See-through dresses – those titillating and, on occasion, eyebrow-raising garments – are kept aside by most for special occasions or one-off styles. Yet as the catwalks usher in novel ways to wear these designs, it’s time to take a fresh look at the trend. After all, sheer dresses for day and night captivated in collections from designers as diverse as Christopher Kane and Lanvin.
While iconic figures have been pulling off see-through dresses throughout the decades, it's time to take the new versions from the cocktail hour to the daily commute.
The see-through dresses trend has been causing a stir among onlookers since long before the famous crystal-encrusted Givenchy illusion gown made its appearance at the Met Gala in 2015. Some 62 years prior, Marlene Dietrich – ever the sartorial innovator – donned a sparkling Jean Louis dress with a translucent, low-cut, figure-hugging top half during a performance in Las Vegas. It was considered shocking at the time – and would likely still result in a few thinkpieces today.
Perhaps inspired by her French partner Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin took risqué Parisian styling to the maximum decades later with a black sheer mini while at the height of her fame. She went braless under the form-fitting long-sleeved dress – not unlike those at Balmain for SS17 – and cemented her reputation as a sartorial provocateur. The icon also paired the garment with her trademark milkmaid-esque basket bag to give it an incongruously rustic twist.
Consider taking a tip from Birkin and teaming see-through dresses – whether as revealing as hers or not – with just one accessory in a contrasting theme. A playfully embellished micro bag in pop-art hues from Les Petits Joueurs would work formidably.
In 1974, Cher wore an ever-so-slightly more demure – but just as eye-catching – sheer dress by Bob Mackie. While she appeared nearly naked under the almost translucent skin-toned fabric, the sequins scattered over the fabric skirt and the feathery fringing flaring from the arms and skirt drew the eye away from the provocative sheerness. This bestowed the piece with a sense of balance and an ethereal appeal that kept the look sensual rather than sexual – an elegant way to wear sheer dresses.
Transparent dresses by day
The aforementioned icons saved translucent gowns for the evening, but they're just as appropriate for daytime in an age when practically anything goes when it comes to clothing. One way to wear a see-through dress by day is to pull on a nonchalant ensemble underneath a gossamer-thin outer layer. Consider a slogan tee – another prominent trend in SS17 – from Paco Rabanne under a pinafore dress before finishing with a flimsy and translucent garment over the top.
The best thing about this versatile outfit is that anything goes. Want to wear it with trainers? Slip on a pair of hi-tops and hit the shops with gusto. Fancy extending the life of last season’s metallic slip? It’ll pair perfectly with a floor-length, iridescent outer layer with sleeves. And this kind of translucency at the office is by no means out of question.
Alternatively, look to Simone Rocha, whose flouncy dresses for SS17 were semi-sheer rather than all-out transparent and thus far more wearable than their underwear-baring counterparts. The designer used frills, floral prints and draping to cover up the risqué parts of the models’ figures.
Seeing evening through
How to wear a see-through dress by night? Sports-luxe remained a core trend in SS17 – with an emphasis on the luxe – and it provides the perfect solution for nailing the see-through dresses trend come evening time. Fendi championed the aesthetic with one of its ensembles for SS17, juxtaposing an almost-transparent midi dress with a turtleneck crop top and Flashdance-inspired gym shorts. A pop of futurism in the form of metallic makeup and structured booties kept the look modern.
For something even more fun and frothy, Molly Goddard revelled in tulle for SS17 by slipping prom-dress-style layers over high-waisted knickers and bralettes, providing just enough coverage to ensure the wearer would remain comfortable. Other fashion houses, such as Dior, dressed their models in mini-skirts before adding tulle dresses in the same shades over the top – a fun ensemble that references the trend without actually baring any skin.
Another way to wear see-through dresses while covering up is to embrace the underwear as outerwear look. Instead of slipping a sheer gown over your outfit, consider lacing a structured corset over a gauzy gown and leggings instead.