The Return of the Naked Dress

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She’s back and better than ever, and no this isn’t in reference to a celebrity who is making a comeback. The naked dress, which was trending a few years ago thanks to Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Kim Kardashian, is back and more glam and glitz than ever. It’s no secret that sex sells—ad agencies have proven ad nauseum that a beautiful woman in a skimpy outfit can sell product. In this age of celebrity royalty, marketers understand that no one sells sex better than a physically fit celebrity.The naked dress has become a cyclical staple of the celebrity red carpets, trending in-and-out of style every few years to being reinvented and welcomed back like a long-lost friend. The idea behind the naked dress is strategically placed embellishments and just the right amount of peek-a-boo skin before it borders on indecent exposure chic.

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The naked dress isn’t an invention of this decade. This fashion phenomenon goes back even before Hollywood’s va va voom glamazons–Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Mamie van Doren, and Carol Baker.  Even Barbra Streisand wore a very revealing Arnold Scassi sheer black pantsuit when she won the Oscar for “Funny Girl.”  Marilyn Monroe famously wore a bedazzled, barely-there gown when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy at a birthday celebration in New York City before a crowd of 15,000 people in 1962. Monroe’s rendition of “Happy Birthday” with her nude-toned skintight dress will go down as an iconic moment in entertainment history.

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Cher’s exposing skin moment comes in a close second to Monroe when she won the Oscar for “Moonstruck” in 1988. Cher, who worked closely with designer Bob Mackie, had Mackie create a dress that was bold with strategically placed black sequins, and all about her very fit body. This wasn’t the first time Mackie outfit her in a nude dress either. At the 1974 Met Gala the designer created a sheer feathered dress for Cher that at the time was one of the most provocative looks ever seen at The Met Gala.

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No one would make a statement that bold again until actress Rose McGowan bared it all at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. The actress showed up with Marilyn Manson as her date (as if that wasn’t controversial enough), wearing a sheer black shimmery-beaded gown with a leopard thong. McGowan owned the look and rocked the red carpet, creating one of the most memorable moments in MTV VMA’s red-carpet history.McGowan was clearly ahead of her time. Over the years naked dresses would be seen on Toni Braxton at the Grammy’s, Rihanna giving a Marilyn Monroe moment at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards, and then came the 2015 Met Gala, or as it should have been renamed “The Battle of the Naked Dress.” Beyoncé walked the red carpet in a naked dress by Givenchy, Kim Kardashian West wore one by Roberto Cavalli, and Jennifer Lopez was snatched in a skin revealing Versace gown.

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Post 2015, naked dresses were not commonplace or red carpets; seemingly filed away a moment in fashion history. Enter the 2019 Met Gala. Emily Ratajkowski walked the runway in custom Dundas, Kendall Jenner was sexy and feathered in Versace, and Stella Maxwell was starry and sheer in Moschino. The crown jewel of all naked dresses that night went to Kim Kardashian West, who coaxed the legendary Thierry Mugler out of retirement to design the first dress he had created in twenty years. The form-fitting dress left very little of Kardashian West to the imagination, and while it was quite on theme for this year’s Gala (Camp: Notes on Fashion), it was a beautiful celebration of both the female form and a reminder of what we have missed from Mugler all these years. (The dress was designed as though Kim K had surfaced out of the ocean; a kind of Venus rising from the sea.)Although the naked dress has an appeal for celebrities who are always looking for media coverage, the naked dress doesn’t the same appeal for the average consumer. It also hasn’t found popularity among fashion magazine stylists and editors, even in summer editorials when are lot more skin is showing.

Some stylists and fashion editors have found the naked dress distasteful. Several years ago, Carolina Herrera voiced her grievances to New York Magazine, “[Some designers think] it’s so modern to be naked or almost naked. They think it’s going to attract younger people if they do those dresses. No! The almost naked! Oh God! They’re just trying to get people to pay attention to them. In life, there should be a little mystery. [These women are] supposed to be fashion icons, and yet they’re not wearing anything.”

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The current fascination with nude or naked dresses is another attempt by the fashion industry to excite, titillate and stimulate conversation. Maybe the proliferation of nude and/or naked dresses will appeal to consumer’s this time around. Hmm, maybe not. Remember, you must have a slammin body to look good in naked dresses!!

—Kristopher Fraser

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