Inside out fashion: Underwear is everywhere

Visible bras, knickers and, not  a wardrobe malfunction but fashion’s  favourite new look. Underwear is  everywhere, says Alexander Fury

As with so many things in fashion, it started with Kate Moss. In this instance, she was on the Louis Vuitton autumn/winter 2013 catwalk – closing the show, in fact, in a diaphanous, feather-embroidered silk-chiffon negligée.

It underlined the theme of Marc Jacobs’ Vuitton collection perfectly, even if the dress itself could have done with some lining. For Jacobs had decreed that day should be night, that dressing for bed shouldn’t be restricted to the boudoir, and, of course, that underwear as outerwear was back. Again.

It’s one of those trends that comes around with alarming frequency because it ticks all of fashion’s favourite boxes. Underwear as outerwear is sexy, attention-grabbing, a little bit dangerous. It pushes people’s buttons. Witness the veritable furore over Victoria Beckham pitching up to Wimbledon in a lace-trimmed Vuitton frock that, to the untrained eye, resembles a hyper-fashionable slip. The fact that it’s been presented as autumn/winter attire is another example of fashion’s trademark perversity. Beckham was actually bang on the money, sporting a frock in summer that, as soon as we plunge into true British winter, will no doubt be concealed with an overcoat several inches thick.

There’s a precedent for this, of course. You can trace it right back to Marie Antoinette, actually, who scandalised Europe when she was painted by Vigée Le Brun in a simple white muslin dress. Just like Posh, Antoinette’s dress wasn’t underwear, but was perceived as such. The first true outing came courtesy of punk provocateur Malcolm McLaren, who coined the underwear as outerwear phrase to describe bullet-breasted fifties satin bras worn outside sweatshirts, a look created in collaboration with Vivienne Westwood for their autumn/winter 1982 “Buffalo” collection. In the mid-Eighties, Jean Paul Gaultier reclaimed the corset. Madonna wore it. More history was made.

But that all seems strident compared with the unseasonable whips of silk and chiffon we’re seeing for autumn/winter 2013. The root is still there, though: the Nineties loved a nightie, bias-cut lace-trimmed slips slithering in and out of fashion, on and off the red carpet. John Galliano’s first design for Dior in 1996 was a lace-trimmed bias-cut silk dress worn by Princess Diana which also generated headlines, while Stella McCartney’s love of lingerie looks during her tenure at Chloe transformed camisoles with jeans into a viable daytime option.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen that – a staggering 17 years since that Dior frock – which is why it’s all started to look new. It’s also not confined to the Louis Vuitton catwalk: although it’s the most potent example given the show’s staging in a recreation of a hotel peopled with glamorous, underwear-clad sleep-walkers. Marc Jacobs also sent out sequined lingerie-like fishnet and gossamer lamé evening dresses at his eponymous show in New York. Miuccia Prada hauled dresses off the shoulder to expose long-sleeve knit tops like thermal underwear, while on the winter haute couture schedule, Donatella Versace fastened her dresses with miles of corset-inspired hooks and eyes. In fact, they mostly unfastened those dresses, slicing them open at the chest to reveal embroidery-encrusted bras.

It was also evident last season, in Jonathan Saunders’ collection – a slinky, spaghetti-strapped reclamation of Nineties slip-dressing and an ode to the lingerie-laden ladies of Antonio Lopez images. “I love a reference without any clothing in it,” Saunders laughed.

There’s even a hint of it in menswear right now. Luckily, it’s not blokes in negligées, but the banding and branding of the latest collections from young London designers Shaun Samson and Nasir Mazhar both felt terribly reminiscent of those once-ubiquitous CK-logoed boxer waistbands. Mazhar ran elastic straps up, down and around his loose jersey tracksuits. Marky Mark would have a field day – and he wouldn’t even have to worry about his jeans falling down. Jean-Paul Gaultier pushed it a step further: in his winter show, male models stripped down to their skivvies – or rather, their onesies, long-johns pinstriped to match the double-breasted suits above. It’s one step on from the jegging for him.

The stand-out underwear as outerwear purveyor in London is Richard Nicoll, a label paradoxically known for clean and crisp shirting and sleek suits. But Nicoll has a naughty side, shown in all that bias-cut satin in the delicate palette of Thirties underpinnings that closed his winter show. He’s played with underwear as outerwear before: he flounced georgette and strung crinoline hoops around his spring 2012 dresses, while his autumn/winter 2009 collection, one of his best, was dedicated to the artist Linder Sterling, featuring corset-lacing and suspenders on trench coats and evening dresses. “It was all about the reappropriation of lingerie references to kind of outerwear,” says Nicoll of that show. “But the perversity in the collection was kind of almost second to the chic-ness.”

That’s fundamental: you can’t really look like you’re tripping out in a nightie. Hence the fact that fashion’s rebranded it – it’s not underwear any more, it’s “loungewear”. It sounds a little less aggressive, a bit more acceptable, more wandering the streets in the cushy comfort of your pyjamas than marching around in your bra and pants.

It’s hitting the high street, too. “The trend for loungewear as outerwear first made waves back in spring/summer 2012, when international fashion houses such as Stella McCartney put silk pyjama-style tops on the catwalk,” Jo Hooper, head of womenswear buying at John Lewis, says. “This look has evolved to include more demure silk chemises and camisoles,” says Hooper. “Darker colours are proving most popular and our customers are buying them to wear both in the boardroom and the bedroom.” She’s right: pyjama dressing slipped from catwalk to reality hard and fast. Today, you can buy into the look from Topshop and Whistles, as well as Rochas and Prada.

This October, John Lewis extends its Somerset by Alice Temperley collection to include fashion lingerie and loungewear. A key look is a tailored silk tuxedo jumpsuit. That doesn’t sound like underwear really. Or at least not underwear you should keep under wraps.

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