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.
Written By
More from Brianda Gomez

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Student Resistance Movement

Have you ever thought, why didn’t anyone try to stop Adolf Hitler?...
Read More

156 Comments

  • I had no idea that the iconic “little black dress” was the result of a gas explosion! That’s interesting how she decided to improvise and use the gas flame to coat the dress. Chanel was iconic back then and still is today along with other high end designers, I had no idea about how the dress became so famous but now I have the back story!

  • Before reading this article I believe Coco Channel was just a brand. Its awesome to read what an icon she is. Its awesome to see how she stands out when it is expected for women to wear what men wanted them to wear. It was interesting to learn how she was in fact the creator of the Little Back Dress that many women wear today. Its always awesome to read about someone who come from nothing and makes their mark and shows what they are capable. It is even more exciting to know this person was in fact a women.

  • This was a wonderful article to read! I’ve always admired Coco Chanel as a woman who didn’t play by the rules at a time when men dominated our social spheres. Chanel’s perfume is obviously a hallmark of the fragrance aisle, but her Little Black Dress will never go out of style. So glamorous, and so iconic, it has come to define women’s semi-formal attire.

  • I loved the descriptiveness of this article and how well informed the writer was on the topic. Coco Chanel introduced the fashion world to women’s fashion from an actual woman’s perspective. I’ve always liked the simplicity of a Little Black Dress and pearls, so it was very interesting to find out how the look came to be. Coco Chanel was a fashion icon and set the stage for how women should and could dress.

  • Before reading this article, I thought Coco Chanel was just a perfume brand. But now, I’m glad I got to know that she was an important figure for many women, especially in fashion. Her famous Little Black Dress opened the eyes for many women to discover that there are other ways they can dress. Beyond that, it became one of the most iconic dresses in women’s fashion.

  • This article shows how Coco Chanel was an icon for women fashion when men were trying to decide what women should wear. We all know Chanel as the brand of perfume but it was interesting to find out that she was also the creator of the Little Black Dress that so many women wear today. It was interesting to learn that she came from nothing and became an incredible woman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.