The Quiet Power of Showing Skin

The Quiet Power of Showing Skin

By Eleanor Morgan.

Our clothes cover our bodies, containing the parts of us that don’t belong to strangers’ eyes. We move around the world encased in fabric, protecting the largest organ of the body: the skin. With a total surface area of around 20 feet, our skin protects us from the elements and microbes, helps regulate our body temperature and allows the sensations of heat, cold and touch. As the seasons change, we naturally expose more or less of it. But the amount of skin we show to the world is deeply personal, too; a signifier of body confidence, cultural policy or simple preference. In any case, our clothes facilitate the choice of how much of ourselves we show.

The Italian fashion designer Miuccia Prada once said, “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.” Within the instant language of fashion is, often, what a piece of clothing is not covering. An exposed area of the body often forms the image we keep of other human beings: a bare ankle; a flash of midriff; a collarbone.

When a designer has cut their fabric to reveal a particular part of the body, the body itself becomes part of the intended silhouette; an extension of the design. This last year, designers across the spectrum – from high-street to the catwalk – are celebrating the female body by showing more of it.

Lingerie styles have crept into everyday wear. There were bikini ball gowns at Vera Wang and Valentino. Cult Gaia and the size-inclusive brand Ester Manas designed cut-out dresses, exposing a section of models’ hips and a lot of thigh. Miu Miu produced super-cropped tops and micro mini-skirts so short, they made you think Miuccia Prada had seen the original designs and said: no, shorter still.

These looks speak to the 1990s underwear-as-outerwear trend, which took off in 1990 when Madonna performed in the iconic Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra for her Blonde Ambition tour. Elsewhere, slip dresses and bra-tops were a mainstay of 90s grunge fashion, with Kate Moss and Courtney Love representing the pinnacle of cool for young women across the world. Of course, we cannot consider this 90s trend without mentioning Alexander McQueen’s ‘bumster’ trousers, creating the then-notorious bottom cleavage. Or, Tom Ford’s Spring 1997 show, for which he sent a model down the catwalk in an off-the-shoulder top and a G-string – buttocks bare for all to see.

Such flagrant exposing of the female body was about outraging the establishment. Today, we might argue it is about jangling the patriarchy. Post-#MeToo, perhaps women are celebrating their bodies by wearing what they like, exposing what they like, with a keener sense that their choices do not signify access to their bodies. The barely-there trend has been also referred to as a new era of power-dressing, with women unapologetically celebrating their bodies in every shape and size they come.

Throughout history it has often been the case that a trend for form-flaunting clothing follows hard times. After the Great Depression of the 1930s, women began wearing revealing, tight-fitting dresses that would often be worn without underwear. Being so on-show was a way for women to kick against the hardship they had experienced. In this light, perhaps the current trend for flesh speaks to the slog of the pandemic, or ongoing financial adversityAside from any deeper societal reasoning, the simple fact remains: a woman wearing a piece of clothing that reveals a part of her body she is comfortable with – or even finds sexy – can be a quietly powerful way to feel confident. As we move into summer, let’s admire all the different ways women choose to celebrate their bodies through their clothing. Let’s notice the elegance of a naked shoulder, an exposed back or a sun-warmed collarbone. Our flesh is a beautiful thing.

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