Here’s Why You’re Seeing Sheer Clothes Everywhere Right Now

Illustrated by Lindsay Hattrick

It’s not a trend, it’s a movement

The “Free the Nipple” movement has been in and out of the spotlight for the past couple of years now, making its way onto the red carpet by way of our favorite celebrities, to our own Instagram feeds, and even to theaters. But based on this past September and October’s Fashion Month shows, it’s pretty clear that sheer clothing and, along with it, the embrace of subtle nudity, is less of a trend and more of a movement—one that's increasingly normalized off the runway as well.

The presence of nudity on the runways is certainly nothing new, but it's become common now to see a fashion editor sitting front row wearing an entirely see-through dress paired with only a bra and underwear, or an influencer walking down the street in a PVC, organza, or mesh top with nothing underneath. But what does it all mean? Is the sheer look just another grandpa sneaker or a leopard print coat? Or is it a sign of a fucking revolution?

Being a woman in 2018 is no easy feat. We are using our platforms to speak up about everything from sexual assault to the lack of equality in the workforce, but we’re still being dismissed, we're being punished, we’re being blamed for our own encounters with harassment and assault, and we’re being mocked. Or we’re, understandably, still scared shitless to speak up. And we’re angry—god, are we angry. So it only makes sense that we'd dress in a way that is intentionally provocative, a big middle finger to those trying to silence us.

“The recent trend of sheer and transparent clothing and ‘Free the Nipple’ can be directly related to women’s perceptions of cultural conformity and a direct rebellion against these often unspoken standards that pertain to women,” says Dr. Ariane Machin, psychologist and co-founder of the Conscious Coaching Collective. “This is especially pertinent in light of the collective unity of the #MeToo movement. While women had been silent and silenced in the past, they have found their bold voice to speak their truth. This truth can be spoken in many different ways, with fashion being one outlet for this voice.”

Machin goes on to explain, “I think this [trend] is partially related to our general experience of feeling like we need to be more submissive, grateful, quiet, thankful, etc. This is a fashion wave that is sending a non-verbal message that we will not be silent anymore, we will not be controlled by others, and that we are holding our own power.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time women have turned to fashion as a means of rebellious expression. “Historically, women’s fashion has always responded to politics of the day,” says sex therapist Stefani Goerlich, LMSW. “In my mind, fashion has been a safe outlet for women to rebel against stifling political climates because it is seen as something frivolous and trivial. It makes perfect sense that when women’s voices and ideas are marginalized, we would turn to the uniquely feminine language of fashion to communicate our feelings on the issues of the day.”

It also isn’t the first time that women have used their bodies as a political voice, either, as Goerlich explains:

Women have only begun to find their political voice in the last century or so. We’ve had the right to vote in America for less than 100 years and were still considered legal extensions of our husbands up until the mid-1970s. When we do not have a platform to be heard within the realm of government, we find other ways to communicate exactly how we feel about those doing the governing. Using our bodies to make a political statement is a long-standing tradition, and when women today proclaim “Free the Nipple” or use their sexuality to push back on a culture that oppresses them, they are simply forming the next generation of a longtime tradition.

At the same time, sheer clothing is growing in popularity to prove the point that the way women dress has, in fact, no effect on our risk of encountering sexual harassment or assault. “Thanks to the #MeToo movement, there is a deeper understanding today of how little we can do to protect ourselves from sexual harassment, assault, and objectification,” says Goerlich. “The stories being shared are happening in every setting, to women of every age, religion, and ethnicity, regardless of what they were doing or who they were with. Because for many women, the perception of risk is the same whether we're wearing a maxi dress or short-shorts and a bra top. The choice becomes one more of personal empowerment—why not wear what makes you feel most beautiful and confident, regardless?”

Most importantly, though, this trend is the direct result of women everywhere feeling more empowered to embrace themselves and their bodies, despite particularly trying times. Think of how many body positive brands and campaigns have popped up over the past few years. We’re no longer dressing “sexy,” but rather, dressing however the hell we want, so long that it makes us feel good in our own skin.

This is how Hilary Taymour, designer of Collina Strada—the label behind the sheer dresses and tops seen everywhere at NYFW—sees it: “I feel like women are finally claiming their bodies back. It’s important for us to be able to wear whatever makes us feel empowered. The concept of dressing for a man is disappearing, and the concept of dressing for other women is also disappearing. It’s a whole new territory of dressing for you, which is a beautiful and powerful thing.”

As a designer that often features sheer pieces and nudity in her collections, Taymour feels that nudity isn’t necessarily something to be sexualized—a point she finds important during a time where women are sexualized on a daily basis. “I want to truly stake a claim that nudity is not consent, or sexual. It takes a lot for people to wrap their head around the concept of being naked without it being sexual. I just want to help them with that process.”

So, yes, the sheer trend is, in fact, an act of rebellion, whether we're reclaiming our bodies, or we're embracing our sexuality and using it to fight back. “Andre Leon Talley said that fashion is how we demonstrate to others how we wish to be treated,” says Goerlich. “Whether we’re talking about modesty or nudity, the thing that turns a wardrobe choice into a radical act is the intention behind it. Whenever a woman looks at what society expects of her and makes a conscious decision to move in another direction—be that by covering her hair or by exposing her nipples—she’s making a political statement about the world she lives in—and, more importantly, about the world she wants to create.”

And this world we’re creating? It’s one in which we’re no longer afraid, no longer going to stand for being dismissed, and certainly no longer going to keep quiet.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds



Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.