Slip on the ‘zenith of elegance,’ the little black dress
The first time he saw her, “it was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks.”
She called him Fred, though that probably wasn’t his name. Later, he observed that “she was never without dark glasses, she was always well groomed, there was a consequential good taste in the plainness of her clothes, the… lack of luster that made her, herself, shine so.”
She was, of course, Miss Holiday Golightly, Holly to her friends, the very epitome of chicness in her little black dress. In fact, few fashion images are so iconic as Holly Golightly, played by Audrey Hepburn in the film version of Truman Capote’s novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” gazing in the windows of the famed jewelry store, eating a danish, wearing sunglasses, a tiara, elbow-length black gloves and a little black dress.
And her dress wasn’t even that little! It was floor-length, designed by Hubert de Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn, and sleeveless with daring back cut-outs below her shoulders.
In spirit, though, it was the patron saint of all little black dresses — effortlessly chic, appropriate for most occasions, the canvas upon which a woman creates the rest of her look.
“The zenith of elegance in any woman’s wardrobe is the little black dress, the power of which suggests dash and refinement,” wrote Vogue contributing editor Andrè Leon Talley in the coffee table book “Little Black Dress,” published in conjunction with a 2012 exhibit of the same name at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
In this busy holiday season, with its parties and galas and festive events, the little black dress is one of the easiest things to grab from the closet. It can be dressed down for work then dressed up for the party, and it might have been this universality that inspired Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel to sketch a drawing of a simple, long-sleeved black dress for the October 1926 Vogue magazine.
The U.S. magazine’s editors called it “Chanel’s Ford” that “all the world will wear.” They also opined that “for any girl, any woman with little money, it’s marvellous to have the possibility of having one dress for the whole season, for the whole year, and be well dressed.”
Because black is slimming and elongating, any woman in a LBD (an acronym so ubiquitous that it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2010) that fits well is going to look good. The LBD can have surprising textures and details, varieties of cut, and it will still be the dress for the occasion, “a uniform for all women of taste,” according to Vogue editors.
In Talley’s “Little Black Dress,” Muiccia Prada wrote, “To me, designing a little black dress is trying to express in a simple, banal object, a great complexity about women, aesthetics, and current times.”
More simply, wrote Stella McCartney, “The little black dress is something to rely on — to fill you with confidence and ease.”