How the Little Black Dress (LBD) Became Iconic

nichola english the dressing room the retreat Dec 15, 2020

By Nichola English

I’m fairly certain if you head to your wardrobe right now you’ll find some representation of the little black dress. 

Have you ever wondered why it’s the little black dress and not the little red, pink or even blue dress? Well, wonder no more! The little black dress (or LBD as it’s lovingly known) is one of those pieces of clothing that’s stood the test of time, and has remained iconic throughout its impressive history, with generation after generation maintaining its fashionable status. 



Way back during Victorian times, black was associated with periods of mourning. Wives and mothers would wear unadorned black for long periods of time to signify their sadness. 

In 1884 there was a painting by John Singer Sargent simply titled “Portrait of Madame X”. Sargent was captivated by Madame Gautreau’s beauty and the black dress she wore in the painting which, if you’ve seen it, was very risky for its time. With Madame Gautreau also in a very revealing pose, the painting became quite a scandal in high society circles. It also started the revolution of the colour black being worn in social settings. 

In the 1920’s French designers like Coco Chanel & Jean Patou, re-created the black dress giving it a timeless design and versatility. In 1926 it was given a new twist in a short black silk dress version with a slash neckline and diagonal pin-tucks to finish. It was both classic and chic and designed to fit every woman who wanted it. American Vogue likened its popularity to the Ford Model T car which was also popular at that time. 

Over the following years the LBD became a little more extravagant thanks to designers like Dior and Givenchy, with designs that emphasised women’s small waists and soft shoulders. Then in the 50s came the addition of long poofy skirts, but the classic LBD allure was still maintained. 

During this time Hollywood also played its role. It began dressing femme stars all in black. From Liz Taylor to Sophia Lauren and, of course, Audrey Hepburn’s famous Givenchy dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s with pearls and big sunglasses and of course Cat! 

Fast forward to the 90’s and who can forget the iconic safety pinned Versace LBD that Liz Hurley wore to the premier of Four Weddings and A Funeral. It was a dress that catapulted Liz to stardom and put the timeless LBD firmly back in the spotlight! 

“When a little black dress is right, there is nothing else to wear in its place.”




The modern-day LBD is available to anyone who wants to stamp their own unique style on it. There are so many variations in stores, from iconic classic styles, cocktail dresses, Haute Couture to the latest fashion trends. It’s such an easy garment to style and wear, which is the key to its timeless mass appeal.


Style ideas for a modern twist or a simple dressing up

Here are a few ideas to give you some inspiration for styling your LBD:

  • A statement coat or leather jacket adds some visual interest

  • Nude shoes with an LBD look super classy

  • Wear your LBD with plain or patterned black tights during the winter and some sexy ankle boots

  • Add an interesting belt to create more shape

  • Dress it down with sneakers like high top Converse or even patent black Dr Martens 

  • If you’ve got curves, then flaunt them with a design that has an interesting neckline or back



Like so many women I have a few variations of the LBD that I love to style for special occasions or days out. However, the true Little Black Dress should be classic, stylish and timeless. 

As the great Karl Lagerfeld once said… “One is never underdressed or overdressed with a little black dress



Nichola English is addicted to fashion. From an early age picking out clothes for friends and family, she always had an eye for style which only expanded as she got older, eventually creating her business, The Wardrobe Provocateur. 

Nichola adores working with women (and men) across the world discovering personal style, reinventing that old tired wardrobe and realising new confidence and vitality through coaching, shopping and good old clearing out of the old. You can read her full story of becoming The Wardrobe Provocateur here.

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