The little black dress is one of the most famous fashion garments in all of style history. It’s considered an essential for every woman and it’s a known staple of every complete wardrobe. Which black dress styles should you have in your closet?
What is a “Little Black Dress?”
Though Coco Chanel, then a young up-and-coming designer, is credited with “inventing” the little black dress, this garment actually has its origins much, much further back in history. Fashion historians believe the little black dress really originates in Victorian England, when it became fashionable in the 1860s for household maids to wear a plain, black gown beneath a white apron. The trend spread through Europe and all the way to the U.S.
When young women began working in shops in the 1890s as “shopgirls,” female clerks who tended makeup counters and departments offering ready-made women’s clothing, many stores required that they wear simple black dresses while at work. This was the case for shopgirls working in New York, London and Paris, all three of which are known for setting the tone for style around the world.
Soon enough, upper-class society women adopted the style as their own, embracing a style that was associated with youth and energy. It was starting to become a fad in the 1910s and in the 1920s, Chanel made it famous.
Types of Little Black Dresses
So, what qualifies as a little black dress? A little black dress can be made in just about any style of dress you can imagine. As long as it’s a relatively simple style and doesn’t have a ton of volume or length to it, you can say it’s a little black dress. It doesn’t have to be super short, revealing or sexy. The little black dress can be elegant, classic, highly stylish or hot as the situation requires and as the accessories help style it.
There are dozens and dozens of different types of dresses and almost any of them can be a little black dress, from a form-hugging tube dress to a traditional tea-length dress. But there are some types of dresses that are used to create the classic black dress look more often than others. Get to know more about the most common dress styles you’ll find when you’re in the market for a new black frock.
Black dresses are frequently seen in mid-length styles. These are dresses that end somewhere between the ankle and the knees. They can be made with any style of sleeves or neckline, everything from long sleeve looks to spaghetti strap and strapless styles.
Midi-length dresses can be anywhere from about two inches below the knee to anywhere above the ankle. It’s known as a “midi” length because it falls near the middle of the calves. Sheath dresses, sweater dress styles, fit and flare dress styles and pencil dresses are often found in midi length styles.
3. Tea Length
A tea-length dress falls about three or four inches below the knee. This was a popular style of dress in the 1920s and has become a style classic that is often seen in black. The skirt of a tea length dress is slightly flared, rather than tight against the hips and legs. The tea length skirt can be paired with any style of bodice, which means it’s made with a huge range of sleeve types and neckline styles.
Black dresses are often made in popular long dress styles. However, these long black gowns may not strictly qualify as a “little black dress,” as this common fashion style is usually mostly associated with shorter designs. However, a long black gown is the perfect way to create an elegant style for any event.
5. A line
A-line dresses are ankle-length or longer. They fit snugly in the bodice and can be made with a variety of necklines and sleeve types. The important part of this gown is the skirt, which flares out from the body to get wider and wider as it reaches the hem. This creates a highly recognizable shape that resembles the letter A.
The ball gown is one of the most recognizable dress silhouettes. This dress is made with a tight-fitting bodice that is usually sleeveless or made with spaghetti straps. The skirt of the dress flares out over the hips. Usually, ball gowns are made with extra layers underneath to make the skirt billow out even more.
Maxi dresses are extremely popular and in basic black, they’re always very stylish. The name of the dress refers to its length. Maxi dresses are usually floor-length or just a little shorter. These are somewhat loose, flowing gowns that are often made with airy fabric. The bodice and sleeves can be in any style. Maxi dresses are a more casual style. These dresses are known for their more boho-friendly look.
Mermaid dresses are very easy to spot. This dress is form-fitting and figure-hugging all the way from the bust to the knees. It emphasizes all the curves of the body and then flares out at the knees to create a very distinct silhouette.
Short dresses styles in black are the types of dresses that create the quintessential “little black dress” style. There are many popular short dress styles but there are several that are more frequently seen in black than others. Which of these have you tried as part of your little black dress style?
Bandage dresses are short dresses that are worn in any length from knee to mid-thigh. This dress actually looks like bandages wrapped around the body, which is where this style gets its name. This is a very tight-fitting dress that leaves you no room to hide anything. All your curves will be well displayed in a bandage dress. This dress can have any neckline style, from halter to off the shoulder, though strapless is most common.
11. Fit and Flare
Fit and flare dresses are named for exactly the way they look. They fit at the bodice, hugging the waist and bust, and then flare out from the waist. This dress is known for being flattering for any body shape. If you need a little black dress and you want to make sure it’s going to look good on you, get a fit and flare style. It will definitely look good and it will look appropriate for many different occasions. This can be a cocktail dress, a mourning dress, a wedding guest dress, a dress for date night, a professional dress for work and just about anything else you might need it to be.
Sheath dresses are one of the iconic and most classic dress styles. This is a form-fitting bodycon dress, which means it’s body-conforming. That means it fits snugly and hugs your curves all the way from the bust to around the knee, in a classic sheath style. This is a great dress for work and for cocktails after work. Simple sheath dresses are elegant and very easy to accessorize, making this one of the great go-to little black dresses.
