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Once in a while, a trend comes around that makes you wonder: “Should I go there, or shouldn’t I?” This question rears its head with a greater cultural conversation, which sparks apprehension in some and a knowing sparkle in others. Right now, this trend is the sheer delight of skin-baring looks that provoke a dare-to-bare attitude. Designers are pulling out the style stops, catapulting all things sheer — in the form of tulle, organza, and mesh — into our line of vision for 2023. So, will you dare to bare?
While risqué dressing is in style, it’s nothing new to fashion. Its history dates back to the ‘20s when women discarded corsets in favor of new brassieres. As this way of dressing progressed, it made way for the birth of bikinis in the ‘40s and mod, thigh-baring mini skirts in the ‘60s. However, it wasn’t until the ‘80 and ‘90s that sheer materials were worn in the form of cocktail dresses and knit tops, and not just by models on a runway, but by the fashion-forward few IRL. For example, when supermodel Kate Moss made a statement in a metallic slip dress in 1993 at an Elite Model Agency party in London. Meanwhile, in entertainment television, Carrie Bradshaw donned a skin-colored DKNY frock on a date with Mr. Big in season one in 1998, and society familiarized itself with the term “naked dressing.” The iconic Sex and the City dress wasn’t fully transparent, but it was a progressive style move that one could only see on an HBO show. Additionally, when Alber Elbaz showed his fall 1999 collection for Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche at Saks Fifth Avenue, which consisted of a sheer top sans bra, a natural progression of women showing more skin became clear.
Throughout history, nipples have symbolized different meanings, including fashion statements; however, nipple exposure has faced obstacles due to censorship by American media. For example, one of the first signs of censorship in media was in 1942, when Tweety Bird first appeared in “A Tale of Two Kittie.” Animator Bob Clampett initially drew the figure without feathers, but the Hays Code, the Motion Picture Production Code that sets guidelines for censorship, thought that the character was too naked, so Clampett had to cover Tweety’s flesh with yellow plumage. Fast forward to 2004, when Janet Jackson carried the brunt of criticism, and the Federal Communications Commission fined CBS after Jackson’s top malfunctioned (thanks to performer Justin Timberlake) during her Super Bowl halftime show, exposing her pierced nipple.
While these moments of restriction may have reaffirmed taboos around nipple exposure, there has been public pushback, such as the #Freethenipple movement. This social media movement was created in 2012 during pre-production of a 2014 film of the same name that highlighted the general convention of allowing men to appear topless in public while considering it indecent for women to do the same. Despite the fact that this period caused the movement to gain attention from celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Chelsea Handler, Rihanna, and Chrissy Teigen, the Free the Nipple slogan actually has decades-old political ties closely associated with the 1970s women’s liberation movement.
Instagram, the social media platform where the hashtag slogan gained popularity, has created a renewed interest in the “free the nipple” conversation. On January 17, Meta’s Oversight Board — a group of journalists, politicians, and academics who advise the company on its content moderation methods — issued a suggestion that the platforms’ female nipple censorship obstructs the freedom of expression for women, trans, and gender non-binary people. The Oversight Board’s recommendation was for Meta to rework its nudity policy “so that all people are treated in a manner consistent with international human rights standards, without discrimination on the basis of sex or gender,” as stated on their website. This was the first time the board had recommended such a progressive move in the company’s nudity policy.
Meanwhile, many celebrities and style influencers have embraced the notion that ‘skin is in’ by wearing sheer garments without bras or pasties. For example, at Marc Jacobs’s fall 2023 show during New York Fashion Week, Emily Ratajkowski debuted a bob cut with a sheer Marc Jacobs top that exposed her breasts. Additionally, at the 2023 Netflix Golden Globe and Critics Choice Nominee Toast, Rita Ora made a statement in a see-through purple lace Rodarte dress, solely paired with underwear and stilettos. While these bold style choices suggest that transparent dressing will stick around, they’ve also provoked larger breast-baring discussions on social media.
