Why is the little black dress a fashion icon?

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1. The little black dress

For centuries, black clothes were associated with mourning or mystery and piety. In 1926 all that changed when Coco Chanel used the colour in fashion, and the little black dress was born.

Chanel created a garment that was meant to be elegant but wearable, neutral in colour, long-lasting and versatile.

Almost a century, and numerous reinventions later, few women are without some version of an enduring style icon.

2. Where it began

Dame Zandra Rhodes, one of Britain's leading couturiers, gives a peek inside her studio, while Sonnet Stanfill, fashion curator at the V&A explains how a risque painting may have inspired a timeless classic.

3. The original LBD

The little black dress owes some of it's worldwide reputation and success to the French couturier Coco Chanel.

Her intention for her 1926 garment was that it should be available to the widest possible market. Her creation revolutionised fashion.

The dress was dubbed 'The Ford' by Vogue magazine, a reference to Henry Ford's reputed slogan for his Model T car, ‘available in any colour…so long as it’s black.'

It's been constantly reinvented and modified to reflect current trends, but remains as essential a part of women's wardrobes as ever.

4. History of the LBD

Since Roman times, black had been a traditional colour of mourning, worn at funerals and state occasions. But Chanel’s bold fashion statement led to the colour being reconsidered. Women chose to wear black in order to be fashionably dressed.

The 1920's Flapper dress from the jazz age. Women were sporting the black dress with a daringly raised hemline which allowed for greater freedom of movement and the display of elegant footwear.

Marilyn Monroe in the classic 1950s black cocktail dress, which she wore in the film, The Asphalt Jungle. Knee-length cocktail dresses remain perennially popular for semi-formal early-evening occasions.

The 1960s gave us the little black mini-dress, made fashionable by designers like Mary Quant. She created simple, easy-to-wear styles that became particularly popular with a younger market.

This is perhaps the most memorable and glamorous black dress in cinematic history. Audrey Hepburn wore a full-length sheath of Italian black satin, designed by the French couturier Hubert de Givenchy, for the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

In the 1997 film Spice World, Victoria Beckham wore a slinky little black dress synonymous with her Posh Spice persona. It is a garment she frequently returns to, both for her own wardrobe and when designing her seasonal fashion collections.

The little black dress remains ever popular. These sketches from the 2016 collection of young British designer Avetis Shahbazyan show the little black dress with modern twists, while still honouring its historical legacy.

5. Iconic dress designs and cuts

Click through the history of iconic little black dresses to see the timeless dress designs and cuts..

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6. What do colours symbolise?

Black seems to be an ever popular fashion favorite. But what about other colours?

Purple

Purple was originally only worn by the very wealthy. Originally the dye and cost of the fabric was so expensive only certain classes could afford to buy it.

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Purple

Purple still stands for royalty, and will no doubt be seen in palaces around the world for eternity.

Red

Red was once the most sumptuous colour, through the use of the highly prized dye carmine, which came from the insect cochineal.

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Red

The advent of chemical dyes in the mid-19th Century allowed for a greater range of vibrant colours.

White

White is said to symbolise purity and new beginnings.

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White

White is a colour chosen around the world by brides for their wedding dresses.

Yellow

In the Hindu religion, yellow represents knowledge and learning. This is symbolised in Lord Vishnu’s dress. Lord Krishna and Ganesha also wear yellow robes.

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Yellow

In the Hindu religion, single women traditionally wear yellow clothes to attract a partner and ward off evil spirits.