Now you see it, now don’t you? After more than a decade of dominating the red carpet, the nude dress could be the end of it.
The barely-there dresses were barely there at the last MTV Video Music Awards.
Instead, the rug — black, not red — has been obscured by trains, capes, feathers, ruffles and other fruits of fashion’s post-pandemic maximalist turn.
Even one of the show’s skimpiest looks, Taylor Swift’s backless Oscar de la Renta, somehow managed to be minimalist and maximalist at the same time, substituting dazzling chains for fabric.
There may have been a lot of skin showing, but it wasn’t highlighted by sheer or flesh-colored fabrics.
A nude dress is a bit like US Judge Potter Stewart’s aphorism about pornography: you know it if you see it — or don’t see it. “Nude dress” may be an oxymoron, but it’s an apt description of garments that reveal as much as they conceal, being sheer, nude, skintight, or all of the above.
Though often dismissed as attention-grabbing (and attention-grabbing) “thirst traps,” these nude dresses have often served as powerful instruments of female sexual agency throughout fashion history.
In more buttoned-up times, the term meant strapless dresses, not see-through ones. When couturier Mainbocher introduced the gravity-defying robes in 1934, journalists marveled that they seemed to “miraculously stay in place,” as New York World Telegram noted fashion editor Gertrude Bailey.
A similar tailoring trick produced “illusion dresses” which closely resembled the nude dress as we know it. First worn by burlesque artists and showgirls, they migrated to film studios and adorned early screen sirens like Theda Bara, Mae West and Marlene Dietrich.
The style went mainstream when Marilyn Monroe was sewn into an illusion dress made by Hollywood costumer Jean Louis for singing Happy Birthday to President John F. Kennedy at a 1962 Democratic Party fundraiser in Madison Square Garden.
The beaded silk soufflé, dyed to match Monroe’s complexion, disappeared into the stage lights; To the audience it looked like she was dressed only in rhinestones.
Almost see-through dresses graced the runways and red carpets again and again in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. But they weren’t called “naked clothes” until 1998, as an early installment of sex in the city reinvented the term. Carrie Bradshaw wore what her stiff friend Charlotte disapprovingly called a “naked dress” on a date with Mr Big.
However, Carrie’s dress wasn’t a showgirl-style evening dress, or even what we might today call a “nude dress.” Instead it was a backless slip dress – short but not transparent.
More importantly, the matte putty color didn’t match the glowing rose gold of actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s skin, creating no illusion of nudity.
Nonetheless, “nude dress” reflected the stripped-down minimalism of 1990s fashion, which New York Museum curator at the Fashion Institute of Technology Colleen Hill has called a reaction to the more-is-more aesthetic of the 1980s and the resulting recession .
Like Botticelli VenusThe nude dress emerged from the era’s neutral tones and smooth, unadorned silhouettes, which exposed new areas of the female anatomy: diaphragm, hip bones, bottom cleavage.
The term “side-boob” was coined in 1994 (by actor Mike Myers, according to the Oxford English Dictionary) to describe a whole new erogenous zone, showcased through the revealing styles; Liz Hurley appeared in Versace’s black safety-pin gown that same year.
In the early 2000s, sideboob was the new cleavage, the theme of Think Pieces salon and the New York Times. “Part of its appeal is that it suggests something to reveal . . . while at the same time keeping its wearer covered”, salon explained.
Similarly, nude dresses offered the illusion of nudity rather than reality; Instead of exposing a single part of the body, they forced the eye to roam around and take in the entire silhouette.
The nude dress trend was directly responsible for one of the most important innovations to emerge from the dot-com boom: Google Images.
When Jennifer Lopez attended the 2000 Grammy Awards in a plunging, sheer Versace silk gown held together only by a citrine brooch and double-sided tape, she broke the internet.
“At the time, that was the most popular search query we’ve ever seen,” recalls former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. “But we didn’t have a surefire way to give users exactly what they wanted: JLo is wearing this dress.”
Search results generated simple text pages with links; Google realized it needed an image search tool and developed one, launching in 2001.
The dress that launched Google Images raised the bar for red carpet style and—more than a decade before Instagram—shaped social media’s role in setting fashion trends (and sharing NSFW photos ( not suitable for work).
It’s a look guaranteed to make people look twice, so it’s no wonder the nude dress has become a red carpet mainstay in the digital age.
With so many fashion designers clamoring for free publicity — and so many photographers and journalists dying to give it to them — celebrities were making ever-greater efforts to get noticed.
Thanks to the step-and-repeat backdrop – a temporary wall covered with sponsor logos – and the immediate upload to social media, the red carpet became a digital advertising space.
With its boldness and trompe l’oeil look, the nude dress was the perfect clickbait. Walking the fine line between exposure and overexposure required only one tool: confidence.
Nude dresses are fashion statements in more ways than one. At the 2002 Academy Awards, Halle Berry’s burgundy Elie Saab gown, with a full satin skirt and sheer bodice adorned with strategically placed ties of floral embroidery, raised eyebrows.
Although Berry had one of Hollywood’s most famous bodies, the bombastic look was at odds with the dramatic role she was nominated for in the feel-bad film monster ball.
But later that night, when Berry became the first (and, to date, only) black woman to win the Oscar for best actress, it suddenly seemed fitting that she should show off her skin proudly on a red carpet that wasn’t always welcoming to women of color.
The move embodied how naked clothing empowered women who might be overlooked due to stereotypes or bigotry.
As a fashion and makeup entrepreneur, Barbados-born singer/actress Rihanna has been open about offering options for a wide range of sizes and skin tones, so it’s fitting that she’s repeatedly shown that she’s confident in her own skin feels comfortable (and not much more). ) on the red carpet. .
Given the history of naked dresses, it’s a shame their days might be numbered. (©Washington Post)
Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is a fashion historian. Her latest book is Rocks: Fashioning Modern Femininity in the Twentieth Century.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/the-naked-dress-why-barely-there-gowns-are-slowly-vanishing-into-history-41970197.html The “Naked Dress”: Why barely-there clothes are slowly disappearing into history