A new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland will deconstruct the little black dress, examining the radical power of the colour black in fashion. From design classics to cutting-edge catwalk creations, Beyond the Little Black Dress (1 July to 29 October 2022) will bring together more than 60 striking looks from collections and designers around the world.
The colour black can be interpreted in many subtle and often contradictory ways. The exhibition will explore how its complexities have made the little black dress simultaneously expressive of piety and perversion, respect and rebellion; from the well-mannered cocktail attire of the early 20th century to the leather and latex worn by members of punk and fetish subcultures.
Beyond the Little Black Dress will open with a simple, short black dress designed by Coco Chanel in 1926. Considered radically modern, it disregarded convention entirely in both the stark design and sombre shade, that had traditionally been associated with mourning. At the time it was hailed by US Vogue as “the frock that all the world will wear”. The ‘little black dress’ became a wardrobe staple, a symbol of femininity and a byword for chic, with each new silhouette capturing the spirit of its time.
The little black dress remains a blank canvas for broader political and cultural shifts. It can challenge social norms around race, gender and sexuality to reflect evolving ideals of beauty and identity, proving its infinite capacity for reinvention.