Fashionistas and those less inclined around the world are familiar with the term “little black dress”. While I know that the little black dress has been a thing forever, I’ve never known its origin. Thankfully, the Missouri History Museum has hosted an exhibit on the history of the little black dress from the 1800’s to present day. Little Black Dress: From Mourning to Night has been running since April 2nd and will conclude in less than two weeks on September 5th. This FREE exhibit is perfect for anyone with a slight interest in history and fashion.
The History of The Little Black Dress
When you google “the history of the little black dress” almost everything on the first page references the icon Coco Chanel. While she definitely holds her place in the history of the little black dress, the garment’s history dates back long before Ms. Chanel stepped on the scene. The exhibit starts early in the 19th century when black was most often seen during periods of mourning.
When Prince Albert of Britain died, Queen Victoria mourned her husband by dressing in black. Women of all social classes followed her league and began dawning similar attire. Fashion magazines played a major role in passing the information west and ensuring women knew proper mourning etiquette. There were three degrees of mourning. Full mourning lasted one year and one day for widows (shorter for other family members) and was characterized by dull black dresses made from crepe, wool, or broadcloth. The next degree was the second mourning. During this phase women were allowed to wear non-black trim. This phase lasted 6 to 9 months. The last phase was known as half mourning and lasted 6 months to life for widows. During this time, women were allowed to wear more color.
At the end of the 19th century, and into the 20th century, women continued to wear black for mourning, but also began to wear the color as a fashion statement. The two purposes were distinguished by the type of material the garment was made out of. The turning point for wearing black in everyday life came during World War I, when the entire world was morning and fashion designers were obsessed with black. It was also during this time that the term “little black dress” was born because clothing makers had to reduce fabric usage to aid the war effort.
Now, enter fashion mogul, icon, and genius Coco Chanel. Coco Chanel was popular because freed women from the constraints of their corsets. Her amazing personal style, financial independence, and great taste made her an inspiration for women worldwide. In 1926 Coco Chanel’s popularity and fame took off with the creation of her take on the little black dress. After a brief break during World War II, Coco Chanel re-entered the fashion world in 1953 to “save women from Christian Dior’s ‘new look’ of tight waists and full skirts.” Even today, the Chanel brand is one of the most coveted, popular, and recognizable brands known to man.
During the 1950’s black became the go to color for both professional and social settings. Most fashion designers had created their take on the little black dress. In the 1960’s the younger generations also began wearing black as designers began creating black clothing for teens and young women. By the 1980’s everyone had jumped on the black bandwagon and designers were ensuring people understood the practicality and versatility of black attire.
Since the late 80’s we’ve seen hem lines get shorter, backs get more creative, and materials get more exotic. There are no longer strict rules or reservations for elite classes. Now everyone can dawn a little black dress. Dressed up or dressed down, the little black dress has proven to be one of the most versatile pieces of clothing a woman can own.
This exhibit is every fahionista’s dream. The pictures don’t do the exhibit proper justice as there was sooo much information for each time period and each dress. I was certainly forced to recognize the large contribution the city of St. Louis played on the fashion scene, as most of the dresses were designed locally or belonged to a St. Louis native. If you’re in the St. Louis area, I highly suggest you head to the Missouri History Museum before this exhibit leaves on September 5th. I hear they have some cool things planned for the final few days, so you just may see me heading back!
You guys know I HAD to dawn one of my favorite little black dresses to check out the exhibit. I had so much fun learning about a piece that has become a staple in my wardrobe. A little black dress is pretty much always my go-to when I don’t know what to wear. Weather I’m rock heels or my trusty white chucks, I always feel fashionable when a LBD is in the picture. I got so many comments that I looked like I should be part of the exhibit, you know I had to share my outfit with all of you. Check out how I styled my little black dress below:
All images captured by Knight Vision Photography
– Outfit Details –
Dress: Dress Up (similar) | Shoes: Halogen | Jewelry: Joya | Sunnies: Miu Miu | Clutch: Bam Forever
Shop the Look!
Do you love little black dresses too? Which one of the pictured LBDs is your favorite? When do you rock your LBD?
*This post was NOT sponsored in any way. However, much of the information was collected from the Missouri History Museum, Little Black Dress: From Mourning to Night exhibit.