Highsnobiety

Summer of Sexy: This summer, Highsnobiety explores all the ways personal style transcends what we wear. This special series delves into critical discussions and stories that highlight the body as a site of expression and exploration – social, sexual, and psychological. Check back throughout the week for Omar Apollo’s digital cover, a photo essay on fashion’s greatest (ass)et, the butt, the history of “Lesbian Chic,” and a reported feature on the data that shows just how much the freedom to dress cannot be overstated.

Fashion month is all about clothes, right? For one whole month of the year, people who wouldn’t normally pay attention to fashion direct their full attention to them as designers present their latest pieces to buyers, celebrities, editors, and fans alike. But lately, several brands have used a lack of clothing to leverage all that attention and start a new conversation: What if fashion isn’t just about clothes and how we wear them, but which clothes we’re not wearing at all? 

 From bejeweled undies at Miu Miu to JW Anderson’s speedo-like briefs to underwear layered over sweatpants at Dsquared2, several luxury labels are fashioning undergarments as outerwear and sending models down the runway in nothing but boxers. “Naked dressing,” it’s been called, and it features nothing but panties south of the waist. 

Celebrities are on board with the trend. In 2023, model Kendall Jenner generated headlines after she paired a crew neck with nothing but black underwear and tights (the entire outfit was plucked from Bottega Veneta’s Spring/Summer 2023 collection). A year later, actress Kristen Stewart went sans pants to the premiere of Love Lies Bleeding. And she nearly broke the internet days later when she was spotted out in New York City wearing a pair of cashmere briefs from Brunello Cucinelli’s SS24 collection. 

Even though bathing suits are essentially the same thing as naked dressing, exposing your groins when there’s no beach around can be, understandably, a little shocking.  Underwear, unlike a bathing suit, is  inherently intimate — the fabric is thinner, and it tends to show regions known by five-year-olds as “the privates.” To make these things visible to the public can be considered distasteful. Privates are supposed to be private, and we’re “supposed” to be ashamed of our sexual organs — and there are laws in place to reinforce such beliefs. 

from left to right: Symone is wearing jacket CASABLANCA Underwear and socks BODE, Tora is wearing top and belt NATASHA ZINKO Jacket PDF CHANNEL Underwear GUESS USA Glasses OAKLEY Jewelry SWAROVSKI, jacket and shoes PDF CHANNEL Underwear GUESS USA Glasses OAKLEY
Highsnobiety / Elinor Kry, Highsnobiety / Elinor Kry

But what exactly we as a global society think of as “private” tends to shift. And throughout fashion history, undergarments have steadily turned into outer garments as social mores shifted. What we’re seeing with naked dressing on the runway and worn by celebs is just history doing what history tends to: repeat itself.

The chemise is an early example of a once-hidden undergarment that, over time, became visible. Essentially a loose dress, the chemise was treated as an undergarment — a nightgown, if you will — by European women during the 16th and 17th centuries. But in the Caribbean, local women during this same period wore lightweight gowns as outfits, thanks to the warm climate.  

Around the 18th century, French colonizers began copying Caribbean women and eventually, their style made its way to Versailles. The attire was controversially popularized by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress (1783), a famous portrait of the Queen wearing a white, ruffled gown with nothing layered over it. The public was outraged to see a high-ranking woman wearing a nightgown, an item most Europeans considered appropriate only in the privacy of one’s bedroom.

The chemise isn’t the only undergarment that became an outer staple. From the 17th to early 20th centuries, the supportive brace known as the corset was widely worn by women (and some men in the mid-19th-20th century) as an undergarment. The corset’s boning and lacing system was believed to aid in improving posture, create a smooth line, and, of most concern at the time, manipulate the body to appear slimmer.

As an undergarment, the corset largely fell out of favor in the 1900s. But in the late 20th and early 21st century, it was revived as outerwear. Thanks to pioneers like Vivienne Westwood, the de-stigmatization of fetish culture, and the 2001 film Moulin Rouge!, the corset saw a major resurgence in popularity as a top itself. 

And we can’t forget the simple white T-shirt, a basic nearly everyone has in their closet (or perhaps on their body right now). Early T-shirts weren’t meant to be worn alone: They were first mass produced for the Navy, and were intended to be worn under each serviceman’s uniform. 

The T-shirt rose in popularity following World War II as veterans continued wearing them after returning home —  the garment was comfortable and convenient to throw on. It then became a fashion item in the 1950s, when heartthrobs like Marlon Brando and James Dean began wearing clingy T-shirts that showed off their physique. The T-shirt had morphed into a symbol of masculinity for young men.

Looking back on this truncated evolution of undergarments turned outer garments, it's already clear that as society changed, its ideas about what was appropriate to wear out of the house changed too. Over the last two decades, Western society has seemingly opted out of the numerous undergarments people were once expected to wear. Underwear is no longer just a practical necessity, but, in some cases, a stylistic choice. Who knows —  maybe in a few years we will all be pulling up to our nine-to-fives in button downs and underpants.

  • Photography by Elinor Kry
  • Styled bySophie Bohmeier and Talia Restrepo
  • Makeup & HairChristina Wu
  • Production & CastingMJ Perez
  • Production AssistantsOwen Berg and Corinne Bickel
  • Shot on location atSmile Lab NY, Bar Madonna
  • AgencyKev Mgmt
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