What do plain English and the little black dress have in common?

19 June 2020

It was French designer Coco Chanel’s non-traditional approach to women’s fashion that made her  famous in the 1920s. She used unconventional cloth like jersey and unconventional cuts to make her designs both elegant and practical. But perhaps the most enduring of her creations is the little black dress (also now known as the LBD).

Before World War I, simple black garments were more likely to be linked with the clothing of servants or people in mourning than to haute couture. Wealthier women had much more restrictive clothing, sometimes so complicated they needed a servant to help them dress. 

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Image: Coco Chanel with model

In 1926, Vogue published a drawing of a simple black dress in crêpe de Chine. It had long narrow sleeves and was accessorised with a string of pearls. The dress was simple and accessible to women of all classes and Vogue predicted it would become ‘a sort of uniform for all women of taste’. Even today, you can't go wrong with the elegance and simplicity of the little black dress.  

Plain English has become a kind of practical uniform for business writing. Clear and concise writing that’s focused on your reader (plain English) strips away the unnecessary ‘ruffles’ and distractions of complicated and bureaucratic language. Instead you are left with an elegant sentence that speaks to your reader. 

Bureaucratic (inelegant)

The contractor gave us the heads up that the process of the rectification of defects would commence in the near future.

Simple (elegant)

The contractor confirmed defects rectification would begin on 15 May.

A few well-chosen words will attract and hold your reader’s attention. Not only will they understand what you have written, you will make them feel you have understood them. In a world of disinformation and misunderstanding, clarity of communication is critical.

Whether you’re writing an article, a policy or a community newsletter, write with elegance, write with economy of words and write in a way your reader can relate to. In other words, write in plain English. You can't go wrong. 

Need help translating bureaucratic language into plain English? Contact us today on 02 9238 6638 or email patricia.hoyle@concisewriting.coma.au

References

'Why Coco Chanel created the little black dress' https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-coco-chanel-created-lbd-180965024/

'A short yet comprehensive history of the little black dress' by Penny Goldstone, https://www.marieclaire.co.uk/fashion/little-black-dress-524293

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