Why the Little Black Dress is essential for every active girl’s wardrobe

Like the guitar riff to Purple Haze, or the sound of rolling thunder after lightning hits, a Little Black Dress commands attention.

You’re headed out for a week in the backcountry or a long day hike—chances are you’ll celebrate your accomplishment with a good meal and cold drink. Are you going to wear your sweaty hiking clothes? Heck no! Why not pack something that’s comfortable, stylish and still shows your preference for technical performance? For women, it is all about the Little Black Dress (LBD).

Through the 1900s, black was primarily reserved for mourning attire, spinster schoolteachers and wicked witches—but by WWI, it became acceptable for women to wear black every day. In the 1920s, Vogue published a drawing of a simple yet elegant shift, in black crape de Chine, the only adornment a string of pearls around the model’s neck. In contrast to the fussy flapper dresses of the Roaring ’20s and the hoops and bustles of the Victorian age, the national press predicted that the simple, sophisticated, timeless LBD fashion statement would be come an essential piece in every women’s closet.

Fashion icons like Coco Chanel helped to popularize the style, while Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s solidified the trend. Thoroughly versatile and long lasting (LBD’s never go out of style)—these classics quickly became the ultimate “go anywhere, do anything” essential of every woman’s wardrobe.

two people holding a canoe near a cliff

Fast forward 80 some years. Women are more active now, but they still want to look good. We are a bit more spoiled as with technical performance fabrics being so omnipresent. But while there’s constant chatter about technical outdoor apparel making inroads into nearly everyone’s everyday life (Athleisure is the new industry buzzword) attire, the technical LBD hasn’t gotten the fashion attention it deserves. But think about it. From warm puffy down vests to moisture wicking pants, chances are your everyday home and office apparel had its roots in the performance outdoor gear world. So why shouldn’t your LBD?

But what about when you don’t want to look like you just came off the PCT? The solution—tuck a technical LBD into your pack. Most weigh just a few ounces, can be washed in a hotel sink, and have all the performance characteristics of the shorts, T’s and other outdoor apparel that you love.

Nowadays, we all have a bit of Coco Chanel and Josephine Baker in us. We’re smart but headstrong, and rather than prancing down runways or across catwalks, we have our own stages—most outdoors, involving sweat, adrenaline, and, thank goodness decent calves and biceps. So what does the modern, sports-oriented women see in an iconic fashion piece that was invented about the time her great grandmother got the right to vote, and her grand uncles were driving hooch to circumvent the Prohibition act.

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The good news is that technical, but fashion-forward companies have re-thought the LBD, making them with fabrics that don’t wrinkle, can be washed in a sink (or river) and dried overnight, and that are so comfortable you could hike up Mt. Whitney in one (in addition to dancing the fox trot or going on a date after a day of fishing or hiking).

The essential for a little black dress is simplicity. Ideally, you can wear a LBD for many, many seasons, so it shouldn’t be too trendy. Wearing form-fitting clothes all day, especially after all day hiking, paddling, running can feel restrictive at the end of the day. So why not “slip into something more comfortable?”

You can go short as above the knee skirts are great in the summer, and longer maxi dresses are making a big comeback for everything from haute couture to trendy picnic attire when you want a bit more warmth and protection from mosquitoes. Or pick something in between that covers your knees but leaves your calves exposed.

Then go wild with fun jewelry, scarves and wraps. For longer trips, try bringing two LBDs—one long and the other short.

girl wearing a little black dress with friends walking through a field