The History Of The Little Black Dress

The little black dress has a much more storied past than just the time spent as your go-to party piece. In fact, LBDs have a place in some pretty major moments in history, dating back over 5,000 years — from a garment reserved only for evil to an item that represented empowerment and enfranchisement. 

Take a moment to relive its heritage, ahead — then, revel in a throwback that is both trendy and timeless.


3050 – 300 BC — Ancient Egyptians used to dress their recently departed in black, which was supposed to be the color of choice of Anubis, the god of death. Black robes would ensure that the recently deceased would gain safe passage to the afterlife.


400 – 700 AD — During the Middle Ages, people didn’t dare wear black, as the color had taken on a pretty bad rap. It was the color of bad fortune, evil, and the devil, and outcasts were routinely clothed in black to demonize them. Unsurprisingly, this was also the time when black cats and crows gained their ill reputations.


1360s – 1660s — If you were part of imperial China during the Ming Dynasty, the color you wore said a whole lot about the social class you were in. Commoners were restricted from wearing bright colors like yellow, red, blue, and white. And black was strictly off-limits. Only the elite royalty could don a black dress.


1500s — Sumptuary laws during Elizabethan Europe (laws restricting displays of extravagance) made black not only one of the most popular hues around, but also helped modernize textile technology. It became popular for the wealthy to wear richly dyed black dresses.


1600s — Contrary to what your elementary-school Thanksgiving production may have suggested, pilgrims typically did not wear black dresses with white trimming — they were reserved for special occasions and days of rest. For regular life, pilgrims relied on reds, beiges, greens, and browns.


1880s — Black, the requisite color for mourning, really became a thing in the Victorian Age. Strict laws dictated that plain, black dresses with no decoration were to be worn for one year and one day. For the next nine months, black silk, lace, and embellishments were allowed.


1926 — The first magazine depiction of a true little black dress appeared in the pages of Vogue in the form of a drop-waist crepe de chine sheath dress by Coco Chanel. Worn with a simple strand of pearls and a cloche, this became the epitome of chic during the age.


1950s — Dior’s New Look basically defined the aesthetics of the age, with nipped waists, midi-length skirts, and form-fitted bodices. Hollywood actresses like Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, and Grace Kelly helped make LBDs a glamorous evening look.


1961 — We might as well separate our list into pre-Breakfast at Tiffany’s and post-Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Wearing Givenchy, Audrey Hepburn’s iconic dress helped plant the LBD as the pinnacle of chic for decades to come.


1980s — With exaggerated shoulders, peplums, rucking, shoulder poufs, trains, bustles, embellishments, and buttons, no one ever said the ’80s LBD was subtle.


2000s — Sex and the City may be the image everyone recalls to mind, but the millennial woman was about way more than cosmos and vibrators. Having to juggle a career, a home life, and a busy social calendar, the LBD became a power uniform, as it could toe the line between professional and sexy with just the change of a Manolo.


Today — While black may have been replaced with neons, pastels, jewel tones, and other in-your-face hues, the LBD is still ubiquitous. Nowadays, women are looking for a dress with a little more personality. From the sheer polka dots at Stella McCartney to the avant-garde deconstruction of Comme des Garçons, the LBD is definitely not your mother’s dress.

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