If you have your finger on the fashion pulse, you can't have missed an awful lot of undies being worn with little else recently on catwalks, red carpets and even maybe your local high street!
In this blog we explore the interesting trend of underwear-as-outerwear or 'pantsless dressing' (American English thank goodness) that is taking the fashion world by storm and what it means for the wearer and the fashion world more broadly.
So, underwear-as-outerwear, what's this all about?
On the runways in 2023 and into the SS24 collections, knickers have been running the show - literally! Designers like Miu Miu, Gucci and Victoria Beckham have all been trying their hand at very visible panties in their own ways. Miu Miu lead the way in this trend during their Autumn/Winter 2023 show when they opted for sparkly briefs over tights in favour of anything else on the bottom. These gorgeous briefs will set you back over £3000, possibly making them the world's most expensive undies and sparked some big conversations in the media and fashion world.
Off the catwalk, celebrities like Beyoncé and Kylie and Kendall Jenner also started to embrace this, shall we say minimalist, trend. Kylie paired some less sparkly Jacquard-Trimmed Stretch Jersey Briefs with a floor length wool coat, while Kendall paired hers with a $4,2000 Bottega Veneta bag and a jumper. Whilst lingerie as festival or 'going-out wear' has been popular for a while (think Coachella 2016), this is perhaps the first time we have seen such a bold embrace of briefs, ranging from the bedazzled to the decidedly more function-forward and perhaps less 'sexy' pairs.
The longer history of underwear-as-outerwear:
Despite the popularity and assumed novelty of wearing your undies and not much else on your bottom (tights are considered conservative), this trend has been around for a lot longer in the mainstream than the fashion industry may like to admit. According to the FIT's Exposed: A History of Lingerie exhibition from 2014, the concept of underwear as outwear extends well into history, but had its first foray into the mainstream in the 1980s and 90s. Madonna's appearance in the Jean-Paul Gaultier cone bra during her 'Blonde Ambition tour' and Princess Diana's iconic Dior slip dress for the 1996 Met Gala are perhaps the most famous examples of this before the turn of the millennium
In different but somewhat similar ways, both these outfits demonstrate the transgressive, radical and often liberating dimension of underwear-as-outerwear. Madonna's cone bra challenged inflexible notions of femininity, masculinity and of what was appropriate to wear on stage. She revealed the beautiful (and controversial) piece from underneath a slashed pinstripe suit at the beginning of her song "Express Yourself", shocking fans and the media with her gender-bending ensemble.
In a similar way, Diana wore a lingerie-inspired slip dress to the Met Gala shortly after her and the then Prince Charles divorced, stirring up considerable controversy. Whilst her outfit lent into notions of mainstream femininity and luxury that Madonna's perhaps resisted, the dress was seen as inappropriate for a Royal and a mother because it was too revealing. Nonetheless many argue that this outfit choice was a moment of confidence, liberation and happiness for Diana as she chose to embrace what made her feel good despite the inevitable limelight.
Is underwear-as-outerwear empowering then?
What both these famous pants moments, as well as the more recent underwear-as-outerwear trend seem to point to, is a move towards reducing the shame and stigma associated with visible underwear and embracing the confidence, liberation and self expression that they can create. Consider the comeback of the visible thong after their naughties hay day for example. Whilst many celebrities were, and still are, 'slut shamed' for their choice of underwear and whether it could be seen or not, today's resurgence and embrace of the visible thong and g-string on red carpets seems to be sending a few pretty clear messages.
Firstly, visible underwear is not something to be ashamed of, whether that is your thong strap or a visible panty line - in fact just having underwear to wear is a privilege and can be embraced rather than hidden. Second, the type of underwear you choose and feel good in doesn't dictate anything about you as a person, unless you want it to. Finally, underwear can be empowering, liberating and sexy - whether it is visible or not.
(Hailey Bieber wearing a bubblegum pink Alexander Wang dress and matching thong to the Met Gala, 2019)
Clearly, there is a strong liberating and empowering potential for wearers of this trend, but is that always the case? Some have argued that underwear-as-outerwear is simply the latest manifestation of fashion's often problematic focus on the female body, and on the particular parts of the body that have long been sexualised - think legs, bums, boobs.
In this view, the visible knicker is the next logical step from bodycon or 'naked' dresses and corsets as tops which constantly demand us to show even more skin and wear even less. These styles also often come with criticism and critique of the body in the underwear or the bodycon if it is anything less than perfect (read hyper-unrealistic body standards).
All in all, underwear-as-outwear gets a mixed review from us. On the one hand, stripping back to the bare basics (literally) has the potential to push the boundaries of fashion in empowering and radical ways, letting us explore our sensuality, gender presentation and body confidence in important ways. However, we must make sure that donning our favourite undies in lieu of trousers is liberating, empowering and playful for all types of body, not just the select few and doesn't reinforce negative pressures on us to bare all. We hope that this increased visibility of pants in the fashion world (again, literally) will also increase the visibility of underwear in all their iterations and importance be that VPLs, thongs and the humble granny pant!
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