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A dazzling mix of silk faille, velvet, jersey, and tulle—all in black—cut simple silhouettes. The more expensive lots fetched over 20, euros. The most important acolytes of the little black dress were not deers nor aristocrats, but masses of working-class women. In OctoberVogue featured a sketch of a long-sleeved, calf-length, black sheath dress by a plucky young deer named Coco Chanel.
But inthe proclamation was tone-deaf at best, as the little black dress was already Little black dress articles actual uniform of many working-class women. The little black dress or LBD, as it is commonly abbreviated was a uniform deed to keep certain women in their place. Only later was it co-opted as haute couture for women of taste. When the lower classes adopt the fashions of the elite, the elites often respond by changing course abruptly—a neckline or a hemline rises or falls dramatically, perhaps, or a voluminous silhouette narrows.
But sometimes, rather than quickly changing styles, the upper classes simply wear the clothes the poor have discarded. For example, as towns populated in the 14th century, a merchant class arose within them. This middle class had some discretionary income, and they spent it on the most conspicuous consumer good: clothing. Finally, they could afford jewel-studded velvets, gold and silver trimmings, brightly colored coats, and sumptuous furs.
Blue jeans offer a more recent example. Jeans began as cheap and durable work pants for miners and farmers. They were the de facto uniform of the rural working class. But once working-class men had access to ready-to-wear trousers, their jeans started showing up on postwar suburban youths, and then in trendy boutiques. Once more, the wealthy turn the tables by appropriating the clothing of the poor.
The LBD also finds its origins among the poor. But in the s, the British upper classes required their maids to wear a common uniform: a white mobcap, an apron, and a simple black dress. Soon after, wealthy American and French families followed suit. A caller mistaking the maid for the mistress of the house raised uncomfortable questions about recently erected class barriers. It was the perfect hand-me-down for the help. There was a time when black ified wealth.
It was favored by 15th-century Spanish aristocrats and wealthy Dutch merchants. Black clothing conveyed plainness and piety, for one thing. By the early 19th century, a newer dye made from logwood and ferrous sulfate made the color cheap to produce. Inan even cheaper synthetic aniline black dye was developed. By the s, most awkward maid-or-mistress mix-ups had been eliminated thanks to the Little black dress articles black dress.
But another sort of working-class woman now had the opportunity to dress above her station. Rapid industrialization gave consumers more disposable income, and they wanted places to spend it.
More shops opened in urban centers, and cheap labor was needed to staff them. The shopgirl enjoyed more freedom and less supervision than domestic servants did. Often, for the first time in her life, she also enjoyed some disposable income of her own. The sewing machine, invented in and mass-produced in the s, made it easier than ever to imitate these fashions. Mated to the precut paper pattern, devised by the upscale American deer Ellen Curtis Demorest, women could duplicate the latest fashions from Paris with relative ease.
And advances in efficiency at textile factories made a wider variety of fabrics and trims available with which to do so. Or instead, she could shop the sale rack at her place of employment—one of the large, new department stores—and purchase a ready-to-wear dress. She could then alter and trim the dress with lace, sequins, or buttons to make it appear custom-made.
In response, many employers began requiring their female employees to dress like domestic servants, in simple black dresses. But threatened with termination, most shopgirls buckled, and by the s the little black dress was the required uniform in New York, London, and Paris. In the summer ofwearing a black dress became a condition of employment for Jersey City telephone operators, too. For these reasons, the little black dress became a marker of class. Embedded in their ideals was the promise of social mobility.
They mixed with the upper classes, whether in drawing rooms or on retail shop floors, and they saw what the wealthy wore up close. Thanks to the sewing machine, the paper pattern, and affordable fabrics, the working classes could finally, feasibly, dress like high society—even if they were now only permitted to do so after work hours. Society matrons exacted their revenge by dressing like shopgirls and maids, reappropriating their little black dresses for the upper crust.
By the early s, socialites who wanted to appear especially youthful and edgy donned little black dresses. It was such an established trend by that even the wife of the U. But while a rich woman might now better blend into the crowd, on closer inspection, there Little black dress articles be some small detail in her seemingly anonymous garment—a certain cut or fabric or label—that acted as a secret handshake for those in the know. Today, the fashion industry sometimes celebrates the little black dress as an equal-opportunity fashion—versatile, classic, and chic.
But this neutral garment was never ideologically neutral—nor was it the democratic creation of a visionary deer. The little black dress marked and mediated social boundaries, a collaboration between cutting-edge technology and age-old class politics. Today, in addition to little black-dress auctions, there are LBD-themed dinner parties and wine tastings, galas and charity balls. A little black dress has become a shorthand for instant glamour, promising to disguise both figure flaws and mundane lives. This blue-collar costume has successfully crossed over.
Women wear little black dresses to feel more like Audrey Hepburn or Princess Diana or even a model in a Robert Palmer music video. But when they do, those women also conjure other predecessors: the women who wore them while they balanced trays, stocked shelves, folded shirts, worked the switchboards, and wrung out the laundry. Popular Latest. The Atlantic Crossword. In Subscribe.Little black dress articles
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The Underclass Origins of the Little Black Dress