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From left, this flapper-style little black dress is a Suzi Chin design. The Wardrobe owner Kim Dixon says this style is well suited to the 20-something crowd. The second dress also is a Suzi Chin design. With the flattering side ruching, this dress is perfect for the 30-something. The last is a stylish little black dress for those 30 and older designed by Kay Unger.
By Erica Cusumano | STAFF
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The perfect little black dress
By Lori Harlan

Almost counterintuitive to the fickle nature of fashion, the little black dress has withstood every trend with its timeless simplicity. In fact, the simpler the style, the more longevity a little black dress has.

Coco Chanel generally is credited with inventing the little black dress in the 1920s, and it has never gone out of style.

"The little black dress is the opposite of a trend," says Lisa Hills, apparel buyer at The Wardrobe in Springfield. "It's a timeless style, an absolute wardrobe essential. Every woman should have one."

And while one dress can hardly be expected to meet every need, Hills explains that part of the appeal of the little black dress is its versatility.

"The little black dress is famous for its very simple lines. That's the beauty of it. It's a chameleon that will transition through events and times of day."

Hills says the same little black dress could be worn to a funeral or a New Year's Eve party, depending on how it is accessorized.

For a daytime look, she suggests wearing the little black dress with a tailored jacket.

To switch to an evening-appropriate look, remove the jacket and add a beautiful piece of jewelry.

"You don't want a little black dress with any details that will date it. It should be a classic piece, a wardrobe staple. 'Seasonless' fabrics like a fine wool crepe or a rayon crepe are good choices," Hills says.

Lynn Carter, who has owned L Chic on Springfield's west side for five years, agrees that fabric choice is important and suggests avoiding clingy styles.

"You want a fabric that hangs nicely and drapes well. Italian knits are nice, and tropical-weight gabardine transitions from day to evening. Stay away from shiny fabric so you can wear the dress during the day," Carter says.

While it's functional year-round, the little black dress is not quite as popular in summer, according to Carter.

"When it's really hot, people prefer to wear more color. There's not as much interest in little black dresses in July. It's perfectly fine to wear, but people going to an outdoor wedding don't want to stand in the sun wearing black," she says.

As ubiquitous as the little black dress may seem - and Hills emphasizes that every woman needs one - she adds that styles do differ by age.

Younger women gravitate toward a bare look. They're more likely to choose a sleeveless body or lower neckline.

As women age, Hills says, they tend to want more coverage, a more forgiving fit and a fabric that skims the body rather than hugs it.

"It's still a simple, clean, classic line in a seasonless fabric. It just covers more body parts," she says.


Story published Friday, November 7, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 6 )

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