A reader who bought a see-through dress wonders if any “underwear protocol” exists in 2023.
I bought a sporty, stretchy, bone-colored dress in a mid-calf length for day wear. Now I find that in sunlight one can see through the dress. What is the underwear protocol for a sheer dress? How much skin should I show? — Joan, Wayland, Mass.
Like so much else when it comes to dress these days (trends, dress codes), there is no longer a specific underwear protocol for what to wear under a sheer outfit — only a variety of options. That’s good news on one hand: It’s great to have the freedom to make your own choices, free of strict social dictates. On the other hand, it’s stressful: Who needs so many more everyday decisions in their life?
Also, you have to consider how, exactly, the choices you make will be read by those around you; the messages you are sending to those around you. No matter how much we celebrate body positivity and the idea that being unafraid to show your skin is about owning it, there is no getting around the fact that there will be people who misconstrue what is on view.
How much you want to deal with that issue matters. So does context: Sheer on the street or among friends, for example, is going to be received differently than sheer in the office, where you probably don’t want your clothes to distract from your points.
As I see it, there are four choices.
First, the most obvious — and safest — solution is to wear a knee-length slip underneath; a dress under the dress. That lets you be a bit provocative but without any real revelation. Then the question becomes do you emphasize that fact with, for example, a black slip, or do you go tone-on-tone or neutral, by matching your skin, so the effect is sort of fake sheer? That’s a little more challenging to those around you, often eliciting a sort of double take.
Second, you could take a cue from the nature of the dress itself and swap the slip for a sports bra and Lycra shorts. They would provide coverage and underscore the “sporty” aspect of the look. And if the dress is simple, the undergarments could also add layers of color, or even pattern, beneath.
Third, you could look to Miu Miu, where Miuccia Prada has been flirting with sheer looks on her runways for a few seasons now, often matched with underwear in similar shades to create a sense of depth. That demands a little more gumption — it’s a sort of veiled comment on the body and the equally veiled nature of dress — but it’s also very pretty, and generally flattering. You do need to pick your undergarments with care; you can’t throw on any old bra and pants combo.
Finally, you could ignore the bra altogether à la Florence Pugh, and just wear the dress with some briefs. That’s how Anthony Vaccarello showed his sheer looks at Saint Laurent, though he also paired them with big jackets for a bit of coverage.
Still, as Ms. Pugh’s experience with related internet commentary and controversy showed, if you go this route, you need to be ready for the response. Freeing the nipple is, even now, not exactly a simple choice.
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.