famous and iconic look that started as a result of an accident. Black clothing was not common so using a black dress to a social event made a bold statement. It is interesting to see that when a celebrity wears a piece of clothing it is then seen as popular. Audrey Humphrey wearing the Little Black Dress increased the popularity. Through Coco Channels famous Little Black Dress she was able to work with many famous people.

  • I never knew that such a simple thing as a little black dress would be so effective at changing modern views and ideals. I think it is such an amazing underdog story that Coco Chanel was able to make a name for herself after becoming an orphan, something that was even harder to do given the time period she was born in.

  • I read her biography before and so loved her story. This article reminded me the impression that I had when I first knew her hardships, efforts and achievement. She was definitely one of the most important woman in history of fashion. The style of women’s fashion could not be what it is today if Coco Chanel had not existed in the world.

  • This was such an interesting article read, and provided great insight about one of the most iconic brands today. I always thought of the Beverly Hill Chihuahua and the “Chanel No.5” perfume in the movie whenever Chanel was mentioned, but now, I think of bravery, strength, and the redefining of the word ‘feminine’. It was amazing for Chanel to be so controversial, especially in the early 1900s. This was a well written article and the author did a great job of tying the historical background of flappers to this narrative! Great job.

  • It’s so crazy that a “tragedy” that was made she still wore the dress and made it successful! I’ve heard people speak of the little black dress and how its a staple. It’s so crazy that its creation was merely an accident yet they decided to rock it to make a statement. It is so admirable of her to stand against the status quo and becoming an icon.

  • Coco Chanel’s style has always been iconic in her own right. She was very influential in her designs and inspired many women in her era to loosen up on their dress code and own who they are as empowered women. I love the content in this article it was very informative on her biography and her desire to librate women. I did a research project on her in middle school, so I enjoyed looking back on her history through this article.

  • It is crazy that it was not until 1920 that loose clothing for women was introduced. It is very cool that a girl from such a poor background was able to overcome her adversity to do something revolutionary for women. She proved that something that seemed simple like a little black dress could change the way women dress forever.

  • I like how this article opens up with the challenges that Gabrielle faced and then goes to show what she achieved despite those challenges. I think the biggest thing that Gabrielle gave to society was her empowerment of women and contribution to the feminist movement in the twenties. To this day, Chanel stays a relevant brand with new releases at the top of the fashion industry and so Gabrielle’s legend lives on.

  • I’ve always loved the Chanel brand, and even though I’ve never personally owned any Chanel merchandise or apparel, her style is influential. I had not known much about Coco Chanel prior to reading this article but I gained a lot of knowledge and appreciation for her upon reading the article. It is admirable how she took any negative situation and made something good from it, specifically the creation of the “little black dress”

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