Style icons: The little black dress
How to do this fashion standard right
A wardrobe of leggings -- lace, leather, zippered like these BCBG ones ($138; bcbg.com) -- makes for a one-dress wonder. Or dare to double down by layering a skirt like this BCBG metallic spandex one ($198; bcbg.com) under a sheer or short black dress. (Bill Hogan/Tribune photo; styling by Patric Chauvez / November 11, 2010)
Several years earlier, Henry Ford had crafted the Model T as the first car "for the great multitude." Opening a world of possibilities for the masses, the Model T since has been named the most influential car of the 20th century.
The little black dress, too, has become a driving force in the wardrobes of women. Embodied most famously by Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961), the little black dress set the standard for chic simplicity that no other engine of fashion has touched.
Through the years, little black dresses have made big impressions, from Elizabeth Taylor in "Butterfield 8" (1960) and Anouk Aimee in Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" (1960) to Princess Diana's shorter-than-usual, off-the-shoulder number that upstaged even her husband's admission of adultery in 1994.
With millions of miles behind it, the little black dress could hardly be blamed for running on fumes in 2010. But it's still revving high, thanks to masters of the genre — Donna Karan, Dior, Herve Leger — as well as young brands — Elizabeth & James, Black Halo, Alice + Olivia — who tune it up year after year.
Despite the speedway that is fashion, even an older model LBD can refuel with accessories. "Mad Men" costume designer Janie Bryant would say, "the more the better." She tinkers with a famous Chanel adage in her new style guide, titled "The Fashion File" : "Wink at yourself in the mirror before you leave the house and add one more accessory."
Conservative or liberal, accessories are the surest way to keep the familiarity of the little black dress from idling toward contempt.
Sources: "The Cocktail Dress" by Laird Borrelli-Persson (Collins Design), "The Fashion File" by Janie Bryant with Monica Corcoran Harel (Grand Central Publishing), "Fifty Dresses That Changed the World" (Octopus Books).