Squint and spring 2023 looks like a Y2K reboot filled with slip dresses, lace details and mesh separates as far as the eye can see.
And data would certainly confirm the “lingerie and sheer on repeat” sentiment coined by La Samaritaine’s Victoria Dartigues right after Paris Fashion Week.
According to fashion search engine Tagwalk, 59 percent of the 247 designers who put on shows during the fashion month included lingerie and a whopping 77 percent included transparent looks in their spring 2023 collection.
But seeing all this as solely ‘90s nostalgia or a “turn of the Millennium” redux is oversimplification, according to observers.
For Tiffany Hsu, Mytheresa’s vice president, womenswear and kidswear fashion buying, this new iteration is part of an overarching movement celebrating the female form.
“It is women dressing for themselves and celebrating their female power,” she noted, pointing out the popularity of styles designed to highlight the female form in a way that is “very sensual and sexy without being vulgar.”
Tasteful execution and a lack of sexual charge are essential, agreed 2021 LVMH Prize winner Nensi Dojaka, who believes the spring 2023 runways brought back an idea that originated in the ‘90s, where “there was a lot of transparency and somehow it was much more accepted.”
Showing the body “started more as a trend, continued and is becoming a statement of empowerment and making the female body ‘acceptable,’ instead of being either scared [of seeing it] or sexualizing it,” said the London-based designer.
After decades of feminist struggles and an increased focus on making public spaces safer for women, more revealing styles echoed the sentiment that “you have the right to be who you are and this doesn’t give others any rights on you,” concurred Laurence Dekowski, director of the lingerie and children’s wear departments at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche.
In her opinion, this signaled an empowered consumer, no longer beholden to style prescriptions or notions of age, and who takes these looks to the street, styled for daytime, instead of limiting them to partywear or evenings out.
That’s a novel twist, too. Rather than coming from solely from designers and their shows, “influence and agenda is driven by the street rather than the reverse,” noted Dr. Carolyn Mair, behavioral psychologist, business consultant, and author of “The Psychology of Fashion.”
“One way of looking at it is that people are more confident about their bodies,” she said, noting that once-narrow definitions of physical beauty have been mostly blown out of the water.
At a time where “everybody feels that they can have a place at the fashion table,” saying “you can only wear a lingerie out if you’re ‘body beautiful’ is not going to cut it anymore,” Mair continued.
“Pride is gradually becoming central to fashion. Pride of bodies, of their differences and their multiplicity,” agreed Paris-based designer Alice Vaillant, whose two-year-old label Vaillant hinges on clingy transparent looks and lingerie details.
Nudity is an act of reappropriation, necessary to “reclaim our bodies against those who use them for their own interest,” she continued, especially coming from her “generation, that refuses to be pinned down [and] celebrates diversity and different femininities and masculinities.”
This echoed the underlying idea behind the 2014 “Exposed: A History of Lingerie” exhibition at Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, that recast undergarments as shapers not only of the female body’s appearance but also female demeanor.
“The problem is so not so much [showing] the body of women as [seeing] it with the gaze of the dominant, the male gaze,” continued Vaillant, who considers that pride and self-assurance is a tool for emancipation but also as a vector for change.
With seduction and sexuality pushed to the side, Mair reads body-baring styles as a phase in an individual’s style, with the cursor positioned by other cues such as how they present themselves, their overall wardrobe or even cosmetics.
Take younger generations for whom playing with fashion is about “verifying their identity, to navigate who they are in the world that they exist in,” she continued.
And that world is grim. Beyond signifiers of individuality, these lightweight looks carry “the gravity of our times,” noted fashion historian and Palais Galliera curator Alexandre Samson, be it geopolitical uncertainties, over two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, the rise of extreme ideologies and attacks on women’s reproductive rights.
He outlined a genealogy that encompassed the spring 2023, Ester Manas’ debut, earlier works of Atlein or Ottolinger, the transparent interplays seen in Casey Cadwallader’s Mugler and beyond to Stella McCartney-era Chloé, Chantal Thomass in the ’80s and the cutouts seen in Loris Azzaro’s work in the ’70s, and his dresses “made for sexual liberation.”
In his opinion, this aesthetic is “a mirror of the culture that marked the beginning of globalization of fashion,” viewed with cynical hindsight as incoming generations start to digest that era with two-plus decades of distance.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this proposition was starting to emerge,” he continued, echoing the data-driven view offered by Tagwalk, where the “transparent” tag emerging as a constant among the top tags used to describe spring collections of leading brands since 2017, foreshadowing the return of underwear as outerwear.
As governments tighten controls, challenging norms through clothing may be a way to show agency and freedom of expression in a different way.
Faced with “forces of regression,” consumers and designers could be reacting through extravagance and lightness — of textiles and silhouettes — speculated Dekowski.
“When we lacked control, we try to take control whenever and wherever we can, and we can certainly do that with clothes — if we have the confidence to carry it off,” Mair said.