One instance of a controversial bare-all style moment took place on Instagram this past January after the Saint Laurent menswear show in Paris. As extravagant as the show was, the appearance of celebrity guests such as Coi Leray captured the attention of the mainstream. Upon WWD posting a front-row video interview featuring Leray in the baring look on Instagram, it immediately sparked passionate engagement among social media users. There were those who (in opposition to Instagram’s famously strict no-female nipples policy) were quick to comment on the beauty of Leray’s look, while other users said that her ensemble wasn’t considered “fashion” or “classy.” Former Harper’s Bazaar editor, influencer, and brand consultant Chrissy Rutherford took to Instagram to support the look and commented on the post, saying, “everyone needs to get over their aversion to women’s nipples. If you’re not offended by shirtless dudes, you need to re-evaluate why you’re sooOOoOo offended when women expose theirs.” Her comment earned over 1,000 likes.
Rutherford said she wanted to voice her opinion because “women’s bodies are always sexualized, and no one ever actually stops to think about why and the ramifications of it.” She adds, “I think it goes back to the narrative that women are a temptation to men. We’re the ones that have to contort or control ourselves to not ‘excite’ men, instead of them actually seeing us as human beings worthy of respect regardless of what we wear or how we look.” The comments not only drew attention to the policing of bodies, but also they served as a reminder that “fashion should be about liberation, self-expression, and building confidence,” says Kate Bowman, founder of sustainable clothing brand Kitten, who adds that the phrase “my body, my choice” has never been more relevant in the age of sheer dressing. Founder of undergarment brand Perkies, Rosie Mangiarotti, agreed, saying this is just one example of how “women are truly looking to own and reclaim their sexuality. Women aren’t wearing these outfits to catch the attention of men, but rather to take what they have and own it and rock it.”
Even celebrities not wearing actual sheer clothing, also known as nude illusion dressing, are calling attention to women’s nipples. For example, at the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy, Italian social media influencer Chiara Ferragni wore ‘The Shameless Dress,’ which carried a message about breaking gender stereotypes. Ferragni took to Instagram to share that the objective behind her dress — inspired by a creation from Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri’s spring 2018 show — was to remind women of their right to show and handle themselves without feeling judged or guilty. The nude-colored frock used a trompe l’oiel embroidery to depict Chiara Ferragni’s nude body, “free from the shame always imposed on women.” Ferragni added.
If the most recent runway shows are anything to go by, sheer dressing will only rise in popularity. During many of the fall 2023 shows — from New York and London to Milan and Paris — gauzy garments were presented in sartorial splendor. Heron Preston and Bottega Veneta were two prime examples where see-through dresses and catsuits — paired with full-coverage panties — took over the catwalks. Elsewhere, designers like Jason Wu, Fendi, Coach, and Rodarte showed sheer dresses that were both gothic and girly, with ruffle trims and black lace details. As for Gucci’s collection? Blouses and frocks, infused with the design languages of former creative directors Tom Ford and Alessandro Michele, were almost completely sheer, highlighting the bare body underneath or revealing strappy logo-centric lingerie.
Away from the runways and red carpets, the diaphanous material has moved swiftly to street style, proving that the versatile trend can lend itself to anyone’s unique preferences. There is no right or wrong way to style the sheer trend; however, Rutherford, Bowman, and Mangiarotti agree that pulling it off takes confidence. For some, this may look like pairing a transparent dress without a bra. “I love to wear my favorite piece in my collection, the Jam Dress with plain black underwear and no bra,” Bowman says. “I love the way the fabric billows as I walk around a party.” For others, it may look like strategically layering sheer pieces with a light jacket, leather pants, and bralette. “I love the idea of this YSL sheer tie-neck blouse with pleated trousers, a slingback, and a boxy blazer draped over the shoulders for a night on the town,” says Rutherford.
