Slip on the ‘zenith of elegance,’ the little black dress

silhouette of an attractive sophisticated caucasian woman in a black dress and hat as she smiles at the camera

Actress Audrey Hepburn poses as Holly Golightly in the 1961 movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”  (AP Photo)

Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot.”



Coco Chanel may be the godmother of the little black dress, but there have been other LBDs just as iconic as the simple jersey dress she sketched for Vogue magazine. They include:

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

The dress: A sleeveless, floor-length Hubert de Givenchy creation with a fitted bodice, gathered waist, side slit and cut-outs below the U-shaped collar in back. In 2006, it sold at auction for more than $920,000.

The accessories: Wayfarer-esque sunglasses, a tiara, elbow-length black gloves, ropes of pearls, coffee and a danish.

The attitude: Insouciant and wistful.

Betty Boop

The dress: A strapless number with a ruffled hem, short enough to show her thigh garter and scandalize the more delicate of 1930s sensibilities.

The accessories: The aforementioned thigh garter and a startlingly large head.

The attitude: Boop-boop-be-doop, whatever that means.


Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau in “Portrait of Madame X” by John Singer Sargent

The dress: A sleeveless black ball gown with a nipped-in waist and a sweetheart neckline, that’s all but strapless save for two thin, jeweled bands that surely can’t do much to hold the dress up.

The accessories: Lavender powder, apparently (she was famous for it), and an attitude of entitlement.

The attitude: Mysterious and Parisian (though interestingly, when the painting was first displayed in 1884, the easily titillated Parisian society was shocked — shocked! — by the amount of skin, and Gautreau was humiliated).


Marilyn Monroe singing “I’m Through with Love” on a piano in 1959’s “Some Like It Hot”

The dress: A sleeveless, beaded wisp of a dress designed by Hollywood costumer Orry-Kelly. It’s such a trifle, in fact, that it’s kind of a miracle certain things aren’t revealed, if you get the drift.

The accessories: Simple drop earrings and cleavage.

The attitude: Well, the song is sad but who’s even listening when that bosom exists in the world?


Edith Piaf, any time she performed

The dress: Many and varied, but almost always black. France’s national treasure was known for it.

The accessories: Tears and a furrowed brow.

The attitude: Greatest suffering. Poor Little Sparrow was doomed to a life of sadness and her LBDs reflected it.


Princess Diana’s “revenge dress,” worn to a party at London’s Serpentine Gallery on June 29, 1994

The dress: a ruched, off-the-shoulder design by Christina Stambolian — form fitting and short enough to make everyone forget that Prince Charles was confessing to adultery on TV that night.

The accessories: pearl drop earrings, a multi-strand pearl choker with an enormous sapphire brooch at its center, a black clutch, glorious gams and a palpable sense of freedom.

The attitude: Ha ha, Charles. Ha ha. Have fun with the rottweiler.


Elizabeth Hurley at the 1994 premiere of “Four Weddings and a Funeral”

The dress: a sleeveless, spaghetti-strap Gianni Versace creation with multiple cut-outs and gold safety pins holding it all together.

The accessory: Hugh Grant.

The attitude: “Obviously, I am not wearing underwear,” plus a soupçon of “You wish you had this body.”


The ladies in Robert Palmer’s video for “Addicted to Love”

The dresses: Very tight, very short, high-necked and long-sleeved. And Spandex? Possibly.

The accessories: SO MUCH red lipstick and slicked-back hair.

The attitude: Unapologetic for a profound inability to actually play those instruments.

Little Black Dress BY BODY SHAPE

The little black dress is definitely the hardest working garment in the clothing business, but it can’t do all the work. Choosing the right LBD for your shape will add some extra va-va-va to the voom when you slip it on. Experts at Fitness magazine and Nordstrom advise:

■ If you are pear-shaped (fuller in the hips and bottom and smaller on top), consider sleeveless or halter dresses with a V neckline. Showing your shoulders creates a more balanced shape while a V neckline draws the eye up. Also, look for A-line shapes and empire waists — the A-line is flattering to wider parts of the body and an empire waist accentuates your torso’s narrowest spot.

■ If you are petite, a sheath will help create the illusion of length. Consider one with a hem that hits the middle of your knee, calling attention to the narrowest part of your leg.

■ If you are apple-shaped (a wider torso with less of a defined waist), a dress shirred in the middle can create the illusion of pulling in the waist. Also, consider empire waists, which draw the eye upward, as does detailing on the neckline. Full skirts and A-line shapes also can be flattering.

■ If you are curvy (a full bust and hips), wrap dresses will enhance your lovely hourglass shape. Also, dressed with panels and darts will help define your shape and highlight your assets.

Sources: and

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.”


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