The Sheer Power of Transparent Clothing

The Sheer Power of Transparent Clothing

There is incredible power in choosing to reveal one’s body. In 1998, Rose McGowan wore a beaded, chain-mail-esque dress over only a leopard-print thong to the VMAs; decades later she shared that it was her first red carpet since she was allegedly raped by Harvey Weinstein in 1997. “That was my first public appearance after being sexually assaulted,” she told Dr. Oz in 2018. “I was like, Is this what you want? That was a political statement.” The conversation around a revealing dress can change culture as well. Jennifer Lopez’s iconic green Versace gown at the 2000 Grammys—sheer with a plunging neckline—drove so many internet searches that it spurred the invention of Google Images.

Pseudo-nudity had its moment in the sun in 2008, thanks to the likes of Christian Dior and Chloé. But the shock value of diaphaneity peaked in 2014 when Rihanna accepted the CFDA fashion icon of the year award in a completely transparent Adam Selman number, covered only by a nude thong and fur pashmina. With her trademark blend of confidence and cheek, Rihanna became the perfect ambassador for the trend, flouncing criticism and encouraging empowerment. Others soon followed suit: Beyoncé rubber-stamped the naked dress at the 2015 Met Gala in a bejeweled Givenchy ensemble while Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid tackled their own interpretations for the 2017 Met Gala.

Sheerness came back in full force in 2022 and shows no sign of slowing down. Chanel, Nensi Dojaka, Prada, Ferragamo, Dion Lee, Rodarte, Emilia Wickstead, Heron Preston, Rick Owens, LaQuan Smith, and Y/Project are among labels that have played with transparency in recent collections.

The daring choice isn’t popular just on the runway: Ciara, Janelle Monáe, Emily Ratajkowski, Ashley Graham, Julia Garner, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Emma Chamberlain, and Hailee Steinfeld all opted for sheer gowns at the Vanity Fair Oscar party alone. Even men are getting in on the trend, with Austin Butler and Shawn Mendes each stepping out in various states of undress. Some, including Kendall and Kylie Jenner and Hailey Bieber, have turned the look on its head, opting to try tights as pants.

While increasingly popular, the look is still subject to much sensationalism and even vitriol. When Florence Pugh attended the 2022 Valentino Haute Couture show in a transparent hot pink gown, she was subject to much pearl clutching. But true to the fearless spirit of the sheer dress, Pugh fought back. “It has always been my mission in this industry to say ‘fuck it and fuck that’ whenever anyone expects my body to morph into an opinion of what’s hot or sexually attractive,” she wrote.

For the first time, we seem to be pushing more boundaries with sheerness. Labels have long sent models’ exposed breasts down the runway, but nowadays celebrities and regular people alike are more inclined to bare it all. Perhaps it’s an act of cultural pushback against the government’s puritanical restrictions on women’s bodies. Maybe it’s a sign that we shouldn’t be so concerned with our own nakedness. No matter how you wear it, sheer is sexy, subversive, and powerful. If you feel like kicking up a little intrigue, Vogue has rounded up some of the best moments in transparent fashion to help inspire you.