The simple shift is a very forgiving dress style that’s super cute, easy to accessorize and fun to wear. This is a straight dress that skims past the curves, hugging the body nowhere. It’s not a big, tentlike dress but it is not tight-fitting either. It’s a happy medium that looks great in casual, professional or cocktail settings, especially in elegant black. Have fun with the look by using bright, colorful accessories to really set this dress off.
Shirt dresses are a very comfortable casual dress style. These dresses may be made to look like a standard T-shirt but long enough in length to be a dress or they may be styled to look like a long dress sith with a collar that buttons up. This is a great go-to when you want a casual little black dress that’s ready to go shopping or out to lunch with friends or a perfect dress for a day of shopping.
The skater dress is a short mini dress style that is usually mini length. It has a fitted waist and flares from the waist. Because of the short length, the flared design and the fact that this dress is often made in a lightweight fabric, there is some risk of exposing your legs if you move a certain way or if a gust of wind happens to hit the right spot.
Slip dresses are designed to look like the item you wear under the dress. This style is not quite loose fitting but not quite tight either. It follows the curves of the body, rather than hugging them. Slip dresses made in silky or satiny material. In basic black, slip dresses become very sexy and slinky and add even more sex appeal to the standard short black dress. These dresses often have a shoulder baring spaghetti strap design.
The wrap dress is known for being flattering on any body shape and it looks great in black. Wrap dresses are made in all lengths from short to long. These dresses are distinct for the way they wrap around the body, creating a V shape across the chest that emphasizes the bustline and makes the waist look smaller. Wrap dress skirts flare out slightly to fit more loosely around the hips and thighs. This is a comfortable, stylish type of dress that’s perfect as office wear, casual wear or semi-formal wear, as the situation requires.
There’s a lot to know about black dresses and you may have a lot of questions about this fashion style. We’ve got the answers to all the most frequently asked questions about black dress styles and the different types of black dresses, when you should wear them and how you can wear them well. Get to know everything about the black dress and you’ll get to know how to be a fashionista.
When and where do you wear a little black dress?
The little black dress is famous for being a go-to, all-occasion dress that you can wear anywhere to anything. But how true is that?
Many types of black dress styles that are short or mid-length can qualify as a little black dress. And for the most part, these dresses can be worn as a party dress or a cocktail dress, even in very short and very tight-fitting styles. Bandage dresses, skater dresses and slip dresses all fit the bill for party and cocktail looks.
In looser and longer styles that are a little more conservative and show a little less skin, a little black dress can be worn to work, to a lunch date with friends or associates, to a professional event or to a special occasion, such as a wedding, baptism or ceremonial event. Sheath and shift dresses and fit and flare dresses work well for all of these style occasions.
When you need casual wear to run errands in or to enjoy a day out with friends, a T-shirt dress is the perfect option.
Which black dress styles are good for work?
There are many types of black dresses that work well as work looks. The right little black dress can be very professional, in fact. A sheath dress, a pencil dress or a shift dress looks perfect for the office. Sweater dresses are great office wear during fall and winter.
Top your black dress with a blazer or a sweater to make a dress look more conservative as needed. This way, you can make an easy transition from day to night by simply removing a layer. A loose-fitting dress, such as a sheath, can become a little more figure-flattering with the addition of a belt. Sometimes, it’s all about the way you style a dress that makes it office-ready or not.
Can you wear a black dress to a wedding?
Just a few decades ago, wearing black to a wedding was pretty much unacceptable. This meant you were sending a clear message more in line with mourning than with celebration. In other words, it was a visual sign of disapproval for the wedding itself. However, the rules on this have relaxed somewhat.
But only somewhat. If you’re attending a day wedding or a wedding that’s being held outside, wearing black is going to make you stand out. If you want to wear a black dress, try to choose one with a pattern or pinstriping. You can also style the dress with brightly-colored accessories and a top layer, such as a cropped jacket, in a matching bright color. For day weddings and outdoor weddings, you don’t want to wear all black. For late afternoon, evening weddings and extremely formal weddings, black dresses are more than acceptable.
Always check the dress code stated on the wedding invitation. If formal or black tie attire is specified, you can feel absolutely secure that a black dress is appropriate. At a formal wear or black tie wedding, a black outfit is elegant and stylish.
Is it bad luck to wear a black wedding dress?
It will definitely look startling at first but there is nothing wrong with wearing a black wedding dress. Black is a color associated with sensuality, power, elegance and fashion sense. In Spain, it’s actually more common to wear black lace dress styles paired with a black lace veil. Several celebrities, including Ellen Pompeo and Avril Lavigne, have worn black wedding dresses to make a bold statement. If you’re feeling brave and bold, a black wedding dress may be just the right style for you.
Black wedding dresses will definitely stand out and be highly memorable, which is what every bride wants to achieve with her dress. This can make for truly stunning wedding photos.
What type of shoes can you wear with a black dress?
