“Model bares all” read the all-too-familiar headlines last week, after Australian runway star Roberta Pecoraro attended a Cartier party wearing a stunning sculptural dress by Aussie designer Christopher Esber. The dress was sheer, and Pecoraro wore it braless with demure white pants, to dazzling effect.
The 27-year-old joins a growing number of celebrities — among them Florence Pugh, Emrata, Hailey Bieber, Julia Fox and Olivia Wilde — who have hit the headlines for wearing semi (or entirely) transparent dresses. In fact, the naked dress (as it has been dubbed) has become de rigueur for anyone wishing to make a splash on a red carpet or at a celebrity bash. This winter, though, it’s not just Hollywood A-listers that are slipping into something see-through. Pop your head in at any of London’s hottest parties and you’ll find half the cool kids wearing something semi sheer, with the ‘naked dress’ a standout.
“It’s a core dress style for the party season, and one for our most bold and risqué customers,” says Libby Page, market director at Net-a-Porter, which has bought heavily into sheer styles from the likes of Saint Laurent and London labels 16 Arlington and Nensi Dojaka.
”The thing is, I don’t actually feel naked; I feel completely clothed,” says former Vogue editor and all-round cool girl Tish Weinstock, who has been shimmying to soirées in ethereal sheer gowns longer than most. She chose a semi-transparent vintage Galliano dress for one of the three looks she wore to marry her long-time beau Tom Guinness at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire the other week.
“I’ve always loved that soft Goth/ faded grandeur aesthetic and have been collecting vintage 30s lace dresses since I was about 18 or 19,” says the beauty journalist. “There’s something about their diaphanous quality, the way they fall off the body, as opposed to being very fitted, which to me feels very sexy.”
She found the Galliano gown, from the designer’s Fall 2009 Iced Maiden collection, scrolling vintage sellers on Instagram, and immediately knew the bluish grey “whisper of a dress” was the one. She removed the slip that had been added by a previous owner in order to stay true to Galliano’s original runway vision, which made it incredibly sheer “even for me… but I knew I was going to have extra-long wavy extensions which would be able to cover my modesty.”
Her friend, the influencer Camille Charrière, has also become a poster girl for pant-flashing partywear. Her debut collection for Mango that dropped last week featured two transparent mesh maxi dresses (both of which have almost sold out), and for her wedding reception back in March Charrière rocked a see-through white Harris Reed dress made from upcycled lace. “One big question was what underwear to wear — this was a real headache,” Camille told Vogue at the time. She settled in the end for La Perla, “because that’s exactly what one wants to be wearing to enter married life.”
Sheer dressing once meant nailing the right nude knickers, but the next gen naked dress is all about visible underwear. A simple black or white brief (or thong, depending how spicy you’re feeling) keeps it chic, and when it comes to the dress itself, the season’s coolest come minimal in fuss-free silhouettes. There has been “a complete shift away from the high-octane glamour that has dominated the space for the past few seasons, to a more understated approach,” says Page, who advocates “embracing nudity in a subtle and chic way.”
Sound confusing? If in doubt, do as London’s cool girls are doing, and shop vintage. “These garments have an age to them, a quality, and a rich history of another life, which, to me, prevents foregoing a bra from becoming vulgar,” says Weinstock, whose favourite sellers are Mairead Lewin, Shrimpton Couture, Turner Vintage and Timeless Vixen. “I spend way too much time hunting down sheer dresses.”
It was Turner Vintage that Kate Moss turned to for the incredible plunging cowl neck sheer silver dress she wore to Diet Coke’s 40th birthday party in early November; a look that echoed the now-iconic transparent silver slip dress she wore to a party back in 1993. Moss was, as with most trends, an early pioneer.
“Didn’t she look amazing!” says Shani Turner, founder of Turner Vintage, noting that Mossy’s silver gown was an Assuit dress, a type of Egyptian bridal gown made from solid silver mesh that became popular with flappers in the Twenties. “The Assuit dresses are just going through the roof at the moment,” says Turner, stressing how tricky the originals are to come by. “Everybody wants one!”
Turner, who sold Kate the blue Assuit dress she wore to Weinstock’s wedding plus a black and pink one, has noticed a growing appetite for flesh-flashing styles. “All the hip girls are wearing all the sexy stuff… Low-front, see-through. It’s a big trend.”
But is there a dark side to all this joyous titillation? After an SS23 fashion month in which the runways noticeably regressed in terms of diversity, and amidst swirling —and often toxic — headlines about the return of super-thin as an aesthetic (“Bye-bye booty: Heroin chic is back” said the New York Post, subtle as sledgehammer), it’s not unreasonable to wonder if this bare-all trend inevitably alienates those lacking jutting hips and enviable abs; or worse, promotes super-thinness as an ideal. However, one look at Lizzo hitting Cardi B’s birthday in an iridescent lilac crystal-covered mesh maxi dress from US designer Mathew Reisman or plus-size model Alva Clare walking 16 Arlington’s SS23 show in a sheer sequinned maxi and it’s clear the semi-naked dress — done right — looks sensational on everyone.
“Sheer pieces are worn and designed with a much more body positive mindset than the Nineties heyday,” says Natalie Dickson, head of women’s luxury at FLANNELS. “Now it’s about celebrating a diversity of forms as opposed to a singular vision of how women should look ‘naked’. It’s representative of a cultural shift in who and what our role models are.”
Certainly there’s a sheer delight out there for everyone, but how readily can we adopt the naked dress IRL? Florence Pugh might comfortably free her nipples on a red carpet and Kate Moss can easily slip from cab to (Diet) coke-fuelled party without much concern for her relative state of undress, but those not blessed with a celeb lifestyle may find the prospect of tackling the Tube in little more than lingerie a tad daunting. Knicker-flashing numbers are probably not right for your office Christmas party or mulled wine at your in-laws, but for a suitably fab and festive occasion a mesh moment is undoubtedly a way to make an impact — and, according to Weinstock, feel “incredibly empowered.” The question is: Do you dare to bear?