In more modest days past, we might have been pulling out the tight, short, slitted, puffed and even turtle-necked black cocktail dresses to be party-ready with looks that show enough leg or arm to feel sexy yet provide enough cover to feel cozy. This year, though, we have an unexpected surprise: Sheer, lace and mesh dresses are making a comeback. It’s an invitation to bring our best body magic to the season’s parties.

What began as the “pantless” trend, in which oversized boyfriend shirts, bomber jackets and cropped trenches with heels made the full outfit (a look spearheaded by Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber), has morphed into the “no pants” trend, where shorts as small as panties are the definition of hyper-visibility dressing. Vanessa Hudgens, Bella Hadid and Olivia Rodrigo have all been spotted wearing their Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren boxer shorts as out-of-the-bedroom street style. Dua Lipa captioned an Instagram pic of herself sporting suede Miu Miu micro-shorts “sun bum,” presumably because they were so short they exposed half of her nicely tanned butt cheeks. Emma Corrin made their version seem unselfconscious and sophisticated when they bombed the Venice Film Festival in an earth-green Miu Miu cardigan and matching minishorts. And when Saffron Vadher arrived at the Vogue World party in gold-sequined silk-and-wool Miu Miu panties, she made all the gorgeous dresses seem too dressy.

Launchmetrics Spotlight

Pantlessness emphasizes the lower body while veiling the upper body. But why stop there? Now that this trend has been sanctified by everyone everywhere, it’s pivoting to something even more daring: panties under lace, mesh and sheer dresses that leave almost nothing to the imagination. Nobody’s com- plaining, but why are we so keen to expose ourselves?

Lace now is not like the lace of the past, when it was worn mostly as an undergarment. Today’s boudoir pieces are in a playful mood, flirting as outerwear and adding an unexpected casual tone to the boldness of going out nearly naked. Paired with running shoes, chunky boots, slippers and cardigans, lace is saying “exposure is so stylish and chill.”

Skin reveals have always been an ally of female emancipation. Slogans like “free the nipple” have been recycled since they were first uttered in the early 1960s during the sexual revolution. In 1964, Rudi Gernreich launched the first monokini, a garment that fully unleashed the breasts. Yves Saint Laurent followed it in 1966 with the first sheer look, which he took further in 1968 with his see-through dress, a soft, completely transparent chiffon gown belted with a cinch made of ostrich feathers. Photos of Saint Laurent’s muse, Danielle Luquet de Saint-Germain, wearing this dress circled the world and caused a scandal that was as gossiped about as the one caused by the masculinity of the Le Smoking tuxedo two seasons earlier. This time, it was the extreme femininity of the see-through dress that was the political weapon for equal rights.

Today’s boudoir pieces are in a playful mood, flirting as outerwear and adding an unexpected casual tone to the boldness of going out nearly naked.

Fast-forward to Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 2024 show: Designer Anthony Vaccarello raided the archives to update the Saharienne safari jacket (which was first introduced on the runway in 1967), transforming it into explorer jumpsuits that were, he said in a press release, inspired by “Amelia Earhart, Adrienne Bolland and other pioneering women who infiltrated domains once considered exclusively male, such as aviation and car racing.” Among the tightly belted khakis, leather headdresses and goggles, the signature looks of this feminist collection were the completely translucent tight gauze tops worn braless.

We have officially entered the hyper-visibility era. We post our intimate moments and intimate feelings online. We reveal, and we are revealed to; we consume and are consumed by each other. We talk to, share with, like and befriend strangers every day. We are increasingly aware that we are always being watched. Whether via surveillance cams in public places or the cameras in our desktops, laptops and phones, we know that we are monitored, datafied and monetized. Yes, the digital world has made us exhibitionists, and in the digital space, we all belong to everyone. So, is exposure dressing not an act of surrender to—even an enthusiastic embracing of—our collective public status and making it “surveillance chic”?

Hyper-visibility was introduced softly at the fall/winter 2023/2024 shows. Especially gorgeous were Mowalola’s skin-flashing leather dresses and the tummy-baring gowns and fur-collar tops giving underboob at Ludovic de Saint Sernin for Ann Demeulemeester. Exposure was all over the spring/summer 2024 runways too. At Coach, sheer yellow and black lace barely covered black bikinis. Gabriela Hearst’s white mermaid-esque see-through knit gowns were layered over white bikinis and paired with sandals. Dion Lee’s geometric lace looks had sporty sex appeal. Diesel’s distressed techno-rave minidresses had holes in them, as if someone or something had taken bites of the fabric. For his debut at Tom Ford, Peter Hawkings added risqué glam to nipple-exposing sheer dresses with only mini thongs for bottoms. Dolce & Gabbana’s fall/winter 2023/2024 and spring/summer 2024 shows were all about lingerie looks as daywear. Dior added tulle and mesh to its black see-through pieces. Victoria Beckham’s sheer white gowns were angelic, and Chanel’s black one was ruffle-topped. Loewe did a transparent haute beige collar dress. Mugler’s was translucent cyborgian. Sabato De Sarno’s debut collection at Gucci included silk-lace minidresses, and even Prada—the eternally virginal house—had them in its presentation.

Hyper-visibility is joyful, confident and empowered. It throws suspicion on covering up, privatization, information hoarding and Instagram’s institutionalized nipple ban. It might also poetically imply that as extremely online humans, sharing and baring are our most unifying activities. While sporting this sexy trend through the holiday-season parties, remember what Yves Saint Laurent always said: “Nothing is more beautiful than a naked body.”