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Why the Naked Dress Will Never Die

Last week, Kim Kardashian made headlines en route to Calabasas eatery Shibuya Sushi in a vintage Helmut Lang dress with beige, mid-rise underwear beneath it. How, you may be thinking, do I know the color and shape of her underwear? It’s a perfectly valid question to which I have a perfectly reasonable answer: The dress wasn’t just a dress — it was a naked dress.

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Ah, yes. The naked dress. Unlike the vast majority of Sex and the City’s cringeworthy puns, this simple oxymoron was an excellent and necessary addition to our cultural lexicon. And guess who coined it? Charlotte York.

“It’s the naked dress,” she proclaimed, referring to the skin-colored DKNY slip dress Carrie was planning to wear on her first date with Mr. Big. “You’re obviously going to have sex with him tonight.”

“She’s not gonna have sex. She’s just gonna look like sex,” said Miranda.

“That’s right. I’m just the trailer,” said Carrie.

And just like that, the phenomenon had a name.

I want to clarify the parameters around what I consider a true naked dress (a selection of which I pulled for the above slideshow), because I think the classification has been somewhat muddled: A dress is not a naked dress just because it is the color of the wearer’s skin, like the gown Emily Ratajkowski wore to the amfAR Gala in 2016, or revealing, like Jennifer Lopez’s unforgettable green silk chiffon Versace number.

Photos by Lars Niki and Steve Granitz via Getty images

Sex appeal is a loud style statement. It is rarely the frosting on an outfit but almost always the cake itself, which is why what’s considered sexy and what’s perceived as “fashionable” are often deemed mutually exclusive. There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing one over the other, but a true naked dress is the rare garment that combines the two — hinting at the allusion of nakedness, but doing so in a way that doesn’t transcend the wearer’s sense of personal style.

Carrie Bradshaw’s naked dress is a widely-acknowledged example of the look, partially because of the memorable conversation she and her friends have about it, but also because it lives up to this elusive ideal. That being said, I think my favorite naked dress in history would have to be the metallic sheer slip dress 19-year-old Kate Moss wore at Elite’s Look of the Year contest in 1993. (Have human nipples ever looked chicer?) On a Venn diagram, it handily resides inside in the overlapping pinecone between sexy and cool.

This ability is precisely the reason that the naked dress will never stop being captivating — because no matter what bubble of the Venn diagram you typically prioritize — sexy, fashion-y, etc., there is something deeply satisfying about finding and wearing the one thing that bridges the gap — a “trailer” for the multitudes you undoubtedly contain.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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