What’s with the LBD?

Coco Chanel in a black dress
Coco Chanel in a black dress

The Little Black Dress was probably invented by Chanel in the early 1920s, although it has had numerous iterations. Generally it is a short length, relatively fitted sheath dress, which can be dressed up with jewellery and is usually worn with darker tights and high heels. Until this point it had been the norm to wear black for mourning and it would have seemed quite radical and shocking for ladies to choose black for day or evening wear. Since then the LBD has become ubiquitous and you can get one for £11 from Asda. Every city in the UK, and many other countries, you can see young women tottering around on high heels with clingy body-con numbers, and at dinner parties in Knightsbridge they wear the uniform too. There are LBD’s made from cheap polyester and there are some in the finest silks and wools.

A selection available at Debenham's
A selection available at Debenham’s

An LBD should be a classy, elegant, cool, ageless look. It should make the woman look a little mysterious. The idea of a non-colour, basic shaped garment is that it should draw attention to the individuality of the wearer. But if you have ever been to a black tie event where all the men are wearing black tie (tuxedo) you will see that this is a tall order.

What we are talking about is

  • evening wear
  • elegance
  • class
  • restraint
  • femininity
  • high quality

It is received wisdom that every woman should have one in her wardrobe because it is universally flattering and can be “dressed up or down”. Unfortunately like the white shirt, the LBD does not suit everyone. However everyone can wear a version of the look, so long as it is not too literal.

If you have deeper or brighter colouring an LBD can look great. It will make you look slimmer as it is a colour which recedes. If you wear a very well fitted sheath dress it can also be slimming as it skims the curves and, in being one piece, it makes you look longer and slimmer. Choose an elegant, simple shape made from good quality materials such as silk or wool. If you wear dark tights and shoes too it will make you look longer and slimmer than virtually any other look. If you are already tall and slim you could consider well tailored trousers and a tuxedo type jacket, or a close fitting luxury top such as an embellished cardigan or satin shirt with diamond buttons, in black or another deep colour. The same rules apply on wearing a long column of a single, deep shade – match your tights and shoes too for maximum slimness and length.

A maxi dress is a good choice – it doesn’t have to be a full on ball gown – in fact the sticky out silhouette of a ball gown is not the effect you want. Look for a maxi that falls from just beneath the bust or with a high waist, and a fluid skirt for maximum lengthening of your body. High heels with a dress like this makes you taller.

Does the LBD have to be black? Not really although it is a great shade if it suits you. However the other deeper shades – dark chocolate brown, midnight blue and deep purple – are all traditional evening wear shades (men sometimes wear evening jackets in these shades). To my mind looking a bit different is always good. If, like many people, black is not your colour wear your darkest shade. This might be a bottle green, or deep red. How much more interesting this would look than a dozen women in LBDs.

Here am I in mine! I made this dress for SWAP 2015 and it is nearly black. I wore it this week for a “women’s network evening” we held at work.  I had been meaning to make “my” LBD for ages. It is made of a drapey navy silk and I really like the shape and style. It is a classic 1960s dress with the additional accent of lace dinosaur sleeves. Also by wearing three silver chains (bumble bee, elephant and shell) I get some brightness and lightness into the outfit. This week I wore it with thick tights and brown brogues. But for a dressy occasion I would wear “nearly black” or navy sheer tights. However on  all those occasions when a LBD is considered “essential” I love to turn up in a coloured dress because I prefer colour, and I like to stand out.

SWAP 2015 Dinosaur dress
Little Navy Dress

If you have cool colouring try navy or dark brown.

Warm colouring would look nice warm deep neutral – a deeper warm brown or green.

Bright colouring is complemented by either an LBD or a bright colour such as red or emerald

People with Muted colouring could choose a deep, soft blue, purple or red

Finally for people with lighter colouring you could try a dress that is light near your face but includes black or a deeper shade too.




Generally this is an opportunity to wear a higher heel, and elegant, strappy shoes, or traditional court shoes, will complement your dress. With the LBD  look keep the jewellery in the classy league – gold or silver (depending on your colouring), or pearls, or diamonds if you have them. If you don’t have any “family jewels” wear an upmarket high street type item, in a toning colour with your dress. But take care not to cheapen the look. At heart it is a classic look. (This is of course only my opinion. Lots of women wear the LBD for everyday supermarket shopping. Although I am wondering if that is a mail trolley, a trendy pull along behind pram, or just a portable street dustbin behind this glamorous pair).

Helena in LBD and accessories
Helena in LBD and accessories

5 Responses

  1. Anne

    Your dress is lovely. I’ve never heard of dinosaur sleeves – or do you just mean that there are so few dresses these days with sleeves? I’m cool so navy is a better black for me.

  2. Hila

    I really like your dress. You look lovely. Also love the shoes! . I had always thought the LBD was going out (at night) dress and since I dont really go out I have not thought to make one. I am too sure but I think black may look too austere on me because if my goldish brown colouring. I like navy blue. You now have me pondering whether I should try making a LBD – I am keeping an open mind and experimenting a lot since I started sewing. Will let you know how I get on.

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