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Exhibition National Museum of Scotland

Beyond the Little Black Dress

1 Jul - 29 Oct 2023
10:00 - 17:00

Special Exhibition Gallery, Level 3

‘Florence’ hood and ‘Spray’ dress by Cimone, Autumn/Winter 2017. (© Cimone Ltd / Photo © Rhiannon Adam)

‘Florence’ hood and ‘Spray’ dress by Cimone, Autumn/Winter 2017. (© Cimone Ltd / Photo © Rhiannon Adam)

From design classics to cutting-edge catwalk creations, this exhibition deconstructs the little black dress and examines the radical power of the colour black in fashion.

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. It will examine the well-mannered cocktail attire of the early 20th century to the leather and latex worn by members of punk and fetish subcultures.

A wardrobe staple

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. 

Nieves’ dress by CuteCircuit, London, England, 2018. (Image courtesy of CuteCircuit).

Evening dress. French, c.1929. (A.1965.629).

 

Culture and politics

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.

The exhibition will chart a century of fashion in a series of themed, immersive displays. Iconic early pieces by Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and Jean Muir will be juxtaposed with recent looks by ground-breaking contemporary designers and brands like Gareth Pugh, Simone Rocha and Off-White.

‘Florence’ hood and ‘Spray’ dress by Cimone, Autumn/Winter 2017. (© Cimone Ltd / Photo © Rhiannon Adam).

Ying Gao, Flowing Water, Standing Time, 2019. (Photo © Malina Corpadean).

Black British designers

The exhibition features Black British designers whose work explores both Blackness in terms of identity, and the role the colour black plays in crafting a futuristic, sci-fi aesthetic. Elsewhere, the exhibition considers how perceptions of the colour black differ in a global context, as well as how the intervention of smart technologies is establishing a blueprint for a more sustainable future 

Getting here

Plan your visit to National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland
Chambers Street
Edinburgh
EH1 1JF

Map and directions

Access

We want everyone who comes to our museums to enjoy their time with us and make the most of their visit. 

  • There is level access to the Museum via the main doors to the Entrance Hall on Chambers Street and the Tower entrance at the corner of Chambers Street and George IV Bridge. 
  • Lifts are available to all floors and accessible toilets are available on most floors, as well as a Changing Places (U) toilet in the Entrance Hall on Level 0.
  • There is an induction loop in the Auditorium.
  • Guide dogs, hearing dogs and other recognised assistance dogs are admitted.

Find out more about our access information.

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