From Coco Chanel to Your Closet: The Story Behind the Little Black Dress

History of the LBD
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From Coco Chanel to Your Closet: The Story Behind the Little Black Dress
Coco Chanel poses in a black longsleeved dress and pearls.
Actress Betty Grable wears a black dress and high-heeled shoes in a promo shot for 'I Wake Up Screaming'. 
A model wears a little black dress with a gold belt.
A model wearing a black lace dress designed by Arthur Banks.
Marilyn Monroe poses for a promotional photo for the movie 'The Asphalt Jungle.'
Marilyn attends a party held in her honor, wearing a black dress with white gloves and looking glamorous.
Actress Paula Prentiss looks lovely in a sleeveless black dress with a silver necklace.
Audrey Hepburn, in perhaps her most iconic ensemble, decked out in a little black dress and pearls for "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
Actress Natalie Wood poses next to a white chair, in a black sleeveless dress and red accessories.
The ladies of The Chiffons looking glamorous in all black matching dresses.
Models pose in black dresses by designers Adolfo and Valentino, both with lace insets and a touch of ruffles.
Madonna applauds, in all black, during a skit on Saturday Night Live.
Princess Diana knew how to rock a little black dress, the always-stunning Royal dressed in Christina Stambolian to visit the Serpentine Gallery.
Kate Moss adds some edge to her LBD with a leather jacket and pointed pumps.
Salma Hayek looks stunning at the Blockbuster Awards in a sleek little black dress and strappy heels.
A model walks the runway for the Helmut Lang Spring 2001 line, in a simple little black dress.
Cameron Diaz attends the premiere of "In Her Shoes," adding a pop of color to a LBD with her bright blue heels.
Eva Longoria puts a twist on the classic black dress with subtle polka dots.
Reese Witherspoon looks lovely at the premiere of "Penelope," wearing a black dress with lace accents.
Scarlett Johansson's LBD is of the sparkly, tight-fitting variety, paired with bombshell hair.
Rihanna celebrates the EW 100 "Must List" issue, wearing a black babydoll dress and red pumps.
One of our fave fashionistas, SJP, wore this stunning black dress with Louboutin boots to the MTV Movie Awards.
Alexa Chung stuns in Chanel Couture at the ELLE Style Awards with matching black t-strap heels.
Of course Jen Aniston pulls off an LBD perfectly -- what can't she pull off?!
Style maven Olivia Palermo attends a party for Roberto Cavalli during Cannes Film Festival in a sequined black dress.

Look into your closet. What's in there that you'd never take out -- never throw away in a million years? Chances are it's a few select items: a vintage handbag your grandmother gave you, your favorite jeans, and a little black dress. The little black dress (aka LBD) may be an essential part of any woman's wardrobe now, but it certainly hasn't always been that way.

Before the 1920s, wearing the color black was strictly reserved for times of mourning. It was considered distasteful to wear it otherwise, because mourning dresses were symbolic. During the Victorian era, a grieving widow was expected to wear black for at least two years.

All of this changed at the will of a woman named Coco Chanel. In 1926, Chanel published a simple, short black dress in Vogue. The magazine called this dress "Chanel's Ford," because like the Model T, it was accessible to women of all social classes. Vogue said the dress was "a sort of uniform for all women of taste."

The LBD remained popular throughout the great depression because of its simple elegance -- you didn't need to spend a lot of money to keep yourself looking put together. They were popular in Hollywood during the Technicolor craze, because a black dress wouldn't clash with the other colors on the screen as a brighter dress might.

It maintained its popularity during World War II, due to the rationing of textiles. It also became a sort of uniform for the droves of women heading to the workplace.

During the postwar conservative era of the 1950s and early 60s, the little black dress took a bit of a social hit. Though still worn, it was seen as a little dangerous -- that the woman wearing it wasn't quite so pure as the conservative woman in powder blue. THe 1960s gave it a bit of a revival, with the younger mod generation looking for all new lengths -- hello mini skirt! -- while the older more conservative set looked to classic sheaths, like the one worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

The little black dress has, for the most part, maintained its popularity through the decades since Chanel brought it into our lives in 1926. Though it's had its stylistic variations -- from the mod mini dress of the '60s and big shoulders and peplum of the '80s to the grunge in the '90s, the motivation behind the dress has remained largely the same. A little black dress makes a woman feel beautiful and glamorous. It's a long-lasting, versatile and affordable to a large market of women, and is certainly here to stay.

Click through the gallery above to see the history of the LBD in pictures.
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