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Front-row attendees at Mercedes Benz Spring 2009 New York Fashion Week were treated to a sheer spectacle last week as models strutted down the runway wearing see-through blouses, pants and dresses.
But these looks aren't just for show. Keeping with this year's less-is-more trend, nude-colored apparel and sheer fabrics are expected to be big hits both this season and next.
"The aesthetics are clean and not about ornaments," says Michelle Ochs, designer of Cushnie et Ochs, whose whole collection is dedicated to "the new nude." "It doesn't get any cleaner than a naked body. That's as raw as it gets."
After several seasons of volume (babydoll dresses and trapeze tops have been popular among female shoppers), fashion is returning to a focus on the body, says Susan Scafidi, fashion and retailing expert and professor at Fordham University Law School.
What's more, designers have invented new ways to reveal and conceal the body, says Jayne Mountford, vice president of trend reporting at Stylesight, a trend forecasting firm.
"It's a bit playful," she says, "and with the dire circumstances right now in our world, we need some respite."
This fall and spring, there are a variety of peek-a-boo items and nude-toned pieces available for men and women, such as transparent blouses, sheer sleeves and cut-out dresses from designers Vera Wang, Chris Benz and Bottega Veneta.
But if you're bit more modest, there are ways to wear them without looking naked.
The key is layering a slip or camisole underneath sheer fabrics, says Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at The Doneger Group, a source of global market trends and merchandising strategies for the retail and fashion industry.
Transparency also lends itself to sexy and frilly undergarments, which will most likely propel the lingerie market, Scafidi says.
Many of the items seen on the runway, such as Preen's spring dress, have tiers of ruffles over a layer of sheer fabric, which makes it appear the ruffles are floating in air. "It's a new way to do femininity," Morrison says.
There has also been a move to a more muted palate. While neutral flesh tones have been popular in footwear and makeup over the past several seasons, they are making their way to apparel.
"Nude is a nice alternative to stark white," says Scafaldi, "and more fashion-forward than boring beige."
When it comes to nude fabrics, make sure they're not too tight; body-hugging silhouettes look like another layer of skin, which isn't flattering. They should instead drape and float away from the body, like Cushnie et Ochs' asymmetrical dress, advises Morrison.
Because nude colors tend to wash out some skin tones, mix nudes with black and darker neutral tones like brown or navy, as seen at Bottega Veneta's fall runway show.
The season's barely-there apparel isn't just for women. More designers, especially European, are featuring sheer knits for men.
Costume National included a completely transparent collared shirt in its line, while Lanvin featured a shimmery, neutral-toned shirt with sheer sleeves.
"More people are going to the gym and working out and want to show off their physique," Mountford says.
Still, buyers who attended the shows will take into consideration what will look appropriate on their customers, Morrison says. In the US, we won't see these sheer items worn alone, and for the most part, retailers will carry items that show off just a bit of skin.
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