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Classy and fabulous—the little black dress still owns the night

52 over 50—Writing the year—week 1

Christmas is just around the corner and opportunities to get off the couch abound. I say, “Let the festivities begin.” Why not, it’s easy to join the celebration. The world feels brighter, decorating fairies are whizzing around stringing coloured lights on trees, eaves, and windows. Greens, reds, blues, purples—an endless rainbow of colours light up the night sky. Mini-traffic jams back up streets as people cruise neighbourhoods checking out Christmas lights. It’s party time during the busiest social season of the year. I look around and spy a sea of black.

Two years ago, I wore blue to my work Christmas party. Last year I donned a geometric design on a white background. Both times, I felt out of synch. This year, pressed for time, I opted for the basic black dress hanging in the back of my closet. We checked into our hotel room, dressed and joined friends for pre-party martinis—stirred, not shaken. I promptly fell into that sea of black. If you were looking for colour, it was found in the dress shirts that the guys were wearing. After drinks, we moved on to the party and the ebony tsunami continued.

That started me thinking, what is it about the little black dress, aka LBD that we love so much? What makes us shroud ourselves in black and head out on the town? Obviously black is slimming and forgiving. You’ve go to love that. It’s easy to accessorize—anything goes. Then there’s the shoe thing—pair it with everything from flats to four-inch heels. The LBD lets you emanate sexy siren or go boho chic. Audrey Hepburn wore a little black dress in the movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The dress made them both icons. Who cares if we aren’t Audrey Hepburn. When we slip into that little black dress we feel amazing.

But the dress was around before Hepburn. When did it burst onto the scene? Black was the colour of mourning, the colour of the uniforms worn by servants. How did a simple black frock become the stuff of legends? I wanted to know, so I did what anyone would do, I googled it.

It turns out the LBD was born during the roaring '20s. It was post World War I and times were changing. Women had—gasp—even earned the right to vote in some western countries. Was Canada one of them? It was—in 1921 Canada gave women the right to vote . . . unless they were Asian or Aboriginal. Asian women earned the right to cast a ballet at the provincial and federal levels in the 1940’s. Aboriginal women were frozen out until 1960.

Wait, I’m letting research distract me, back to the dress. Coco Chanel, a Parisian designer with a non-traditionalist approach, decided that it was time to liberate women from bondage. Think corsets, high necklines, and long skirts—things that made life restrictive and impractical. Coco’s little black dress appeared on the cover of the October 1926 edition of Vogue Magazine. The LBD with it’s severe and simple lines was a bold fashion statement. Vogue compared it to Henry Ford’s insanely popular Model T, but the dress, unlike the car, came in more than one style.

So, there it is, a brief cameo on the history of the little black dress—the LBD—a clothing item tucked away in many of our closets. It’s the go to for unexpected social occasions, the fall back when the sales racks don’t offer us choices. You can slip into the dress and channel Audrey while keeping the other Chanel’s vision alive.

A little black dress lurks in my closet waiting for the next event. That dress means I can say, “Yes, I’d love to.” It means I don’t have to shop. I know that when I put it on, I’ll feel fabulous and put together. So, bring on the dress and get up off the couch. There are 51 more weeks calling your name.

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