Coco Chanel’s “Little Black Dress”

Audrey Hepburn in the
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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This Post Has 165 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I truly don’t stay up to date with the fashion world, so reading about Coco Channel’s life was very interesting to me. I had no clue she came from such a childhood, but it goes to show that with lots of determination you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. I think it was very interesting that she just decided to do what she wanted to do, dress how she wanted and was able to become now a number one seller in the fashion world. Very interesting article to read.

  2. Avatar

    Coco Chanel is a fashion icon. She revolutionized women’s clothing in a way that has stood true for almost 100 years now. It’s crazy how some of the most important inventions in history have resulted because of an accident, and so is true for Coco Chanel’s little black dress. That is just one iconic piece she has added to a number of clothes that pay more attention to the comfort needs of women, without the viewpoint of men.

  3. Courtney Pena

    I had no idea that Coco Channel had a harsh childhood. At least she was able to have a successful life. I did not know that she wanted women to abandon tight corsets and to wear loose fitting clothes. I also had no idea that she created the iconic little black dress. This is what Audrey Hepburn wore in the famous movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Chanel was able to break traditional fashion roles for women and to introduce them to a new style that changed fashion.

  4. Avatar

    I have never heard of the story behind the little black dress and found it pretty interesting as to how the famous black dress that everyone knows worn under Aubrey Hepburn came to be. The revolution of women fashion started pretty early, something I was not necessarily aware of. I think it is pretty interesting how some of the most unwanted / unexpected situations lead to some of the most iconic changes within society.

  5. Avatar

    I did not know Coco Channel went through that sort of childhood. She really wanted a difference and stood up for her independence. Coco always wanted something different, so it does not surprise me to hear that she was the one who took initiative of becoming the icon of the little black dress. She set a tone that it was okay to be different and really allowed ladies clothing to come to terms with comfortableness.

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