Taylor’d with Style: Black Magic
By JeanAnn Taylor
It can be long, short, full, ethereal, demure, sexy, severe, conservative, skimpy, casual, formal, rugged, or elegant; it can suggest danger or sophistication.
This icon of fashion has endured for decades, lived through wars, the Depression, an ever changing society, and perfectly dubbed, “The frock that all the world will wear.”
“The Little Black Dress” can magically express who we are—or who we want to be. But, what makes this dress so special?
It’s been proven that the first feature we notice about a garment is its color. Color can alter our mood, blood pressure, heartbeat, and rate of respiration. Black, with its elements of intrigue, superstition, and extensive social history is an especially powerful color.
This provocative hue can denote power; it can be alluring; it can express sorrow and despair; it can symbolize mysticism, mystery, or evil. Retail stores entice customers into their shops with pretty windows filled with colorful dresses and accessories; however, two-thirds of solid color dresses sold are black.
Wearing black as a statement piece dates back to centuries ago. The custom of wearing mourning dresses began—as much of fashion does—as a way to define status. This custom reached its peak with Queen Victoria. After her beloved husband died in 1861, she wore black until her own death in 1901—over forty years later.
Not to appear less sophisticated than European women, American widows wore mourning dresses for two and a half years after the death of a loved one. The decision to wear mourning dresses was not optional. It was expected and required by both upper and lower classes.
This means that the market for black garments became big business. Ladies magazines offered advice on mourning etiquette; advertisements for mourning wear were common; department stores offered black bonnets, gloves, capes, veils, fans, jewelry, handkerchiefs, and even umbrellas to sell along with a black dress in their “Fashionable Mourning” sections.
Who doesn’t remember the 1939 scandalous scene in Gone With the Wind when Scarlet, wearing her very fashionable black mourning dress, danced with Rhett Butler?
The gripping photo of Jacqueline Kennedy with her two young children is also an indelible image of a black mourning dress. The allure of black can be traced back to these traditions. Black was worn by women who had been married and had therefore lost their “innocence.”
These connotations gave black a sense of mystery and “grown-up-ness” to young girls who were not allowed to wear the color. When a woman wore a black mourning gown, it meant, “I’m sexually experienced and available.” This message gave a coquettish appeal.
Coco Chanel did not invent the little black dress, but she upset the fashion rules of the day by first creating a black dress, traditionally worn for mourning, and second by using jersey, a fabric reserved for men’s underwear.
She believed the draping effect of jersey flattered the woman's figure. Her design of a short, black dress was meant to be both elegant and wearable. Her intention was to create simple dresses that could be available to a wide market. She was credited with catapulting the little black dress into fashion fame when her design was featured on the cover of Vogue in 1926.
The shocking simplicity of Coco Chanel’s original design gave it the flexibility to change over the years. Its silhouette has gone from slinky in the 20s to full-skirted in the 50s. The fabrics used are appropriate in form-fitting jersey or stiff organza, in light-weight chiffon or heavy wool.
It's easy to see how the little black dress can change a woman’s life. Often referred to as, “That Dress,” it was 1994 when Elizabeth Hurley wore an extremely skimpy black dress with deep side bodice slits—held together with safety pins.
After this LBD debut, she was offered a makeup contract with Estee Lauder. Princess Diana changed her image of a shy, pre-school teacher into one of a sophisticated woman at her first public appearance with Prince Charles by wearing a very low-cut black dress.
She later wore a very sexy “Revenge” LBD after her breakup with the Prince. Givenchy designed a form-fitting, full-length, black dress for Audrey Hepburn to wear as Holly Golightly in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This dress became the most famous LBD in movie history. Robert Palmer’s unforgettable backup singers all wore slightly sheer, very tight little black dresses.
Their bewitching look held viewers spellbound and helped to define the music of the 80s. Cher wore a mostly-see-through LBD to the 1988 Academy Awards causing quite a media frenzy. This was the beginning of many see-through frocks to follow.
Fashionable women aren’t the only ones who understand the power of the LBD; cartoon and stage characters: Betty Boop, Cruella De Vil, and a host of “evil witches” all wear the magic color. Imagine the Wicked Witch of the West dressed in a sunshine yellow or ballerina pink cloak. Imagine Elvira seducing men in a pretty periwinkle frock. It’s just not the same.
To select the perfect little black dress, simply choose a style that expresses your individuality and personal style. Consider your body type, the season, and your intention. Your dress should be comfortable, well fitting, and appropriate for the occasion.
This cornerstone of your clothing collection is never inappropriate and never out-of-fashion. It’s the dress you slip on when you don’t know what to wear, but want to look fabulous.
The little black dress can easily be dressed-up or dressed-down and is the perfect canvas to showcase your accessories. You can determine the mood of your ensemble with pearls for an elegant look or long chains for a more casual vibe. Hats and gloves can look fashionable.
Shoes—whether they are stilettos, pumps, or ballet flats—will be the defining factor and set the tone for your overall look.
The magic of the little black dress can cause such a commotion, it may change your life. ;)