Why Every Woman Needs a Little Black Dress: History & Styling

Fab Sakker
by Fab Sakker

Every woman needs a little black dress. The little black dress, known as the LBD, is a piece that is regarded as something that every woman needs to complete her wardrobe.

In this style guide, we’re going to talk about why the little black dress is so iconic, go into a little bit of history about the dress, and then I’m going to give you some styling tips at the end.

The history of wearing black

Wearing black has historically been associated with mourning. Of course, we know that you wear black to a funeral, but back in the day, people would go into a mourning period, so it might be weeks or months where they would wear black as a sign of respect.

Queen Victoria wearing black dresses to mourn her husband

Queen Victoria very famously had a mourning period of forty years after her husband Prince Albert died where she wore black head to toe.

Chanel's little black dress on the cover of Vogue

Chanel's 1920s little black dress

The first little black dress that was actually dubbed a little black dress (because, of course, there were little black dresses before this) was a Coco Chanel dress in 1926 that appeared on the cover of Vogue.

It was a very simple yet elegant design; it had long sleeves and was styled with strings of pearls.

This was a bit of a turning point because wearing black before had been associated with mourning and workwear, but after this Vogue cover wearing a black dress became a sign of elegance and sophistication.

The Chanel dress was actually calf length. Nowadays, I don’t know if we would consider that little; I think we would call that a midi dress, but at the time, that was actually quite a short dress. 

Christian Dior's little black dress in the 1940s

Dior's 1940s little black dress

It wasn’t until the end of the 1940s that the little black dress made her reappearance. In 1947, Christian Dior debuted The New Look, and this was a different silhouette for women; it’s what we think of when we think of that elegant 1950s silhouette.

The New Look little black dress had rounded shoulders, a cinched-in waist, and then a full skirt. Often, it was worn with gloves or accessorized with a fur coat.

Audrey Hepburn wearing the iconic Givenchy little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Givenchy's 1960s little black dress

In the 1960s, the little black dress continued to grow in popularity. Perhaps the most famous and culturally iconic little black dress was worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

This was made from Italian satin, and it was designed by Givenchy. It was accessorized by pearls, diamonds, and of course, her iconic cat-eye sunglasses.

Twiggy wearing Mary Quant's little black dress in the 1960s

Mary Quant's 1960s little black dress

At the same time, across the pond in 1960s London, Twiggy was wearing her own version of the little black dress. This was designed by Mary Quant, who was a massive designer in the mod London youth culture scene.

I think that we can say that Twiggy’s black dress was officially a little black dress.

Posh Spice wearing a strapless little black dress in the 90s

The 90s little black dress

The little black dress continued to pop up on red carpets over the coming decades; with Victoria Beckham, it was pretty much her thing as Posh Spice to wear little black dresses.

Princess Diana's revenge dress

Princess Diana's revenge dress

I think that my favorite little black dress has to be Princess Diana’s “revenge dress.” I love Princess Diana's style and this is definitely one of her most memorable looks.

She wore this iconic little black dress in 1994. It's called the revenge dress because Diana wore it to show off her gorgeous figure soon after Prince Charles admitted to his affair with Camilla.

Little black dress history

So as you can see, going over the 100-year history of the little black dress, there have been many different iterations of it.

The little black dress is regarded as a staple piece because it’s something you can have in your wardrobe for years and years. You can pull it out for any occasion, and it always looks snazzy.

The LBD is versatile because you can dress it up or down.

When investing in a little black dress, I would advise going for a trendless design. Find something that flatters your body shape, matches your aesthetic, and has some personal flair.

How to style a little black dress

Now, I'll show you how I style my little black dress.

What jewelry to wear with a little black dress

1. The little black dress & jewelry

You may have noticed that most of those iconic little black dresses that I showed you were paired with pearls. A pearl necklace or pearl earrings is such a classic combination, and it always looks classy.

In terms of other accessories, you can play around with belts, especially if you’ve gone for a sheath design. A belt will cinch in your waist and also change the look of the dress.

Wearing a little black dress with black tights

2. Wearing a little black dress with tights

Another fun way to experiment with the look is to add tights. Princess Diana went with black tights, which I always think is a classic look. I also love black polka dot tights; I think they’re really fun. 

Wearing a little black dress with white tights

You can also get a bit more adventurous like I have here with these white netted tights. You can see my previous tutorial on how to style tights for more inspiration.

Layering the little black dress over a blouse

3. Layering the little black dress

You can also play around with layering. I am a fan of layering a blouse under my dress; I think it’s a really cute look.

Layering the little black dress over a turtleneck

Or when it’s colder, I’ll wear a turtleneck sweater underneath.

Every woman needs a little black dress

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about the history of the little black dress. I hope that you were also able to pick up some tips on what to look for when choosing an LBD as well as how to style one.

The LBD is a classic and timeless piece that every woman needs in her closet. Let me know which is your favorite little black dress era in the comments below!

The author may collect a small share of sales from the links on this page.

Join the conversation