This freedom in choosing what to bare means you can opt to conceal what you wish underneath these fine pieces. Nipple covers and skin-matching garments allow everyone to experiment with the sheer trend in a way that allows individuals to express their style while showcasing their figure as they wish. Take Mangiarotti’s brand, Perkies, for example. This brand, born out of the idea that not everyone has perky breasts, has created options to make nipples look more discreet or defined. In addition to traditional sticky bras, Perkies offers signature and first-of-their-kind Nipple Enhancers that feature silicone nubs to magnify the look of nipples.
Based on the runways, red carpets, and streets, it’s clear that embracing subtle nudity in 2023 is less of an abstract concept or micro trend. Instead, it’s a movement where disruptors will use fashion as one outlet for self-expression and social change.
So, whether you’re ready to bare it all or just show a bit more skin, keep scrolling to shop our favorite sheer pieces with tasteful twists for the season ahead.
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Shop the Best Sheer Clothing Pieces
A. Roege Hove Black Katrine Midi Dress
Copenhagen knitwear brand A. Roege Hove is one to watch not only because it earned its place as a finalist for the 2023 Woolmark Prize but also because Scandi girls can’t get enough of its thin, durable, and comfortable knitwear. Most recently, at its fall/winter 2023 show, sheer separates dominated the runway with delicate gauze knitwear draping effortlessly from runway models’ bodies. Its Katrine Midi Dress is a perfect example of Roge Hove’s take on the sheer trend — it’s not just about being naked but more about the layered details of diaphanous pieces.
Anna Sui SSENSE Exclusive Brown Bodysuit
Anna Sui is an established American designer known for her enduring designs and provocative garments inspired by the personalities of New York City. While mesh, gauze, and chiffon are nothing new for the brand, Anna Sui has increasingly embraced opaque textiles. This craftsmanship can be seen with the Brown Bodysuit, which consists of the brand’s signature youthful energy through the scoop neckline, cap sleeves, and gathering throughout. We love the idea of a sheer bodysuit because it can be styled with any bottom, like a leather skirt or high-waisted jeans, making it more wearable for some.
Nookie Heaven Pant
If you’re looking to dabble with the no-pants look but aren’t sure where to start, try sheer pants like these from Nookie. They feature an all-over lace design that offers more coverage but still exudes risky behavior. Layer them over full-coverage underwear with the matching top, a bra, and a blazer, and you’re ready for a night out on the town.
Blumarine Green Sheer Minidress
Despite being founded in 1977, Blumarine has been having a major comeback. The Italian designer Nicola Brognano, who has worked at both Giambattista Valli and Dolce & Gabbana, took the brand over and revamped it, and found a way to integrate every Gen Z fashion trend into its collections. From low-rise bell bottoms and silk scarf tops to butterfly motifs — seen on Dua Lipa — and sheer frocks, Blumarine is one to keep on your radar. For example, the brand’s Green Sheer Minidress is a ‘00s feast for the eyes with its plunging V-neck, bow accent at the front, and elasticized trim at the waist. It’s an of-the-moment piece that’s playful and sensual and works for anything from date night to happy hour drinks on the beach.
Aisling Camps Modern Mist Turtleneck
Trinidad-born knitwear designer Aisling Camps has come a long way since returning home in 2013 after being unable to break into the fashion industry. Not only did she and her brand gain popularity after a 2018 collaboration with the Kerby Jean-Raymond-helmed Pyer Moss, but she and the brand were also dubbed as one of the Fashion Trust US’ finalists for the St. John Knits award for ready-to-wear. Keeping her roots in mind, she continues to handcraft crochet and macramé pieces with keen attention to fit and form. The Modern Mist Turtleneck speaks to those guidelines because it consists of translucent nylon yarn with a plissé rib knit structure. Team it with a blazer or under a sweater vest for an A+ style statement.
