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All the famous innovations in fashion and design cannot outshine the fame of the single Chanel Little Black Dress. Coco Chanel introduced it in a time between the wars, when the bright colors, prints and heavy embroideries dominated the fashion.

Coco Chanel with photographer Cecil Beaton

The long-sleeved black dress, which was initially made for day in wool, and for evening in crepe, satin or velvet, shook up the world of fashion. Later appeared the other variations of a little black dress: short, sleeveless, in a pleated black chiffon, in black lace…

In 1926 American Vogue named Coco Chanel black dress “a Ford”, meaning it’s simplicity and it’s potential for an enormous and long-lasting success. It was the little black dress of Chanel, that inspired the famous remark of her competitor Paul Poiret: “What has Chanel invented? De luxe poverty.”

The Chanel little black dress became a symbol of chic and sophisticated simplicity.

Audrey Hepburn with  LBD (Givenchy)

The famous women wearing Coco Chanel Little Black Dress:

Lady Diana

Marilyn Monroe

Cocktail dress

During the 1920s, newfound concepts of individuality and a repudiation of the Edwardian matronly ideal of respectable womanhood gave rise to the new phenomenon of the “Drinking Woman,” who dared to enjoy cocktails in mixed company . She emerged at private cocktail soirées and lounges, and the cocktail dress, as a short evening sheath with matching hat, shoes, and gloves was designated to accompany her.

Chanel cocktail dress

The cocktail affair generally took place between six and eight P.M., yet by manipulating one’s accessories, the cocktail ensemble could be converted to appropriate dress for every event from three o’clock until late in the evening. Cocktail garb, by virtue of its flexibility and functionality, became the 1920s uniform for the progressive fashionable elite.

Birth of the Cocktail Ensemble

By the end of World War I, the French couture depended rather heavily on American clientele and to an even greater extent on American department stores that copied and promoted the French créateurs. As cocktailing had originated in the United States, the French paid less attention to the strict designations of line, cut, and length that American periodicals promoted for their heure de l’aperitif. Instead, the couturières Chanel and Vionnet created garments for the late afternoon, or “after five,” including beach pajamas—silk top and palazzo pant outfits worn with a mid-calf-length wrap jacket.

Louise Boulanger produced les robes du studio, chic but rather informal sheaths that suited the hostess of private or intimate cocktail gatherings.

As the popularity of travel grew, both in American resort cities like Palm Beach, “the Millionaire’s Playground,” and abroad with the luxury of the Riviera, these French cocktail garments gained favor in wealthy American circles. But while America’s elite were promoting the exclusive designs of the French couture, the majority of the United States relied on the advertisements of Vanity Fair and American Vogue, as well as their patronage of American department stores to dress for the cocktail hour.

Created by Chanel in 1926, the little black dress was translated to ready-to-wear as a staple of late afternoon and cocktail hours; American women at every level of consumption knew the importance of a practical “Well-mannered Black”.

Mid-1920s skirt lengths were just below the knee for all hours and affairs. Though cocktail attire featured the longer sleeves, modest necklines, and sparse ornamentation of daytime clothing, it became distinguished by executions in evening silk failles or satins, rather than wool crepes or gabardines. Often the only difference between a day dress and a cocktail outfit was a fabric noir and a stylish cocktail hat. Hats in the 1920s varied little from the cloche shape, but cocktail and evening models were adorned with plumes, rhinestones, and beaded embroideries that indicated a more formal aesthetic. Short gloves were worn universally for cocktail attire during this period and could be found in many colors, though white and black were the most popular.