Free Research Paper On Coco Chanel’s Little Black Dress

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Women, Clothes, Dress, Paris, United States, Europe, Fashion, Style

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/12/21

Month ?, 2015


Coco Chanel’s Little Black Dress

There is no other piece clothing that has permeated the fashion world and every modern woman’s closet like the Little Black Dress. Chanel’s simple and elegant design reflected the time she lived in and the client she designed for. It was simple and clean. It could be interpreted for day or night. It was the perfect canvas to accessorize. The dress was reflective of society and culture in the 1920’s and the changing role of women. The Little Black dress has since crossed over generations. It has been redesigned, reinterpreted, reimagined and readapted. It is wearable by every woman and every well-dressed woman has one in her closet. No other design, except the blue jean, has influenced both fashion and society.

Historical Context

The 1920’s in Paris as well as many other European countries and the United States was a time of dramatic change from the previous century. After World War I, France emerged as a political and economic power. Europe and North America were experiencing incredible economic growth. The Roaring Twenties was a period of prosperity, creativity and social change. The decade is referred to as the “Annees Folles”, the Crazy Years. Similar changes were occurring on the United States and other European countries. Men returned from World War I, weary and ready to develop an egalitarian and democratic life and society. The search for individual freedom and expression was paramount. Women were liberated. They had contributed
much to the war effort and began to assert their will. They asserted themselves. Women in Canada, the United States and many European countries were given the right to vote. Women flocked to urban areas for the opportunity to work and personal freedom. Many women had the opportunity to go to school. Women had finally won a liberating freedom that they had never experienced. In the United States, this freedom can be attributed to the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the creation of the League of Women voters. The League not only advocated for the right to vote but encouraged women to become informed and active members in civic affairs.

Cultural Context

With such huge historical changes taking place throughout North America and Europe, culture was also undergoing radical changes. In the United States, Prohibition was still in full force. Many intellectuals and artists of the time immigrated to Paris. They recognized the liberal and creative community that was growing and active. Earnest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, F, Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Elliot and Salvador Dali are just a few. Paris was the perfect destination for these talents to converge on. Paris had always been famous for its art scene, but the mix of talent residing there in the 1920’s is by far one of the most prolific groups ever assembled. Art Deco emerged as a new style and era of modern design. Jazz was everywhere. Josephine Baker, a
black woman from the United States was the “it” girl of the decade. She was a singer and dancer who charmed Paris in the 1920. Paris opened its arms to people of talent and people of color.
Women were enjoying a freedom they had never known. By working, they were more independent and not tied to their families. They cut their hair, shortened their skirts and rebelled against outdated Victorian values and styles. Cubism in fine art and Art Deco in design influenced women’s changes in wardrobe and personal style. Streamlined, geometric and simple are keywords that could describe the style of the time. Dances became more physical and sexually suggestive such as the Shimmy and the Tango. The flapper was born. Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, was their icon. She epitomized the flapper image: free spirited; fun loving and a risk taker. The style of clothes worn by the flapper was the complete opposite from what her mother wore. The layers of undergarments and corsets were gone. Long tresses too difficult to style and care for were gone. Dresses lost their waistlines, they hung from the shoulders, a simple shift. As the decade progressed, the hemline crept upward. Women bared their arms and flattened their breasts. Their appearance was that of a young male. The style represented women’s equality with men and the rejection of women’s roles of the past.

Coco Chanel

Chanel was born in 1883 in the small French town of Saumur. She grew up in poverty and was eventually sent to a Catholic convent and orphanage after her mother died. At the convent she followed a regimented and disciplined life and learned to sew. At age 18, she had to leave the
convent. She found work as a seamstress during the day and as a singer at night. She earned the nickname Coco while entertaining. In 1909, she had assembled the sketches that would become her first collection. She obtained financial backing from a man she was having an affair with. In 1910 she was awarded a millinery license and opened her first shop in Paris, Chanel Modes. Her designs and shop were popular. She opened a second shop in Deauvilles, a popular tourist destination. Her sportswear was extremely popular and she developed a loyal clientele. Her collections were often made by jersey, which up until that time was reserved for the making of underwear. She chose jersey because it was an inexpensive fabric and lent itself to her simple, draped styles. This innovation made her clothing very popular and easy to wear. Despite World War raging throughout Europe, Chanel’s business continued to flourish. She opened her signature boutique at 31 Rue Cambon which is still her signature store today.
Chanel translated her own personal style into her collections. Easy and elegant were her signatures. She used black, beige and white in many of her collections. Modern women of the 1920’s loved her look, it represented the freedom and independence they were achieving. Throughout the 20’s and 30’s, Chanel and her designs were the darlings of Vogue. Chanel was forced to close her Parisian shop during the height of World War II. When the war ended, Chanel recognized that her fiercest competition would be Christian Dior and his “New Look”. The
collection was strictly tailored, featured full skirts and tailoring. It represented wealth and excess and a return to being a “lady”. Chanel recruited a new staff and began to revitalize her couture house. She reworked her designs and gave them a more modern look. She slowly rebuilt her house and was extremely successful. The re-inspired, tweed, classic Chanel Suit became the
must-have suit of every well-dressed woman. Chanel died in 1971, but her brand continues to lead the fashion world under the leadership of Karl Lagerfeld.

The Little Black Dress

The original design for the Little Black Dress was simplicity at its best. A sketch of the dress debuted in American Vogue on October 1, 1926. Vogue likened the dress to Henry Ford’s Model T automobile. It was simple and practical. It was not considered haut couture. The dress was long sleeved. It draped form the shoulders and bloused at the hips in the front. The back was a little more fitted. The front was accented by pin tucks that formed a V from center front up to the shoulders. The pin tucks were mirrored in the skirt. The original was fashioned from a black crepe de chine fabric. Vogue would later comment on the design that is was a uniform of sorts for women. The dress may not have been praised by Vogue, but women loved it. It was perfect for women who had entered the working world.
The story behind the dress, was that Chanel designed it specifically for herself after the death of her lover, Boy Capel in 1919. She was famous for wearing black. She likened the simple, black dress she designed to the simple black dresses that peasant women wore while they were in mourning that she knew from her childhood. The Little Black dress became very successful with
the advent of the Great Depression. Money was tight and excess was over. The dress was simple, versatile and could be accessorized to be perfect for almost any occasion. Black was also a popular color in the early motion pictures because it filmed well. Women began seeing black on starlets in the films and wanted to recreate the look for themselves. The term “little black dress” was coined in the mid 1930’s in advertising for the dress. It was marketed as the dress every woman should have in her closet.
The Little Black Dress is an icon of the fashion industry. Every designer has interpreted the Little Black Dress at some point in their career. Every well-dressed woman has one in her closet. The function of the Little Black Dress has remained a constant over the course of the last 90 years due to its simplicity, versatility and wearability.


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DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0432.2007.00341.x
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