The sheer dress on the red carpet, as seen at the recent Met Gala, is constantly challenging our idea of fashion and body and, with the explosion of information on the Internet, this trend of partial-dressing is very likely gaining momentum.
The sheer dress is not just a simple dress because it suggests a state of in-betweenness: half-nakedness or half-nudity. The diverse ways to partly expose the female body is using the most essential element of the wearer — their own flesh and skin, as a source of garment construction and surface decoration. It is an interesting idea that has stepped on the thin threshold of culture and nature.
The history of being undressed is at least as long as the history of being dressed. Not that being unclothed is a state of savage or pristine, but undeniably, being undressed suggests the deprivation to of clothes that protect our body and more importantly, defend our ego. Therefore, it is associated with the loss of power, a state of inferiority and even falling prey to voyeurism.
Of course, it can also generate contrasting meanings, as in art and politics. Getting undressed, or nude in these cases, is a wholly conscious action that firstly attracts the public’s eye, and then diverts their attention to the hidden messages. In this way, being unclothed is the means to a final purpose, and produces a very strong and positive connotation.
The state of partially undressed, or partially dressed is another matter. In fashion, it suggests active exposure of our skin, usually in an attempt to attract attention. There are in fact strict rules in terms of the way the body is exposed, and disparate mental associations depending on social and cultural contexts. A sheer dress under the spotlight can be traced back all the way to the beginning of the 20th century. A famous example from the mid-century is the sheer dress Marilyn Monroe wore when singing Happy Birthday Mr President. It is almost transparent and extremely tight and revealing, as if Monroe is being alone with Kennedy in private and well, thinking of that, it’s not that shocking after all.
A sheer dress may be achieved in a zillion ways. Nude colours that resemble the skin; transparent fabric under which the real flesh is looming; cutouts that show the (usually carefully trained and therefore perfect) body parts; the body-conscious silhouette that, instead of flattering the original shapes, uncovers the real curves underlying the fabrics. The best balance is reached when the slither of skin is exposed, enough to ignite interest and still leaves some space for our imagination.
Another code is that women, instead of men, are inclined to expose their body. It always works in terms of attracting public attention and generating a topic. Especially in today’s world where information flows so fast that the more daring and, er, unconventional the female body is bared, the more likely it will be hyped. Unfortunately, it is almost an innate psychological response for us to tell “the physical” and “the mental” apart, which means that if a celebrity wants people to notice their talent, intelligence, or other professional qualities, it is better not to associate these with their physical allure.
Is it worth a try on the red carpet then? It depends on the sort of public image the celebrity wants to establish. Also bear in mind that if the goal is simply to attract attention, there is always another way that could be just as effective. In fact, it would be very interesting to see another shocking pink dress — a pink shade that is not reminiscent of the skin tone.
Words: Yi Tang
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