Christopher Esber Sheer Silk Maxi Dress
When Rihanna steps out in a Christopher Esber sheer dress, we know we must get our hands on one. The Sydney-born eponymous label was born in 2010 with a vision of contemporarily fusing masculinity and femininity. This has solidified Esber’s signature flair of deconstructed pieces and sophisticated tailoring that adds chic modernity to simple fabrics. Just look at his Sheer Silk Maxi Dress, and you’ll understand why the brand has shot to It-girl status.
adidas x Ivy Park Light Power Mesh Bodysuit
We already know Beyoncé has signed off on the sheer trend, so it is no surprise that her adidas x Ivy Park collection includes a sheer piece. The Light Power Mesh Bodysuit is made of recycled polyester and elastane and has utilitarian-inspired patches. It also has a snap-button crotch and tight fit, ensuring it comfortably tucks into shorts, baggy jeans, or a skirt.
GSTQ Sheer Bomber Jacket
One of the most approachable ways to wear the trend? A barely there transparent jacket with a visible bralette or plunge bra underneath. GSTQ’s best-selling topper is the perfect option because it has ribbed hems and exaggerated dolman sleeves, making it feel like an elevated bomber jacket. Plus, it’s versatile and can be worn with anything from a mini skirt to straight-leg jeans.
Kitten Jam Dress
Kitten is Los Angeles-based handmade ready-to-wear brand that rejects the seasonal fashion calendar and believes in slow processes. It is 100% sustainable, with pieces carefully curated and released in limited drops using recycled fabric. The Jam Dress, one of Bowman’s favorites, is a staple piece. It’s cut from the brand’s signature deadstock silk-chiffon with a floor-length tiered silhouette, ruched balloon sleeves, and key-hole accents.
Saks Potts Maria Sheer Lace Skirt
Transparent skirts may seem unapproachable, but there are many modest ways to master the look. For example, take Saks Potts’ Maria Skirt that features tulle lace in a floral motif and layer it over a bodycon mini dress. However, if you want to embrace the sheer look and go all out, we recommend you wear it on top of a black bodysuit with the brand’s matching lace shirt.
Norma Kamali Long Gloves
Norma Kamali’s Long Gloves are the easiest way to nail two trends at once — sheer fabrics and opera gloves. They have a semi-sheer finish and an above-the-elbow length, but most of all, they exude main character energy and glamour. They’ll undoubtedly add Old World charm and romance to any look, whether it’s a cocktail dress or high-waisted jeans and a peacoat.
Shop the Best Sheer Dressing Accessories
Perkies Nipple Enhancers
“All bodies are beautiful, and Perkies was created to empower women to celebrate their bodies and give them options,” says Mangiarotti. These Nipple Enhancers are for women who have had mastectomies and want the normalcy of having nipples, as well as any woman who wants to embrace this trend of showing nipples through clothing with consistent perky nips. Perkies Nips work well with everything from tight-fitting tops (especially bodysuits) to silk dresses. “One of my favorite aspects of Perkies Nips is that they can be stuck to the outside of an everyday bra (including sticky bras); this way, shape and lift can be achieved while your nips show,” says Mangiarotti. “Perkies Nips are also waterproof and can be worn under bikinis for women to have that perky look in and out of the water.” The best part? Perkies donates 5% of website sales to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which aims to advance the world’s most promising research to eradicate breast cancer.
What reviewers say: “This is such an amazing and life-changing product for people like me who have inverted nipples, or people like my mother, who underwent a mastectomy surgery from breast cancer! I ordered one for the both of us and we are so excited to feel a new sense of normalcy and confidence! Thank you for creating this product!”
Nue Under Covers
Nue, the boob tape brand founded by editor Stephanie Montes, and loved by celebrities like Pamela Anderson, has just released Nue Under Covers. These pasties come in four shades and feature ultra-stealth silicone to eliminate the risk of nip slips and provide protection. The Under Covers are washable and reusable, so you can wear them repeatedly with multiple uses.
Meet the Author
Nikki Chwatt is the Style Commerce Editor for Footwear News and WWD, where she writes and edits stories on the latest clothing and shoe trends (like the rising sheer clothing trend). She is at the forefront of all consumer trends with a keen eye for the latest, greatest, and classics of what people wear, buy, and love. Additionally, she always keeps up with celebrity and influencer styles, whether on the streets, the runways, or the red carpets, so she can forecast trends and share them with readers.