The Little Black Dress Reimagined for 2020

The Frankie Shop Nylon Belted Mini Dress $189

WWD’s lead fashion story on Thursday, May 28, was “Bridget Foley’s Diary: Forever in Blue Jeans.” Bridget noted that denim was all over the runways for fall 2020. While the designers could not predict what would unfurl when the collections ended, the beloved fabric seems very right for the coronavirus defined moment.

It’s impossible to tell what will happen when retail begins to open. Still, Ms. Foley feels confident that the customer will most likely gravitate to fashion items with versatility, longevity, value, and style. In my opinion, the little black dress checks off all these boxes and more.

The little black dress first appeared in American Vogue in 1926. Coco Chanel’s illustration of her elegant yet straightforward long-sleeved black crepe de Chine sheath was accessorized with a string of white pearls. Vogue predicted it would become a uniform. Among the famous women photographed wearing a version of the little black dress was the Duchess of Windsor. The “Best Dressed” fashion icon opted for a meticulously tailored version while out on a walk with the Duke in 1939.

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

There were images of Marilyn Monroe—walking hand in hand with new husband Arthur Miller—wearing a black wool-crepe Galanos cocktail dress with a bare chiffon midriff. Audrey Hepburn immortalized the little black dress when she wore Hubert Givenchy’s iteration in the 1961 movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

But, this is 2020, and there’s no going back in time. Ralph Rucci is one of the most forward-thinking designers out there. He hailed the Little Black Dress as “the most timeless garment a woman can own.” “A woman can wear it any time of day. It’s the most alluring and psychological pick me up because you always feel seductive,” the couturier opined.

1990s Chado Ralph Rucci black wool dress

Ralph once told me that he could design an entire collection in black. Through the years, he has created many couture quality LBDs. One is currently available on 1st dibs. It is from the 1990s, made of lightweight wool, and has a hidden curved zipper in back, $1695.

Rick Owens black halter mini dress $533

The LBD is the perfect blank slate. It has the potential to look completely different, depending on how you chose to wear it. The modern way to think about the little black dress is like a tireless wardrobe workhorse rather than a precious item reserved for special occasions. A series of Rick Owens’ little black dresses made of stretch fabric exemplify this idea.

Marni cotton poplin dress with double bow $1014

Footwear is key. Instead of wearing a high heel, which is predictable if not limiting, make it sporty and casual with a sneaker, flat lace-up sandal, or Birkenstocks. Toughen it up with a lug soled boot. It’s all in the modern attitude.

Alaia Pre-Fall 2020

Junya Watanabe, Jil Sander, and Azzedine Alaia often showed their little black dresses with a menswear style flat lace-up oxford. The mix of masculine and feminine is very alluring.

Audrey Hepburn
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The LBD doesn’t even have to be a dress. I consider a fitted black turtleneck and black jeans as my daily interpretation of the LBD. Cameron Silver, “The King of Vintage,” concurs. The founder of Decades, author, and fashion director of H Halston and H by Halston, believes that it can be limiting when we say “little black dress.”

Bottega Veneta black jersey backless halter dress $1045

“Today the LBD doesn’t have to mean a vintage Chanel or Dior. It can be a little t-shirt shift dress. Maybe for someone, it can be a tunic or a legging that is the same equivalent”.

John Galliano silk dress $295

Silver’s venerable Decades shop in Los Angeles specializes in pre-loved luxury collectibles. It is currently closed, but the website is open for business, and there are several excellent LBDs from John Galliano, Halston, Azzedine Alaia, Lanvin, Versace, and Balmain,

Emilia Clarke red lips and little black dress

Cameron recalled a conversation he recently had with Rachel Felder about the historical significance of the red lip. Rachel observed that women continue to put on their red lips during times of great conflict, like WW2. They were part of the uniform of women in the military. They never rationed red lipstick in the UK. Nothing looks better with a little black dress than a red lip.

Regardless of how you interpret the little black dress, nothing is more flattering and confidence building. It provides a sense of certainty in a very uncertain time.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.