The Versatility of Coco Chanel’s Original Little Black Dress

It’s hard to argue with the fact that Coco Chanel was a fashion genius. She single-handedly changed how women dress in the modern Western world. We went from wearing nearly 20 pounds of corsetry and underwear to freeform drop waists and wool jersey almost overnight, all thanks to Chanel.

We can also thank her for gifting us with the idea of the Little Black Dress, that versatile staple found in nearly every woman’s wardrobe. According to the book Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Styleher original version was two pieces made to look like one dress. It was made of her trademark material, wool jersey. The skirt was unlined and paired with a short sweater.

Coco Chanel's Little Black Dress compared with my version of it.
On the left is Chanel’s original LBD and on the right is my version of it.

If you think about it, Chanel’s original idea of using two separate pieces to create what looks like a dress is even more brilliant than the idea of a LBD by itself. After all, most women are a different size on top than they are on bottom, so buying them separately allows for more flexibility and less tailoring!

Bringing Chanel’s Original Idea into 2016

In honor of Chanel’s brilliance, I created my own version of her original Little Black Dress using two Eileen Fisher separates–a long-sleeve silk tee and a skirt in pleated jersey with pockets and an elastic waistband. My goal was to test the versatility of the LBD, to see if I could change the look of it just by changing a couple of accessories.

Here are four looks using the same top, skirt, shoes, and necklace. For what it’s worth, nearly every piece I’m wearing is either a gift (the necklace, top, and brooch), thrifted from or eBay, or I’ve had it for so long (the black belt), that I don’t remember buying it. What I’m trying to say is, LBDs don’t have to cost a fortune, even for petites.

LBD Dressy
I left my legs bare so you can see the contrast in the skirt. It’s hard to see where the skirt ends when I wear black tights or hose. For each style, then, I switched out the belt and the sweater or jacket on top.

A Side Note About the Brooch “Belt”

By the way, I need to mention where I got the idea to use a brooch as a belt substitute in Look 1. My friend Jodie at did a series on her blog styling brooches three ways for women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. One of the ways she styled it was on the waistband of a skirt. I think her idea gives a sweet pop of color around the waist area and it breaks up the line around the fullest part of my hips.

The Verdict

I love how switching just two pieces can change the look and feel of this outfit. The possibilities seem endless, especially if I also changed out the necklace, shoes, and hosiery. Imagine!

Cons: I don’t think the drop-waist is my look, at least not where I dropped it. To achieve a similar look to the original Chanel dress, and to give the appearance of a longer length, I pulled the waistband of the skirt to the fullest part of my hips. (I couldn’t take it any lower for the sake of keeping the thing on!) In my opinion, wearing the skirt like this just serves to accentuate the fullest part of me — not something I really want to do with my pear-shape body. But I had to try it. You’ll see in my next post how pulling the skirt to my natural waist makes everything more casual.

Coming up! I push the LBD to its limits by dressing it down for the weekend or walking the dog!

Shop these looks:

Base Look:

Eileen Fisher Long Sleeve Silk Tee  |  Eileen Fisher Pleated Jersey Skirt: Similar at ThredUP, Find similar on eBay |  Long Strand Necklace (my grandmother’s): Similar  |  Salvatore Ferragamo Shoes from ThredUP: Similar

Look 1:

Gray Eileen Fisher Cardigan: Similar on ThredUP for under $20: Here, Here, and Here  |  Multi-colored Vintage Brooch (my grandmother’s): Here, Here, and Here

Look 2:

Cream Old Navy Cardigan (from Thredup): Similar on ThredUP for under $30: Here and Here; Similar at Talbots  |  Elastic Metallic Belt: Similar for under $30: Here, Here, and Here

Look 3:

Long, Open-Front Eileen Fisher Cardigan (from eBay): Similar at Nordstrom, Similar on eBay in PL, Similar at Talbots  |  Black Leather Eileen Fisher Belt: Similar Here, Here, and Here

Look 4:

Theory Denim Jacket: Similar on ThredUP Here (XSP), Here (MP); Similar at Talbots  |  Black Leather Eileen Fisher Belt: Similar HereHere, and Here

Affiliate link disclaimer: Please note, all the item links above are affiliated with companies I am associated with. By clicking the links and purchasing from those stores, I might receive a small commission. I do not put these links lightly — any company I represent is a company I buy from regularly, including eBay and ThredUP. By purchasing from these stores, you support the work I do here and I greatly appreciate your support! 

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