History of Little Black Dress Featured at Colorado State University’s Avenir Museum Exhibit

Colorado State University’s Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising pays tribute with its current exhibit to the timeless staple in every woman’s closet: the little black dress.

The exhibit, “The Little Black Dress: 85 Years of Effortless Style and Elegant Mystery,” which opened April 15, traces the introduction of the little black dress in 1926 by Coco Chanel through 85 years of trendy twists and turns on this essential wardrobe element. A mainstay in fashion, the little black dress is often referred to by fashion followers simply as the LBD.

The antithesis of early 20th century fashion, Chanel’s LBD was designed to be a long-lasting, versatile, affordable and widely accessible piece for any wardrobe.

The exhibit, which concludes on June 3, features classics in black including a 1980s beaded silk chiffon dress with a tulip hemline and a Roaring ‘20s silk chemise.

Fashion forecasters and designers have placed a simple, little black dress as a top must for every woman’s closet. Designer Christian Dior called the LBD essential, to be worn anytime, at any age and for almost any occasion. For 85 years, it has been interpreted and reinterpreted but never replaced.

Before Chanel’s introduction of the little black dress in Vogue magazine, women wore black only during periods of mourning – often up to two years – and it was considered indecent to wear black at other times. It became more common for women to appear in public wearing black during World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic because of the high number of deaths.

Chanel’s dress was hailed by Vogue as “Chanel’s Ford,” meaning it was intended to be like the Model T: simple and accessible for women of all social classes.

Hollywood quickly embraced the use of the dress for Technicolor films, which at the time distorted other colors, and during World War II, it became common business wear for civilian women entering the workforce. Through generations, the little black dress evolved with new designs and fabrics – ranging from the iconic black sheath dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” to the incorporation of combat boots as accessories during the grunge trend of the 1990s – but the core concept has remained timeless.

The Avenir Museum is part of the university’s Department of Design and Merchandising in the College of Applied Human Sciences. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the formation of the college.