The Little Black Dress: A Hidden History (A Latino USA Podcast)

Sep 23, 2022
11:57 AM

Illustration by Monica Morales-Garcia


The little black dress, also known as the L.B.D., is best known for its titillating color. A little black dress can be any style and can be made out of any fabric, but what the dress always radiates is confidence and style. It is a classic. Some would even say iconic. But the little black dress has a complicated history.

Before it was the classic dress we all know and many still love today, the L.B.D. was a dress mostly worn by working-class shopgirls and domestics. It wasn’t until the 1920s, when a black Chanel dress was featured in Vogue magazine, that the dress started to become a staple in women’s wardrobes. The little black dress had made a jump from shabby to chic!

But for Monica Morales-Garcia that history seemed incomplete.

Monica had worn little black dresses while working at a luxury department store, and she knew that many people still had to wear the L.B.D. as a uniform today. So what did it mean that retail workers still had to wear little black dresses today even after it made its transition so long ago?

In the spring of 2018, Monica got into graduate school, only two weeks after quitting Bloomingdale’s. It was during this time in graduate school that Monica began to research the origins of the little black dress to learn how so much had changed yet so much had stayed the same.

In this episode, Monica speaks with a former co-worker, Natalie Garcia, about their experiences wearing the L.B.D. And with the help of Dr. Traci Parker, associate professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of Department Stores and the Black Freedom Movement: Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights. Monica walks us through the decline of an industry and the rise of a garment.


Latino USA with Maria Hinojosa, produced by Futuro Media, is the longest-running Latino-focused program on U.S. public media.