Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Little Black Dress circa 1926-28
Black taffeta evening dress, with gold bullion leaf embroidery, circa 1926-28

Little black dress circa 1950-54
Black velvet evening dress with black satin tie belt and rhinestone buttons, circa 1950-54

To obtain a print-quality JPEG of this photo, contact the Office of Public Affairs at (815) 753-1681 or e-mail

News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

February 21, 2007

Women’s History Month kicks off
in ‘Little Black Dress’ style

DeKalb, Ill. — When French designer Coco Chanel introduced her famous little black dress in 1926, Vogue magazine declared it was the fashion industry’s answer to the Model-T Ford. Indeed, the LBD, as it is now affectionately known, was an instant success and has become a wardrobe staple for women.

Northern Illinois University will kick off its Women’s History Month celebration in March with an exhibit examining the evolution of this 20th-century fashion icon.

Curator Barbara Peters will present a gallery talk during the opening reception for “The Little Black Dress” exhibit from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 1, in the Nehring Gallery, 111 S. Second Street, DeKalb.

Featuring more than 30 period examples of the LBD from Peters’ personal collection, the exhibit is free and open to the public and will run through the end of the month. Gallery hours are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays, and by appointment.

“The most striking characteristics of the little black dress are simplicity, versatility and functionality,” said Peters, an honorary faculty affiliate of the NIU Women’s Studies Program and private collector of vintage women’s fashions.

“The Little Black Dress” exhibit boasts day dresses, evening dresses and evening gowns from each decade. In a few instances, the pieces are accompanied by matching accessories.

Those who attend the exhibit will journey through 20th-century fashion, seeing how fabrics, ornamentation, silhouettes and styles changed from one decade to another. The exhibit also provides a visual testament to the importance and staying power of the little black dress and its place as one of the century’s most significant fashion developments.

“While Chanel is credited with invention of the little black dress, in fact multiple designers contributed to its birth,” Peters said. “World War I profoundly changed society and its myriad of rules, including fashion rules. Black dresses by Chanel as well as other designers began to appear in the late teens and early 1920s.

“Chanel’s greatest gift was her ability to understand and design for her time,” Peters added. “Her 1926 black dress was simple, elegant and appeared comfortable to wear. Although other black dresses existed before, her 1926 design was the one by which all came to be defined.”

Pieces in the exhibit include a French-made satin and silk cut velvet evening dress from the teens; a 1920s black taffeta evening dress, decorated with gold bullion leaf embroidery; a 1940s two-piece afternoon dress with silver studs and matching hat and shoes; a French-made afternoon dress from the 1950s with elaborate micro pleating and Chantilly lace; and an evening gown from the 1980s that displays the exaggerated style so prevalent in that decade.

Related to the exhibit, the Nehring Gallery also will host Sarah Cosbey, associate professor of textiles, apparel and merchandising at NIU, for a lecture and discussion titled, “New Woman Style: Fashion and Women’s Roles at the Dawn of the 20th Century.” The event will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 22, and also is free and open to the public.

“The Little Black Dress” exhibit is co-sponsored by the NIU Women’s Studies Program; College of Visual & Performing Arts; School of Art; Alumni Association; School of Family, Consumer & Nutrition Sciences; Department of Communication; University Women’s Club; College of Liberal Arts & Sciences External Programming; and DeKalb Park District.

For further information on the exhibit, call the Nehring Gallery at (815) 758-6363.