The great thing about a black dress is that you can wear it with any type of shoes you like. If you’re going for a casual look with a maxi dress or a shirt dress, for example, simple sandals or flip flops are perfect. For an office look, pair flats like ballerina slippers or loafers with a shift dress. Slip into some stiletto heels to wear a sheath, or some strappy sandals with a skater dress. Any type of heels works great with a slip dress.
You can also play around with color. There’s nothing wrong with matching black to black and wearing black shoes to match your dress but you can also add a pop of color with your shoes. A vivid jewel tone or a soft pastel looks amazing when matched with a black dress. Play around with different shoes because it’s hard to go wrong with a black dress. That’s what makes this fashion icon so easy to style and wear anywhere.
And if you’re wondering what color heels go with a black dress, worry not. You can wear black with any other color you like, from gray to white to any shade in the crayon box. The only color that’s a little tricky is deep brown, though lighter brown shades like nude and beige work just fine.
Can you wear a black prom dress?
Black dresses are well-suited to any formal event, including the prom. Black dresses aren’t just for New Years Eve! They work well for any formal or evening event and some daytime events, too. A black dress at prom can be stunning and make you stand out, since so many girls choose to wear bright and pastel colors for this event. A black dress is always a good formal dress because it can be worn to so many different types of occasions.
What little black dress styles are trending?
The little black dress has been a go-to for all women of taste for about a century now. But within that time, black dress styles have changed a great deal as some styles have become popular and others have faded from the fashion spotlight. In the 1920s, drop waist dresses were all the rage but those styles look rather dated now.
To stay on top of the style scene and get an idea of which dress styles are trending, including black dresses, follow popular celebrities and fashionistas on social media sites like Instagram. Look at pictures from award shows and Hollywood parties. This will give you an idea of the styles that are hot on the fashion scene. The good thing is that the color black itself never goes out of style.
How to style and accessorize with a black dress?
The black dress is well-loved in fashion because it’s a bit like a blank canvas. You can wear any type of accessories, carry any style of purse, wear any shoes you like with a black dress. Add a belt, add a hat, put on a wrap or a cropped jacket. You can choose to express your personal style any way you like when you have on a black dress. Try pairing it with a leather jacket for a rock and roll vibe, or a denim jacket for casual coolness. You can wear a black dress with a white shirt to create contrast and break up the look a little.
Play around with different accessories. For a casual look, try brightly-colored plastic or wooden jewelry like statement earrings and a bracelet. Carry a colorful straw bag and wear sandals. To look elegant and classic, wear a pearl necklace and pearl stud earrings. Diamonds add a little flash and sparkle to a black dress ensemble. And black looks great with metallics as well. Gold, silver, bronze and copper jewelry and accessories will always pair well with black.
Audrey Hepburn styled her little black dresses with big hats and big sunglasses, a look that will never go out of style.
Who popularized the little black dress?
Coco Chanel is a name that is synonymous with fashion itself. In 1926, she was a young fashion designer who had already made a name for herself for her non-traditional approach to style. The simple, elegant and fun little black dress she designed that year became extremely popular with women everywhere. It cemented Chanel’s name as a fashion legend and made the little black dress a style icon. The black dress was vastly different from the brightly-colored and over-embellished dresses that were being worn at the time. This fresh approach to fashion got everyone buzzing and made the little black dress a must-have.
What has made the little black dress so enduringly popular?
If the little black dress was invented way back in the 1920s, why is it still popular today and what has made it so popular through all these years and all the different shifts in fashion?
There are a few reasons why the little black dress continued to be a mainstay of the fashion world even after Coco Chanel first made a splash with it a century ago. Christian Dior was a young designer in the 1940s when he created the “New Look.” This introduced a new silhouette into women’s fashion: full skirts with tight bodices that emphasized the waist. And of course, he created one of these “New Look” dresses in black. The Christian Dior little black dress became popular with Hollywood movie stars, who set the trends for other women around the world who quickly went to get their own little black dresses.
In the 1960s, Audrey Hepburn made fashion history with the little black dress she wore in the opening scene of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Hepburn’s look in the scene is still famous and her dress is still coveted. Women everywhere copied the Givenchy dress she wore in the scene, providing that the quintessential LBD was still a fashion must-have.
The little black dress got a royal endorsement in the 1990s when Princess Diana, then only recently separated from Prince Charles, made her debut as a newly-single woman wearing what the press dubbed “the revenge dress.” It was a tiny little black dress with a sweetheart neckline that bared the shoulder, hugged her curves and showed off her long dancer’s legs. The world sat up and took notice of the hot, perfect little black dress that proved once and for all that the LBD is good enough even for the world’s most fashionable and famous style icon. Because if it’s good enough for Diana, it’s clearly a wardrobe staple no woman can live without!
- The Atlantic – The Underclass Origins of the Little Black Dress
- Fashionista Budget – 30 Places Where You Can Wear the Little Black Dress!
- Marie Claire – A short yet comprehensive history of the little black dress
- Smithsonian Magazine – Why Coco Chanel Created the Little Black Dress
- Southern Living – Can You Wear Black to a Wedding?
- Wedding Know How – Black Wedding Dress – Why You Should Consider It