Many of us are victims to putting our life savings into the latest fashion must-haves. Now a woman can resist anything, except perhaps temptation and the problem is there are so many things to be tempted by! At a time of the shopaholic’s worst fear, the recession should be all about those closet classics that have stood the test of time and the little black dress is the perfect blank canvas upon which to add vintage style and individuality. Lauren Candon takes a look at the history behind a fashion classic.

The great thing about this is that everybody already has the basics hidden in their wardrobes ready to be reused, accessorised and restyled. These are the George Clooneys of outfits that will always stay in style and the little black dress has proven to look good whatever century it’s made an appearance in.

The LBD can make us feel safe, empowered, sexy and comfortable all at the same time for every shape and size. As the infamous vintage designer Didier Ludot says, “The little black dress embodies the woman who wears it like a second skin.”

This staple piece is as popular now as it was back in 1926 when it was introduced by Gabrielle Coco Chanel. The French fashion designer had a consistent fashion vocabulary which translated into comfortable lines and shapes that we can all speak the same language in.

The little black dress was designed with the intent to be a simple cut that was versatile, everlasting and affordable. In its first guise it was cut in matt black crepe with a high neckline, long fitted sleeves and a hemline that stopped just above the knee. American Vogue christened it as ‘the Ford’ like Henry Ford’s model-T car as it was immensely popular, widely available and only in black.

leadThis working-girl dress lined in satin was referred to by Gabrielle as ‘little nothings’ – no waist line, no frills, and no foppery.  Since then the LBD has effortlessly continued to see its owners from daytime sophistication to evening time chic through each decade.

Chanel waved goodbye to the old fashion landscape and freed women’s clothing from its constraints and her influence still flows with the fast tide of fashion. In a brief encounter with designer Paul Poiret who spent his final years in decline and debt having been surpassed by modernists, he inquired “For whom, Madame, do you mourn?” to which Chanel replied, “For you, Monsieur”.

And her fashion philosophy is still as potent today as ever, after its legacy was carried on by designer Karl Lagerfeld, who took over the House of Chanel in 1983 to present.

little+black+dress[1]From Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and in Sabrina (1954) to Anne Hathaway on the red carpet in vintage Chanel this year, the little black dress has remained a sole survivor of the constant fashion changes that rule what we wear today.

Cover versions of old pop songs or remakes of classic movies are rarely as good as the originals but the little black dress simply progresses over time. It has obeyed no standards, resisted every fad and has always stayed sexy and independent. It transformed from a figure of mourning to a sassy wardrobe essential for every woman no matter what age or size and we could all benefit from investing in one.

As a paraphrase of Coco Chanel herself, a woman without a black dress is a woman without a future.