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.
Coco Chanel’s “Little Black Dress”
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Coco Chanel’s “Little Black Dress”

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  • What a cute little story of serendipity. Who would have known a fashion metamorphosis, would have been born from something as simple as a gas burner. Its funny how that step in fashion happened in the 1920’s, and here were are now in 2018, and still every women has to have a little black dress. It’s a female necessity passed on many generations.

  • This article was rather interesting to me. I am not normally a fan of fashion and the history of fashion; however, this article did strike my interest. I was unaware of the Little Black Dress prior to reading this article. I am glad that I took the time to read about it now. The history of the LBD was intrigued me. I was also intrigued how it was worn by many women decades after the roaring twenties, keeping the Little Black Dress still up to date. The Little Black Dress is a famous piece of clothing that will forever have an intriguing history behind it.

  • If you were like me, as a little girl i loved fashion. Especially Coco Channel and the little black dress. Its so interesting to learn that she was actually poor and built her way up. Its the ideal story for every little girl to read and know her dreams can come true. Aubrey Hepburn an icon wore her dress and it grew her from the 1920s to the 1960s. The way you delivered this article was very well, it had a lot of factual evidence as well as it was extremely interesting to read. Coco Channel changed fashion and it was extremely interesting to read.

  • I did not know the story behind the fame of this brand and the little black dress. The fact that she started with nothing and worked her way all the way up to one of the most successful business owners in the world is impressive. In a world run by men at the time it makes it even more impressive. I like that she made clothes that she knew other women would like and be comfortable in because she did not care what men thought about their fashion.

  • I can honestly say I knew nothing of her other than the fact she was a designer. Thankfully she came along because she gave women more of their own identity that allowed them to be what they wanted to be because men at the time thought to control everything, hence the designing of womens clothing. This article is great because it gives the reader that image of women being able to create themselves and Coco Chanel letting them achieve that.

  • As someone who has had an interest in the fashion industry, I enjoyed learning more about Coco Chanel and her long-term impact on women’s fashion. Her humble beginnings as an orphan and being able to overcome adversity is inspiring. She became a fashion icon despite the challenges she faced, and her legacy continues to be relevant in today’s world of fashion.

  • This was a very good article, well worth the read. I could see how women now are inspired by a story like this. I did not know about the whole “little black dress” story. It is always cool and interesting to see how someone could come up from such adversity and turn it into something no one ever would have imagined.

  • I had no idea that was the creation of the ‘Little Black Dress’! I was really surprised to hear that about the gas explosion. But I really did enjoy the idea of ‘uniform of the modern women’ and how Chanel went forth of pursing her dream and becoming one on the first fashion designers. She definitely was the game changer by the loose fitting clothes that were brought in the time where tight, colorful corsets were a huge thing.

  • This was an article I actually found interesting. Its funny and amazing at the same time how something such as a gas explosion can be the start of something great, a blessing in disguise really! Chanel took a brave step forward by pursuing her dream and becoming one of the first female designers. Such an icon she has become, and her works are wonderful.

  • I did not know that it took such a tragedy to create Coco Chanel’s fame. However, in reading this article, I was able to explore a bit of Chanel’s life and how she came to be the legendary icon that she is today. It took her father abandoning her and her sister, a gas explosion, and some unbreakable desire to get to where Chanel got. She defied all odds and all norms and became one of the first female designers in the 1920s. She completely changed the fashion game from tight, colorful corset clothing to comfortable, casual, and simple colors. She was also one of the first women to wear pants to school.

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