Thought the naked dress was a modern red carpet fad? Think again...
When Marilyn Monroe was questioned about posing nude, she reportedly responded: ‘The body is meant to be seen, not all covered up.’ She certainly put those words into action when she sang ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ (in 1959’s Some Like It Hot) in a nude and silver-sequinned cocktail dress that ripples over her curves like water.
Lace, mesh, sheer, chiffon…Monroe wasn’t the first – or the last – to embrace translucent, figure-hugging fabrics as an extension of this philosophy. We’ve been at it for centuries, devising new and wonderful ways to suggest our bare flesh without actually stripping off and showing it.
Semi-transparent dressing has been shocking the public for years. For instance, did you know that in the 1790s hedonistic women were giving Kim Kardashian a run for her money with their semi-sheer muslin and flesh-coloured body stockings? French writer Louis-Sébastien Mercier coined the look ‘a la sauvage’ – meaning ‘wild’.
Wild dressing may be a tricky look to master, but a handful of celebrities have managed to pull it off in more recent years: From Joan Crawford’s bejewelled, ethereal creations in the 1920s and 1930s, to Jane Birkin’s thrilling mini dresses in the 60s and that transparent metallic slip dress worn by Kate Moss in 1993…
They didn’t called her ‘Venus’ for nothing. Much like the captivating Roman goddess, Josephine Baker embodied beauty, sex and desire as she propelled herself across the Parisian dancefloor. New York’s ‘highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville’ would truly make her name in deco Paris at ‘La Revue Nègre’ in the mid 1920s. With her barely-there costumes, feathers, gold baubles and beaded skull caps, no wonder Ernest Hemingway called this dancer ‘the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.’
Introducing the original ‘It Girl’, Clara Bow, the woman who would come to embody the roaring twenties with her flapper age escapades. It may be hard to believe, but Clara was just 20 years old when she wore this unbelievable outfit in 1925 for silent movie, My Lady of Whim. There is so much to say about this dress we actually don’t know where to start. How about with that strategically placed art deco embellishment? How about there…
As far as we’re concerned the ultimate naked dress – and the classiest – is the 1930s bias-cut silk dress. This 1932 Jean Harlow press image shows you why: gracefully clinging to her figure, this wonderful cut suggests everything yet reveals nothing. Naked dressing has never looked so sophisticated.
Naked dressing really came into its own in the 1930s and their sophisticated take on the look was arguably never bettered. Floorlength gowns were given a flirtatious edge with translucent, body-skimming chiffon. 1929 movie Our Modern Maidens, is a perfect example: masterminded by MGM costume designer Adrian, the American helped define Joan Crawford’s stylish look.
Celebrated for her killer one-liners, Mae West had a few other tricks up her sleeve – that is, when she wore sleeves. The Brooklyn-born sex symbol knew how to dress the part, as this 1936 film still from Go West, Young Man still testifies 80 years later. Thought Beyonce had got there first at the Met Gala? Think again. Mae’s 1930s beaded number could be worn by any Hollywood a-lister on the red carpet now and it would still look current…
This appliqué number certainly puts Strictly Come Dancing to shame. In 1942, Rita Hayworth danced with Fred Astaire in this beautiful layered gown that showed off her fabulous pins. As with the best naked dresses, costume designer Irene Lentz used sequins, beads and lace to flirt with the audience. As Hayworth leaps off the ground with Astaire we get a cheeky glimpse underneath.
When Marilyn Monroe stepped out onto the Madison Square Garden stage in 1962 to sing John F. Kennedy ‘Happy Birthday’ she meant business – and so did her outfit. Monroe’s sheer, rhinestone studded dress was so tight she literally had to be sewn into it. It was later revealed she wore nothing underneath. Few have topped those 2,500 rhinestones since.
Jane Birkin reinvented the naked dress in the 1960s and if anyone is in any doubt over this claim, get thee to Google and type ‘Slogan premiere’, ‘Jane Birkin’ and ‘1969’. Her thigh-skimming, see-through black mini leaved little to our imagination – and would later heavily influence Kate Moss’ naked dressing in the 1990s. Why? The Birkin look is thrilling because – despite getting her kit off frequently – she always looked cool and classy. Serge Gainsbourg couldn’t resist her and neither can we.
Get in, Cher. This is how it’s done. In 1975, photographer Richard Avedon snapped the iconic singer wearing a nude-coloured feather and sequin gown. The Time magazine cover read underneath: ‘Glad rags to riches’. It’s a look she adopted with gusto in the late 1970s. Ditching the hippie flares and smocks, she welcomed in a glitzy nude look like the one pictured here, taken at a gig in Miami Beach, Florida, 1979
All hail, Tina Turner. She will always be the Queen of sequins to us. We can’t think of a single other performer whose wardrobe matches their electric presence on stage so perfectly. This late 1970s costume is on fire and we love it.
It all came together one night in 1993 and we all wanted to be Kate Moss. We’ve been pining after her ever since. The metallic slip dress; the fag in one hand, a beer in the other; those nipples on show. And yet with her hair scraped back and barely any makeup applied, she looked like some kind of wondrous, chain smoking mermaid. And that’s Kate, isn’t it?
Everyone’s favourite Monolo Blahnik wearing sex columnist had a penchant for naked dressing. Who could forget that Calvin Klein nude mini dress she wore on her first date with Mr Big?
In 2000 the world went so crazy for J-Lo in this gathered Versace dress we’re temped to use the words ‘global phenomenon’. In 2015, Google’s president Eric Schmidt even cited this sheer, tropical dress as a contributing factor in creating Google Images search. Yup, definitely a global phenomenon…
‘Rihanna goes naked!’ the headlines cried out. Whether you’d personally choose to wear a dress like this is besides the point. We reckon Mae West and Josephine Baker would 100% approve of this shimmering, floor length gown. Inspired by the deco decadence of the 1920s and 1930s – accessorised with a matching fur stole and a cap to rival the Arabian nights – Rihanna’s red carpet walk in 2014 was in full command and we loved it.